The English Teacher

31. The Professor: Write about a teacher that has influenced you.

She made it look so easy.

About ten minutes earlier, students had started to trickle into the classroom. It was the first day of their B1 English class at the Munich Volkhochschule (continuing education center). There were awkward nods and smiles as students took their seats, careful to leave at least one empty chair between them.

I sat with the trainees at a table along the side wall. It was our first day, too. At 13:30 on the dot, the Professor walked in. She closed the door behind her, and smiled in a business-like manner, saying, “Hello everyone.”

There were murmured replies here and there. She placed her things on the table at the front of the classroom, and looked up as if in surprise. She repeated, “Hello everyone!”

This time, the students took the cue. “Hello!” they all responded cheerily.

And with that, the Professor launched into an apparently effortless demonstration of excellent teaching.

Without engaging in any chitchat whatsoever, she invited all the students to stand and come into the middle of the classroom. With clear and concise instructions, she made them all stand in a circle with her.

They proceeded to do a warm-up get-to-know-you game. By the end of it, the students all knew each other’s names, and the Professor knew theirs. (“There is no excuse for not remembering your students names. Learn them.”)

At the Helm of the Class

From then on, she kept the class moving smoothly ahead. There was never any doubt about who was in charge or what the task was. But what was so remarkable is that she gave instructions and taught concepts all the while seeming like she hardly spoke a word.

She must have spoken! The students somehow knew which page to turn to, which activities they were doing, how they had to engage and respond. Within ten minutes of starting the class, the students had been paired off and were on their fourth or fifth activity of the class.

The other trainees and I sat there in complete awe. It was a two-hour class, and before we knew it, it was over.

It wasn’t until afterwards that we learned how much work she had put into her preparations. She knew her timing and her lesson plan by heart. She had gone so far as to script her instructions so that they were as clear as possible.

My Turn

The following day was my first day of teaching. I had prepared a 40 minute lesson. I’d mapped out the lesson plan, and even had my instructions scripted like the Professor had.

But five minutes into my lesson I was off track. I could hear myself talking nervously, causing confusion amongst the students.

Teacher Talking Time

The first feedback I got was about TTT: teacher talking time. It was too high. The Professor said, “I guessed this would be a problem for you, Jane, and I was right. You’ve got to let the students do the talking.”

Luckily, I had enough self-awareness not to be surprised or hurt by this. And I was absolutely determined to show that I could take feedback and apply it.

I beamed with pride when it came time for feedback after my second day of teaching. She looked at me with surprise in her eyes and said, “I am very pleased to see you took my feedback so quickly to heart. Your TTT was way down today.”

Coming from her, it felt like the best feedback anyone had ever given me.

Why She Impressed Me

What struck me so much about the Professor was her no-nonsense, matter-of-fact approach. She wasn’t unfriendly, but she didn’t seem to worry about making you like her. She smiled and laughed with students, but never let things get off track.

She was there to teach, to help you learn. She was not there to be your friend.

I admired her professionalism, the way she wasn’t bothered whether you liked her or not. She never seemed to use more words than absolutely necessary, but she knew exactly which words were required.

She was an excellent communicator and a gifted teacher. She made it look so easy.

I wanted so badly to be able to teach like her.


CELTA Certification: What to Expect

It’s over, guys! I’ve made it through my CELTA certification and have come out the other side (relatively) unscathed. I am now certified to teach English as a foreign language.

As I’ve mentioned before, CELTA is a certificate in teaching English to speakers of other languages. It is run by Cambridge English Language Assessment, the folks who bring us lovely exams like the IELTS, etc.

If you’re thinking of taking a CELTA certification course, read on.

“Intensive” means just that.

The full-time CELTA certification is four intensive weeks. It includes 8 hours of teaching practice, 4 written assignments, input sessions and experienced teacher observation.

In the mornings, you participate in input sessions. This is where you are taught to teach! Tutors use the Cambridge English method to teach you how to teach the main language skills: listening, reading, speaking, writing, grammar and lexis (formerly called vocabulary).

Essentially, you’re trying to absorb all kinds of useful information which you can then put into practice in your afternoon teaching sessions.

