Published on January 16th, 2013


10 Tips for Surviving the CELTA

No kidding folks, the CELTA ain’t no tiptoe-through-the-tulips.

I SWORE I’d never in a million years resort to writing one of those ubiquitous (not to mention more often than not, annoyingly vacuous) “10 Tips…” posts, but…   What can I say?   Reducing the arguably daunting business of taking on the CELTA, down to a nice neat “10” tips just seems like the kindest, most compassionate thing I can do for the poor souls fool enough to pay good money to endure a month of near suicidal toil (just kidding).   But still…

Suffice one of my dear TL “protégés” of a “certain age” (and quick to add, I served merely as but a bitty cheerleader in her own laudable self-gumption to likewise pull up roots and buy a one-way ticket to this here g-forsaken rice-paddy) has recently arrived in HCMC, and shortly will likewise embark on the H-E-double-hockeysticks of the CELTA that – even a full year later, still makes me wince.

That the CELTA (which – unlike the copious variant “TEFL” certificates floating willy-nilly ’round the web – is strictly controlled and diligently monitored and assessed by representatives from no less than Cambridge U., no matter where in the world you take the course) is tough, is not at all in question.  Indeed, dire quotes from a myriad of reputable sources don’t beat-around-the-bush about it:

“Although just four weeks in length, your CELTA course may well feel like four years.  When people say that you have to put your life on hold for a month, they’re not joking.

If you live alone, fresh, home-cooked food is likely to become a thing of the past.  Your bed may seem like a figment of your imagination.  Friends may think that you have fallen down a large hole.”

But here’s the thing – it’s not so much that the CELTA is all that achingly difficult/impossible.  Indeed, quite doable content-wise (I mean after all, if THIS dodderin’ lass can successfully pass it, then surely most anybody can.)   But rather, the brutality of it is primarily due to the sheer INTENSITY of what all is required of you in just 4 short weeks.  You’ll have seemingly an IMPOSSIBLE amount to do in what will seem like an IMPOSSIBLY short number of hours.  And furthermore, the torment will seem especially acute for those who’ve not seen the inside of a classroom in oh, say… more than a quarter of a CENTURY! (Uh, ask me how I know.)

PullHairCartoon320x226Still. The CELTA is very doable, no matter the freshness of your academic experience.  It’s just that… first and foremost, you need to be ORGANIZED (alas, a state of being that the TravelnLass isn’t exactly on a first-name-basis with.)

And thus, when my fellow “dump-everything-and-move-to-a-rice-paddy” chum asked if I had any tips for surviving the CELTA, I wrinkled my (disorganized) forehead, and pondered what few tips had (in retrospect) helped me survive those intense four weeks of blur.  Indeed, what had saved me from pulling my hair out, and (at one point) seriously contemplating giving up and calling it quits with but a few TPs (Teaching Practicums) to go.

Thus here dear (poor, pathetic, starry-eyed, soon to be bitch-slapped) CELTA takers, are a handful of tips that helped me get through the CELTA course last November:

 10 Tips for Surviving the CELTA

1. Whatever you do, let go of any delusion you may have to being “perfect”.  For you shall soon know the humbleness of feeling utterly stupid and inadequate.  Seriously, you will learn that the crunch of time far supplants any hope of doing all but the most half-assed (by a perfectionist’s standard) jobs.  Ask me how I know.
2. Indeed, learn to embrace, nay adopt as your personal MANTRA, the following simple trio of words:   IT’S.GOOD.ENOUGH
3. Choose a private, halfway comfy room near your CELTA center.  For the lack of commute time, and the convenience will serve you extremely well on those late nights walking home exhausted – with an evening, nay perhaps an entire night-long-til-dawn hunker planning tomorrow’s Teach Practicum (likely whilst simultaneously polishing off a 5 page Written Assignment, AND redoing the last WA for resubmission.)
4. Indeed, do become friendly with the concept of MOTN (Middle Of The Night) for it will pretty much become your constant ally for the next 4 weeks.
5. While you needn’t lug/buy your own printer for the CELTA, suffice that you’ll most certainly want to print (most likely in the MOTN see 4. above) all manner of stuff for your teach practicums (like a bazillion Google images for flash cards, word-gap exercises, et al.)  Thus in lieu of your own printer, a bitty flash drive and a working relationship with the copy shop down the street is highly recommended.  Go ahead, march right on down there (BEFORE your course begins), and mime your desire for a print or two.  A little test-run so they’ll not cower in terror when they later see you approach with frazzled hair and glazed eyeballs, clutching your flash drive in such a way as to suggest a lethal weapon.
6. Know thy laptop – both your word-processing and your graphics programs, intimately.  Furthermore, know how to send email attachments to yourself (of aforementioned bazillion Google pics, partial lesson plans, in-progress Written Assignments, etc. whittled at school), so you can blearily continue to tweak them long into the night back in your dreary room – where that sweet bed that you so seldom use beckons so tantalizingly yet… elusively
7. Stock up on fast foods like fruit, yogurt, ramen, snacks for late night dinners (when, as you stumble home in the dark from school, even the street food vendors will have long closed up shop).   Oh and, get yourself an electric tea kettle, for morning instant coffee and/or see ramen above.)
8. Forget everything you THINK you know about teaching, for teaching English to folks who are catching but 2 out of every 20 words you’re blathering is faaaar different than teaching in your native land.   Rather, save yourself some grief, and don’t ever ask “WHY?” of your CELTA tutors.   Trust that they know TONS more than you about teaching EFL.
9. Take deep breaths… often.  Chocolate’s good too.
10. When things look darkest (and trust, it WILL seem inky d.a.r.k. at times), when it seems utterly impossible to do all that you need to do by the next morn.  Know this:  THAT is precisely the time NOT to give up.   You CAN do this.  It WILL be over one day.  You WILL graduate, and pocket that sweet, internationally recognized CELTA certificate.  And then…

 The entire WORLD will be your very own EFL oyster!

(btw, I’ll bet when you read the “10 Tips for Surviving the CELTA” title of this post – YOU thought for sure I’d blather at least a paragraph or three about the dreaded “grammar”, yes?  Nope.  Trust that you needn’t know the nuances of gerunds ‘n modals to sail through the CELTA.  That will come later dear grasshoppers, later.)

10 Tips for Surviving the CELTA

Tags: ,

About the Author

Off-the-beaten-path travel is my passion,and I’ve always lived life “like-a-kid-in-a-candy-store” – eager to sample as many flavors as I can. Indeed, my life motto has long been: This ain’t a dress rehearsal, folks!

13 Responses to 10 Tips for Surviving the CELTA

  1. Carey Mossop says:

    Love your blog and following your adventures. I know this post is a few years old, but I am interested to know if three years out, you still believe the CELTA is the best way to go?

    My wife and I just “retired” – I am 54 years old. We sold everything except for some photos and keepsakes that are in a 5×5 storage locker in Everett, WA and are travelling the world full-time. I spent my life in corporate America but really loved the part of my job where I was involved in teaching, training or mentoring someone. I have been thinking of getting qualified to teach English to bring in a little money on our tight budget and I do get a great deal of satisfaction from teaching.

    We just arrived in Thailand and plan to hang out here for a year or so at least.

    A couple of questions:
    – with three years under your belt since you did the CELTA, do you feel the CELTA is still the way to go, or are there other options that are just as good or just as well accepted?
    – I have browsed a few TEFL job sites and notice that many of them ask for teachers “21 to 55 years of age” theoretically, that would give me one year before I am “too old” according to some sites. What has your experience been?

    • Dyanne says:

      Actually, I completed the CELTA program in December 2011 in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – so it’s 5 years, not 3 of EFL teaching under my belt, and…

      Yes, I can say unequivocally – you honestly can’t do better than the CELTA. While there may be other programs that offer a full month of on-site EFL training – only the CELTA is accredited by no less than Cambridge University, and is recognized for its excellence the world over. With a CELTA in your pocket, the world will be your oyster, and it will buy you maximum leverage for negotiating the highest salaries wherever you go.

      And age-wise? Yes and no. Yes I too worried about age discrimination but suffice… I completed the CELTA at 66 dodderin’ years – fully 10 years older than you, and… I’ve never had any trouble whatsoever with getting hired at first class schools at top dollar. The CELTA speaks for itself. And though yes, EFL teaching attracts many young people (a great way to travel and pay off your school loans), I’ve taught with plenty of fellow Boomers in both Vietnam and here in Ecuador.

