Monday, 21 April 2014


I can’t say that I never thought of doing something useful to earn my living. For example, teaching English. It was not until last year though that I began thinking about it seriously. Well, as seriously as I could. Doing CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) seemed like a good way to learn how to do it.

And so, some time last November, I started to look for a reasonably priced place, preferably in the sun, offering four-week CELTA courses. That’s how I learned about The Irish Academy in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: probably the best deal (and location) in the whole of Spain. On the last day of the last year, I sent an email enquiry about the course... and got an immediate response. In the following week, I filled the form and completed a short pre-interview task. I had my skype interview on 17 January and started the course exactly two months later.

no regrets

Now I don’t want to scare ye aspiring teachers, but doing the CELTA course was one of the toughest experiences in my life. (In my life, I said. For example, I’ve never been to the army, but I heard of a British ex-serviceman who attended this course and confessed that, compared to CELTA, his time in Afghanistan was a breeze.) Yes I knew it will be intensive. Perhaps I did not know what “intensive” means. Man alive, the last time I was under such stress was back in my university days, about 30 years ago.

But I am writing this, therefore, I have survived. I am glad that I didn’t do much research beforehand. Otherwise I could well have decided that I am too old for a solid month of eight-days-a-week hard work and sleep deprivation. Needless to say, I didn’t get to see the beach that much.

the players

Throughout the course, the tutors and the Academy’s administration were very nice and helpful. I was lucky to work with eight other CELTA candidates from all over the world: England, Ireland, Russia, Senegal, Spain and USA. We were divided in two teams, the team A teaching the Elementary level for the first two weeks and the Intermediate level for the other two weeks, and the team B the other way round.

We had some very strong students, and the Elementary level was not so elementary. It was a pleasure to work with both groups. However, we did not have a chance to teach absolute beginners. In other words, I am not quite ready to head to China and confront a class of 50 pupils.

actually teaching

Well that was scary. We started teaching for real from the day two. That morning, each of us gave a twenty-minute lesson. Seven forty-minute lessons followed. The very last lesson was full 60 minutes.

By the end of the first week, I was enjoying it. Now, in your pairs...


There were things I did not like though. To be honest with you — hey CELTA god, if you exist, do you read this? — I hated them. Yes, I am talking about paperwork. Sheer volume of it. For each lesson, apart from the materials proper (like handouts) we had to prepare the lesson plan plus a language analysis and/or a vocabulary sheet. After the class, we had to fill a self-assessment form. And our tutors had to read all this, and write their own report.

The CELTA course taught us some really cool, progressive, student-centered teaching methods for the 21st century and beyond. On the contrary, the paperwork required by Cambridge... [please complete the sentence, avoiding profanity if at all possible].

more writing

On top of that, we had to produce four written assignments. I am convinced that at least two of them could be done before or after the course without compromising the quality. That would actually improve the quality of our lessons. Otherwise, I quite enjoyed working on those assignments. But I would do a better job if I didn’t have to multitask in the early hours. Did I tell you before that multitasking is bad?

The first assignment, Focus on the Learner, was due in the beginning of the week two. I thought that was unfortunate as we did not have enough time to get acquainted with our students’ strengths and weaknesses. I think it would make much more sense to set the first assignment in the beginning of the course and observe that particular student for at least two weeks or, even better, four weeks, and then do the writing.

I found the second assignment, Language Related Task, easy. So it could easily have been set and completed as a pre-course task. Assignment four, Lessons from the Classroom, was not that difficult either. However, as it was dependent on our self-assessments, I’d imagine one should complete it after all the teaching was done, and preferably after the course. (A bit like what I am doing now.) In practice, we had to hand it in the next day after the assignment three, with some of us having two more classes to teach.

For my third assignment, Language Skills Related Task, I chose the excerpt from Three Men in a Boat. I admit I was pushing the CELTA envelope here for it is not a typical text they give to the intermediate level students. The first version failed to convince my tutors that it was a good idea, so I had to revise, rewrite and resubmit. (I did not mind that. In fact, I am sure all my assignments would benefit from feedback. Now if only they were not piling one on top of the other...) Still, I am glad that I have created a plan of a reading lesson based on a 19th century English humorous novel rather than, say, a magazine article about shopping or something. If I ever get as far as teaching my own English class, I fully intend to put this plan in action. (I can hear the CELTA god rattling his thunderbolts. Oh, shut up.)

forget the coursebook

By the end of the second week, I grew tired of the coursebook(s) we were supposed to follow. So I decided to play out a few ideas of my own. For example, I did not think our students will be terribly excited to read about Lady Gaga’s gig. Instead, I adapted my own text about Paco de Lucía. I think that it really did touch their strings, so to speak.

Likewise, for my first lesson with the elementary group, I decided to ditch George Washington or Maggie Thatcher (yuck!) and presented them with a reading on J. R. R. Tolkien. I was so happy — they knew who Tolkien was. My first handout was a text in Sindarin. You should have seen their faces.

I am kind of proud that I designed my 60-minute writing lesson from scratch, with no coursebook in sight. To be precise, the topic was: applying for their dream job via e-mail. English for Scammers by Dorothy Zemach and Chuck Sandy was a great inspiration for me.


I think all of us loved giving unassessed lessons — we had total freedom in designing the class, it was true teamwork, we were not afraid to screw things up, and there was no paperwork to produce! During our two-hour class with the Intermediate level students we talked about English culture and food, analysed the Monty Python’s vocabulary of death, and sang When I’m Sixty-Four. In our 40-minute class with the Elementary level we were working on paella recipes (two teams, seafood paella vs rabbit paella) and watched this pronunciation drill video. (By now the hypothetical CELTA god could think I am taking the mickey. And he would be right.)

“I would like to buy a hamburger.”

For our very last input session, the one on Warmers and Fillers (unfortunately, no students were present), we worked in the teams of three and unleashed our newly acquired teaching methods on our tutors and the rest of our colleagues. “My” team did The Banana Boat Song. The task: listen and fill the gaps in the handout. For example,

_______ deadly, black tarantula
(We were not exactly sure what comes before “deadly” ourselves and were hoping for the best.)

Then we did some singing and dancing. And that was the end of our course.

Vocal Sampling — The Banana Boat Song


However, we did reconvene the next morning for some tidying up, organising our portfolios (that is, the folders with all our paperwork), etc. We sat in a semi-circle in one of the classrooms. I wish we could have been a little bit more enthusiastic when our tutors broke the news. “By the way, you’re all passed.” — “Yeah, right”, I thought. After four weeks of sleepless nights, it felt somewhat anticlimactic.

I know, this dreadful “now what” feeling will pass. I can do it. The world is my whitebait, I say. Let’s get cooking.

about the title

I wanted to entitle this post “CELTified”. Alas, I discovered that the name was already used. Then I thought of a new Spanish verb, celtar, “to do a CELTA course”, celtado being its past participle.

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