1. Teaching Practice

You’ll be teaching from day 2 of the course. In the first week, your tutors give you plenty of guidance for designing and planning your classes. Over the course of the four weeks, though, that guidance gradually reduces until in the end you are responsible for designing your own classes (materials are often provided).

Teaching planning

The day before each teaching session, you have a planning session with your group and tutor to help plan your lesson. These sessions were my favourite part of the course. My colleagues and my tutors were always helpful, and provided valuable input and ideas.

Lesson planning

At night, you go home and write your lesson plan. A lesson plan includes a detailed language analysis of language items (grammar, vocabulary) that you will be teaching. Then you plan your lesson step by step.

The idea is to have a detailed enough plan that if, for some reason, you cannot teach, another teacher can pick up your plan and teach your lesson. The first lesson plans will take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours to write. Yup. Intensive.

Though the lesson plan may seem like a bother to some, I found it extremely useful, and it gave me confidence in my teaching.

Feedback sessions

Each TP session is followed immediately by feedback. You complete a self-evaluation, your tutor provides pointed feedback on your lesson plan and your teaching, and your colleagues (who are also observing you teach) give feedback according to some observation guidelines.

If you can’t take constructive criticism, tough. Your teaching will be thoroughly scrutinised, and some feedback will be disappointing, or hard to hear. Other feedback will be uplifting and gratifying.

You are expected to take feedback to heart and to apply it to your next lessons.

2. Written Assignments

There are 4 written assignments. They are, at most, 1000 words, and it is very clear what you are expected to write. They require some research, and will take a few hours to complete.

I did not find the written assignments very challenging. What they required was very logical and straightforward. Tutors provided a checklist for each assignment, to ensure that you had responded to all the questions and provided all the details they wanted. To be honest, not a whole lot of independent thought needed to go into them. It’s not like you have to produce original research.

For me, it was simply a matter of answering the questions within the word limit.

Some trainees found the written assignments difficult, though. If you are not comfortable writing, and if you have little experience of writing research papers, you may find them harder to complete. Don’t worry, though. You’re given a chance to resubmit each assignment, and usually you only have to resubmit the sections you struggled with in your original.

3. Input Sessions

This is where you’re taught to teach. You’ll learn about lesson planning, classroom management, phonology, reading & writing skills, course book assessment, error correction, and more.

One input session was entirely conducted in Hungarian! Without speaking a word of English, the tutor helped us learn basic phrases in Hungarian, in order to demonstrate how a language can be taught to people who have absolutely no previous knowledge of it.

Some of the input sessions I found more valuable than others, but all were useful. They were especially practical: what you learned in the input sessions could be applied almost immediately to your teaching practice.

It was also valuable to see the Cambridge English teaching method applied directly by the tutors, not just in teaching observation, but also in our input sessions.

4. Teaching Observation

Finally, you have to complete a number of hours of experienced teacher observation. We watched three DVD sessions, and observed our own tutors teaching A2 and B2 level classes for a total of 180 minutes.

During teaching observation, you are given observation tasks, or things to look out for during the session.

These observation tasks (which you also have to complete while observing your fellow trainees) are important for the final written assignment. I wasn’t as detailed in my notes as I should have been, and I found myself wishing I had noted down more specific information during my observation sessions.

By the last observation session (usually a DVD), you’re able to look at an experienced teacher and think, “I would have done that differently.” It’s a great feeling.

You won’t fail CELTA.

Very few people fail the certification. You may not get the highest grade, but you will be supported and encouraged to pass.

The tutors dedicate a lot of time to helping trainees with any difficulties. They are there to ensure that you succeed.

Your fellow trainees are also a great help. Some of my classmates were experienced teachers, while others were novices. In any case, everyone had a strength, and within our groups, everyone was happy to lend a hand to anyone having trouble.

I couldn’t have succeeded without my colleagues’ help in the teaching planning sessions. It was a great bunch of people, and we each learned a lot from the course.

Last Word?

Do it. If you’re thinking about it, just do it.

Plan to have no other obligations or distractions during that time (thank GOD for Chico and our parents who were here to help with toddler-care and housework!).

It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and it has given me prospects I never thought I’d have.

Wish me luck!