      That said, you’ll find that EFL pay varies widely between countries – in Vietnam on my first go (i.e. with no experience whatsoever beyond the CELTA – I’d never been a teacher before) I was paid $20 per hour. In Thailand, it’s a bit less – around $15 – $17 at British Council in Chaing Mai as I recall – but I think they look for some teaching experience along w/ the CELTA. And here in Latin America? MUCH lower – here in Cuenca, top pay for private English schools tops out at around $8/hr. – with a CELTA, a Masters and (now) nearly 5 years EFL teaching experience. As I have a small pension, the pay isn’t of great import, I simply love to teach, and only teach part time. I also have often taught privates in my home ‘cuz I can control the schedule (when I want to say… skip off to the Balkans for 6 weeks). 😉

      In short – yes – yes – go for the CELTA. You’ll be glad you did. And – what with the wonky visa situation in Thailand (along with a decidedly unstable political situation and lower EFL pay) I’d highly recommend you head over to Vietnam, and take the CELTA at ILA (one of the largest EFL schools in Vietnam) where I took my CELTA. You’re almost GUARANTEED to get hired when you complete the CELTA, and the pay is among the highest around.

      Do let me know how it goes, and HUGE congrats on taking the “Great Leap”!

    • Carey Mossop says:

      Thanks for the update. Greatly appreciated. I will keep you updated!
      Carey Mossop kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Get Elite Hotel Status QuicklyMy Profile

  2. ESL Activity says:

    100% agree about letting go of the perfect. I thought I’d put together these sweet, sweet lesson plans and executed them perfectly. But, not so much!
    ESL Activity kindly contributed to world literature by posting…Top 7 English Conversation Activities for AdultsMy Profile

  3. Hayat says:

    Thanks for this wonderful post. It got me a bit anxious though!

    I’m gonna take CELTA next month ISA and I feel a bit worried maily because of what everyone is saying about it. I thought it could be easier because I already have a teaching experience, but dunno how useful can that be!

    Wish me luck!

    • Dyanne says:

      Nothing to be alarmed about Hayat. The CELTA is quite doable – just very intense. Mainly ‘cuz so very much is packed into just 4 weeks. Just a matter of canceling the rest of your life for a month, and hunkering down pretty much 24/7. 😉

      That said, from what I’ve heard from others, I’m not at all sure that prior teaching experience is all that helpful when it comes to the CELTA course. Indeed, it can actually be a hindrance as the CELTA EFL teaching method is very specific, and sometimes experienced teachers have trouble unlearning their previous methods and embracing the Cambridge technique.

      Honestly? The CELTA training I received at ILA in Ho Chi Minh City was supremely excellent (and the course is closely monitored throughout the world, so no matter where you take it, the curriculum will be the same). And I believe it’s best to go into it humbly, with an open mind and a clean slate.

      Good luck! And do report back here to let me know how it goes.

  4. A and B says:

    That is hilarious! Great post! OK, I am thinking of teaching abroad in the future, is the CELTA the best way to go, or TEFL or TOEFL? Why are there so many variants!?

    • TravelnLass says:

      First of all – welcome fellow (well, now ex-) Seattleite!

      Personally, I’m partial to the CELTA – for precisely the reason you elude to in your comment. Unlike the various and sundry TFLs, TOEFLs, etc. that seem to grow like weeds (especially those that charge a hefty handful of c-notes for an online course), the CELTA course is accredited by Cambridge University, is standardized and strictly monitored by Cambridge reps no matter where you take it in the world, and most importantly – the CELTA is recognized (by those that do the hiring) as the gold standard all over the world.

      YMMV of course, and there may well be courses (with on-site practicums) that likewise provide excellent training for teaching EFL, but I did a TON of research before choosing to take the CELTA, and all I can say is 1. for my money, you’ll simply not find better training, and 2. it’s absolutely true, with a CELTA in my pocket, I now can verily write my own ticket no matter where on the globe I choose to live/teach EFL.

  5. Nice post, D!

    I think the intense schedule is meant to cram as much into a small time period as possible. Regular, quality professional development after you become a teacher is hard to come by. They’re just hoping that some of it sticks with you.

