CELTA: Is It Worth It?

Having a CELTA will certainly improve your chances of getting a Korean uni job. Lindsay Herron tells us if the time and money it takes to get one is worth it.

It’s true that you don’t need a CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) or TEFL certificate to teach at a university in Korea. Actually, I was hired at my uni with only a non-TEFL masters degree. It’s also true that if you’ve been teaching for a long time, a CELTA course might not have much to offer.

But after getting my CELTA several years ago at the British Council in Seoul and my CELTA YL Extension last summer at The British Institute (TBI) in Bandung, Indonesia, I can say with whole-hearted enthusiasm that these courses have been among the most rewarding experiences of my life. They have more than paid for themselves in terms of improving my confidence, creativity, and overall ability as a teacher.

Not for everyone

Why am I talking about this now? Well, it’s been on my mind a lot lately. Jackie Bolen, a university teacher/blogger whom I respect and admire, finished her CELTA recently. While she generally seemed to enjoy it, she ultimately expressed some doubts that she could apply the CELTA framework in her own university classroom.

Now, she and I were in very different places when we took the course. She had been teaching for quite a few years and was already a confident and dynamic teacher. I, on the other hand, had been teaching at a high school for three years, was just starting at a university, and was feeling under-qualified because of my lack of formal training.

I suppose, too, the CELTA approach can’t suit every teaching style; but I, for one, use what I learned in my CELTA course every day. It has made me a much better teacher, and I’d recommend it (or a similar program) to anyone who wants a practical, thorough grounding in EFL teaching techniques. Here are a few reasons why:

Reflective teaching

The CELTA encourages reflective teaching; the input sessions, practice teaching, peer feedback, classroom observations, and writing assignments all force you to think carefully about the how and why of every little detail. As a result, you begin to streamline your teaching, cutting bloat and amending weaknesses.

As the course progresses, you begin to think increasingly carefully about what your aims are, and then you can work more creatively and efficiently to achieve them. Your lesson plans become a thing of beauty: language analyzed, board-work plotted, problems anticipated and proactively solved.

After each practice lesson, you deconstruct your teaching, focusing on the minutiae, with input from your peers and trainer. It becomes easier to identify exactly which aspects of a lesson worked or didn’t work—and improve on these in the future.

Building confidence

If you’ve been teaching for a while but have no formal training, you’ve probably developed through trial and error your own repertoire of successful teaching techniques. You’ll likely find some of these techniques included in the course “input sessions” (workshops): classified, codified, justified, and encouraged. It’s rewarding to have confirmation that you’ve been on the right track; and then, with full knowledge of why they work, you can strengthen and improve these habits. Or, if they don’t usually work well, you can figure out why and then tweak or eliminate them.

This is also a great opportunity to become more familiar with a variety of new ideas and approaches, and integrate them into your teaching. Personally, I love knowing that the techniques I’m using, the habits I’ve developed, and the frameworks on which I base my lessons are endorsed by education professionals. I also love knowing the appropriate jargon to describe what I’m doing!

Building a professional network

Then there’s the professional network you develop through the course. The other teachers in my training courses were perceptive, dedicated professionals who were able to offer a variety of perspectives and insights. I still keep in touch with many of them, and I wouldn’t hesitate to approach them for advice or recommendations. It’s nice to be among people as passionate about improving their craft as you are. Speaking of which, James Taylor--one of my CELTA colleagues now very active in the TEFL community--has blogged about his first CELTA lesson, considering it from a more experienced perspective three years down the line.

Practicing what they preach

Finally, I love the way CELTA does teacher training. The trainers present the information using the very methods they’re advocating. Input sessions usually consist of hands-on experiences, group and pair discussions, and active learning. Trainees don’t just read a list of activities, for example; they’re given a task, such as reading and ranking or labeling. Trainers don’t just ask, “Do you understand?”; they use instruction-check and concept-check questions, just as they expect trainees to use. I try to incorporate this approach as much as possible when I do teacher training or teach English education classes.

I love everything about the CELTA program: the trainers, the style, the assignments, the format…. In fact, I’m actually torn between getting a masters in TEFL and pursuing a DELTA, instead!

Lindsay Herron

Lindsay Herron has been a visiting professor at Gwangju National University of Education in Gwangju, ROK, since 2008. Prior to that, she taught at a boys' high school in Jeju-do, ROK. She loves stories of all kinds: movies, books, anime, operas...and the ones her students give her.
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About Lindsay Herron

Lindsay Herron has been a visiting professor at Gwangju National University of Education in Gwangju, ROK, since 2008. Prior to that, she taught at a boys' high school in Jeju-do, ROK. She loves stories of all kinds: movies, books, anime, operas...and the ones her students give her.