Sunday, 7 January 2018

Worried About Burning Out on the CELTA? Here Are My Experiences of the Part-Time Course

The CELTA is a famously tough course. It is usually taught over the course of a month. In that time you will live and breathe teacher training. There won't be time for anything else.

It's not for everybody. I recommend you think twice if you have family or side-hustle commitments. Also I recommend you avoid the full time course IF you have time and money to do the alternative.

Which is?

The part-time CELTA!

Now only a few institutions that offer the CELTA teacher training course do so on a part-time basis.

There is also an online option, but that's not something I know too much about.

I'm specifically talking about a part-time option that's 100% taught face-to-face.

Schools that offer the part-time option include International House in Barcelona. The part-time course is offered twice a year, and takes around 3 months. I've showcased this particular school because:
  1. I got my CELTA there, so I know it's an excellent school. In fact it was partially founded by the teachers who created the CELTA qualification in the first place.
  2. It's based in Barcelona. When you're not teaching, it has many world class visitor attractions to explore. It's also a fairly cheap place to live, especially out of the peak Summer season.
  3. As a native English speaker, I liked the idea of studying EFL teacher training somewhere I didn't know the local language(s). I know barely any Spanish or Catalan - indeed my high school never even had a Spanish teacher.
  4. The weather is pretty nice all year round. In fact it only rained on 3 of the days I was there (out of nearly 4 months).
I had a great 3.5 months doing the part-time CELTA at International House. We had to attend the school on two days a week (Mondays and Wednesdays). The mornings started with an input session on a particular issue relating to teaching. Then we split up into our teaching practice groups. We planned our teaching practice lessons, then waited for the students to arrive. We did our teaching practice, then retired to a room to mull over what worked and what didn't. All in all it took 4 hours, two days a week. But prepping those lesson plans and writing the 4 assignments, well of course that took longer. A lot longer!

Despite all the necessary work I found the great thing about the part-time CELTA is that I still had plenty of time to enjoy my new city. It would have sucked to have gone overseas to a the full-time CELTA course and then not have had any time to explore.

I did plenty of exploring and I was also fortunate to be in town when the FC Barcelona football team won the Treble. The outcome of the final match was so eagerly anticipated that I failed to get inside any of the bars or venues showing the match, instead I ended up watching it in a fast food joint. Which was pretty memorable in itself. Of course I was there for the post-match party on Las Ramblas, and the victory tickertape bus parade through the city the next day.

So are there any drawbacks to doing the CELTA on a part-time basis?

Yes.

But first I must point out that the part-time and full-time CELTA are identical when it comes to the end result. You get the same qualification and the same certificate. Some picky potential employers might question you about why you did the CELTA part-time. But then it's only really likely for your first, entry level position. Once you have your first teaching job under your belt, then subsequent interviews will be about what you did in your last job(s), not about your qualifications.

But back to real, legitimate drawbacks, from somebody who has actually done and passed the part-time CELTA. The three issues I encountered were:
  1. Work expands to fit the time available.
  2. The comparative lack of team spirit.
  3. The teaching standard of my peer trainees was already very high!
The workload on the part-time CELTA generally worked out at prepping one lesson a week. That was definitely manageable, and yet I still struggled.

Why?

Well for one thing preparing lesson plans to CELTA standard IS time consuming. If you do the month long course then prepare to be burning the midnight oil for many (most?) of those nights you are on the course.

But then again it's that old thing of work expanding to fit the time available. More time meant I had more time to perfect my lesson plans. I had more time to look up grammar points, and more time to reflect on things I had been pulled up on in previous lesson plans.

I guess in some ways the part-time CELTA is tougher than its full time equivalent, as your tutors know that you have more time to get things right.

All I know is that I usually taught on Monday mornings, and on most Sunday nights before my teaching practice sessions I was up pretty late making things just perfect.

The Part-Time CELTA is The 9-5 CELTA

I'd say what most disappointed me about the Part-Time CELTA is that there wasn't really much socialising with the rest of my trainees.

My fellow trainees would turn up for the input sessions and teaching practice, then promptly disappear off into the void. There was no hanging around in the school bar or social area, they were just in and out.

To me that felt a little disappointing. I'd love to have swapped stories from the other two trainee groups, and generally found out about other peoples' lives. But there wasn't too much of that. I ended up mainly socialising with the Spanish learners at the school, plus a few dedicated English learners who improved their conversational skills by hanging out with just about anybody who spoke English there.

Most of my fellow trainees' lack of interest in the school social scene was due to the fact that most of them had been living in Spain for a several years already, and had well established social circles. In fact I believe I was one of only two students in my group who had gone to Barcelona especially for the course. Many of my fellow trainees also had part-time or even full-time jobs, so they often had to go to work commitments after classes. Or if they didn't have to work that day, then it was one of the few times they could work on our many assignments.

I'm not sure if other groups have the same, but I've not kept in touch with anyone I did the CELTA with. It just all sort of fizzled out. I'm a sociable guy and I found that to be quite disappointing. After all I'm still in touch with people I studied with in University with, and that was more than 20 years ago.

So if you want some social camaraderie then you'll get much more out of the full-time course.

Part-Time Trainees, But Full-Time Teachers!

One hazard on the part-time course is that you'll probably find that a fair number of your peer trainees are already teachers. In fact one lady in my group had been a teacher for well over 10 years. She even had her own language school!

The upshot (er, downside) of this is that teaching standards on the part-time course are likely to be higher than they are on the full-time course.

Still, it's not too much of a problem when it comes to results, as every trainee is separately evaluated. The only thing is that it might knock your confidence to see so many trainees getting their TP's marked as Above Standard.

All I can say is that you might get more out of peer observation than usual. And experienced teachers aren't necessarily better at the CELTA. The CELTA has a very specific style of teaching, and you run the risk of getting marked down if you stray from this accepted methodology. Furthermore experienced teachers will undoubtedly take criticism a lot harder. I got torn to pieces on my second teaching practice. But I could live with it - it was pretty much only the second time I had stood up in front of a class and tried to teach something! I would have taken it a lot harder if I had already been teaching for five years.

One smaller issue I discovered was that the part-time CELTA was a little drawn out at times. I did mine in the Spring. This meant the school was closed for a few public holidays, not least Easter. Consequently there were a few weeks when I didn't have anything to do at all. That wasn't a problem, what with the whole of Barcelona and the surrounding countryside to explore. But if I had a slight criticism it was that the part-time option felt a little too part-time at times. I find much the same now I have a real teaching job. Every time there is a public holiday or other event I kind of lose momentum and sort of forget what it's like being in the classroom.

Anyway, that's what I found out when I did the part-time CELTA.

I should also add that I met a couple of people who couldn't hack it on the full-time course, so ended up doing the part-time one instead. So if you find yourself on the month long course and it all goes horribly wrong, then it's not the end of the world by any means. Nobody knows what month you might suddenly get flu, or crippling toothache, or have a family emergency, or just plain burn out. So if the worst happens, then you could get back on your horse and attempt the part-time course instead. For what it's worth, nobody on my course failed.

Finally I'll point out again - there is NO DIFFERENCE between the part-time and the full-time CELTA. You end up with the same certificate. It's worth exactly the same to employers.

So would you do the part-time CELTA or is the full-time course the better option? Have you attempted the full-time CELTA and did you stay sane? Leave your comments below.

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