    That said, I can lend some insight coming from managing an accredited Australian school with 6,000+ students in Phnom Penh:

    * Don’t kill yourself to get the higher grades. A pass is fine, unless you’re applying to a school with very limited availability. But even then, having an undergrad + CELTA will likely at least get you an interview. The hiring process is a double-edged sword. I liked fresh CELTA graduates because they often had a good work ethic. But not having real classroom experience is a question mark.

    * Usually any course with more than 100 class hours and a practicum is acceptable. I’d steer away from the online ones as they’re not well regarded. A proper certificate will pay for itself within 6 months (~400 teaching hours), as you’ll likely be able to earn at least $5 more than someone without one.

    * All the highly detailed lesson plans in CELTA usually go out the door the second you start teaching. There simply isn’t enough time to plan to that degree. But having in mind how you want each activity to go (and how you and the students will interact) is still needed.

    * Pick up a few teacher’s resource books / activity packs at various levels. My favorites were Reward and Cambridge Business. These will start you on your way to having a bag of tricks, common go-to activities that every experienced teacher has. And read the introduction of those books. They outline how various activities should go. Great for warmers / coolers and just to break up the pace of the class.

    Teaching can be rewarding and fun. Teaching WELL, though, requires preparation and creativity. I’ve seen too many burned out teachers who were clearly not enjoying what they were doing and it totally showed in the classroom.

    • TravelnLass says:

      Thanks James – your insights, coming from someone who’s been on the other side of the EFL fence (i.e. hiring Teaches) are most welcome here. Indeed, a respected EFL certificate like the CELTA will most certainly pay for itself in but a few months, as the best schools (with the best facilities, resources, etc.) won’t even look at an online cert w/ no hands-on teaching practicum. Furthermore, with the confidence of a CELTA you can negotiate for higher pay, better schedule, etc.

      And yes, yes, those mind-numbing 5 page CELTA lesson plans will go right out the window when you actually start teaching (nowadays I scribble mine on the back of an envelope.) But – the point is, going through those arduous motions of thinking hard about the goal of each lesson, and detailing precisely how you’re going to meet it – in the most creative and “student centered” way, is… priceless.

      Kinda like so many other things in life (like art, photography, business, etc.) only when you learn the “rules” can you confidently know when you can break them. 😉

  6. Ha ha ha . . .
    Wise words . . .
    I have considered running the CELTA gauntlet . . . but with B.A., B.Ed and Montessori training I opted for a BridgeTEFL 120 hour online…as a prep run ha ha…
    The one month intense,fatigue them until they an hardly think, format of the CELTA course is not really an enlightened manner of imparting teaching knowledge (and 6 hour ain’t that much in class time).

    CELTA; having your brain washed for a month hmmmm . . .
    Fatigue: a schedule is maintained that ensures physical and mental fatigue. This means long hours, few breaks, and very little time for relaxing or reflection.

    Tension: techniques are used to increase tension in the group. For example, perhaps there are a few truisms thrown around that might make you feel like you are doing something wrong.
    Jargon: new language to talk about what’s going on.
    Alertness Reduction: one part of this is to force participants to keep a poor diet: either lots of sugar, or very bland foods. Sugar throws your nervous system off. A very bland diet (usually fruits and vegetables and no dairy or meat) will make you more spacey. Another part is inadequate sleep after long hours of intense discomfort or strenuous physical activity.

    Programmed Confusion: a deluge of new information, combined with questions, discussion groups, and one-to-one create a sense of jumbled-ness that make it easier to insert crazy ideas.

    Don’t take me too seriously but the similarity to between aspects of the one month CELTA course and brainwashing techniques is not lost on me.

    Hee hee ho ho ha ha hee hee ho ho . . .

    Likely I’ll run the CELTA gauntlet one day.

    • TravelnLass says:

      Not sure just what all your comment is trying to express John, but yes, you might want to one day try the CELTA yourself – if only to confirm/deny your presumption that it’s all bunch of brainwashing hooey.

      And you needn’t opt for the 4 week intensive, there’s both the full-meal-deal and the new online CELTA course offered right there near you in Montreal. Of course, the latter online version of the CELTA does require an additional hands-on teaching practice component, but I dare say any course without such, could hardly be expected to prepare you to face a roomful of rambunctious teens and actually TEACH them anything.

Back to Top ↑

Show Buttons
Hide me