Celta without tears

Any fool can pass the Celta. However, one or two trainees are so thick, pig-headed or lazy, they do not. Of course, Celta trainers like to implant the possibility of failure firmly in their charges’ minds, to keep them pliant, while schools fail a few trainees now and then, so they can boast about their rigorous standards. (And they do not have to give you your money back.)

The course normally lasts four weeks. It is fairly intensive, which means the typical bone-idle wasters who want to go into English language teaching find it a bit of a shock. Often they panic, weep down the phone, stay up all night writing and tearing up lesson plans, and so on. This is all quite unnecessary. Passing the Celta is a simple matter of following the tips on this page.

On arrival at the training institution of your choice—perhaps the hallowed halls of International House in London, where you imagine bumping into Liz and John Soars (who are in fact flying to Tahiti on their private jet), or perhaps somewhere less prestigious, like the McDonald’s of language schools, English First—you are shepherded into a room where three people of breathtaking ugliness await you. These are the trainers. Sensitive trainees have been known to bolt at this point. Averting your gaze, you sit down. The ugliest of the trainers (the course leader) then gives you a pep talk.

The talk makes English teachers sound like a tough, dedicated, close-knit squad of highly skilled professionals, instead of the squabbling bunch of drunken layabouts they really are. The more naive trainees sit there wide-eyed, imagining themselves transforming some Third World language school into a pedagogical paradise. The course leader, who models herself on a Marine sergeant, says it will not be a picnic. No way. Wimps, cissies or milksops should leave right now. The other trainers smile lopsidedly in feeble attempts to look like Humphrey Bogart.

You glance around the room. There are keen students fresh from university, writing everything down. There are a few people like you: discontented bank clerks, bankrupt businessmen, discharged soldiers, bored librarians, resting actors, failed lawyers, disillusioned double-glazing salesmen, and so on, between the ages of 25 and 45. There is one old, inflexible, eccentric character, at the moment scrutinising the ceiling tiles, who will fail the course.

The course has two main parts: input, in which you learn all about the Communicative Approach and how much better it is than the atrocious language teaching you experienced at school, and practice, in which you are let loose on some real students.

In the input part, the trainers demonstrate the sort of annoying activities you will be expected to use with your own students. For example, to help you remember the other trainees’ names, a ball is tossed around the group. You have to call out the name of the person who throws the ball to you or to whom you throw the ball. Needless to say, this is an extremely stressful activity. You can remember the names of only the trainees you would not mind shagging. You resolve never to do this activity with your students.

In the practice part, you have to teach some lessons. If you are doing the Celta in an English-speaking country, you will have a multilingual group of highly motivated adults who are exposed to English every day and need it for their work, etc. They will speak English to each other in the coffee breaks. This is in complete contrast to most classes in real life, where will you teach monolingual groups of bored teenagers who have virtually no exposure to English outside class and speak in their native language throughout lessons.

As the students are being taught by trainees (ie teachers even crappier than usual), they get cut-price classes. Their expectations are low. They have seen so many awful trainees, they will not be in the least surprised by anything you do.

Top Ten Tips

1. Do not argue with the trainers. They are irreparably sad gits with Deltas who have been teaching English since before you were born. You are an inconsequential pipsqueak who knows nothing. They are not remotely interested in your point of view. What they are interested in is asserting their dominance over the trainees and buttressing their enormous fragile egos, so they will not take kindly to challenges. Instead, suck up to them shamelessly. They like to think they are doing something terribly important. Take advantage of this. Nod a lot, write down everything they say and make little gasps of astonishment every five to ten minutes.

Of course, the trainers are in fierce competition with each other to be the shrewdest/most sensitive/least ugly. Exploit this by subtly slagging them off to each other. (You could try flirting with them, but be warned this is a high-risk tactic. You might be taken up on it.)

2. Pretend to be fascinated by the students. They may be the usual collection of spoilt brats and dim-witted yobs, but try anyway. Even though your practice lessons will be crap, you can score points by appearing to take an interest in students’ individual needs.

3. Treat the students as if they were retarded four-year-olds. This is the correct ELT approach. Speak slowly in a bright, singsong voice, with exaggerated intonation and lots of hand gestures. For instance, whenever you use a past tense, point over your shoulder. The students will not have a clue why you are doing this, but the trainer will approve. Say things like, “Well done, Julio!” and “Goo-oo-ood, Irwan!” to your denser students.

4. Say as little as possible. Elicit, rather than explain. Check your instructions.

Eliciting: asking the students for information that they will not have, then dropping increasingly unsubtle hints until the nerdiest student finally gets the answer.
Example: “What is this tense called? Begins with P. Present, yes, well done, Julio. But Present what? Begins with C. C-O. C-O-N. No, not condom, Irwan, yes, very funny, good, OK class, that’s enough, you can all stop laughing now. Ends with O-U-S. Yes, brilliant, Julio, Continuous. The Present Continuous. Now how do we form the Present Continuous?” (etc etc)

5. Do not slag off the other trainees’ crap lessons. Praise them extravagantly, with one or two telling caveats. “Great lesson, Judy, I loved it and I learned a lot myself. Just one little query: in that absolutely brilliant exercise they did—weren’t all the examples you gave them conjunctions, not prepositions?”

6. Draw a line down the whiteboard a foot from the right edge. Write new vocab in this column and do not rub it out until the end of the lesson. Some teachers elicit the date and write that up too, but as students invariably make a pig’s ear of dates, this could take a lot of time. (Useful in real lessons, of course, but not in your practice slots.)

7. Write extremely long and detailed lesson plans. The lesson itself may be a stinking pile of incompetent ordure, but the plan has to be brilliant. Omit no detail, however trifling. If you need to fart during a lesson, put it in the plan. (Remember the focus (T to Ss) and the aims: minimising discomfort that could reduce T’s concentration.) Do not worry about sticking to the plan: it is a sacred document unsullied by vulgar practice.

8. Bring in loads of stuff. Flashcards, realia, pictures from magazines, games that took you ages to cut up beforehand... you will never do it again after passing the course, but it is expected of you now.

9. Do not try to be a smarty-pants. Some trainees show off by using ELT jargon or boasting about their previous teaching experiences. Remember your role is to abase yourself humbly before the trainers, who may, if you are sufficiently obsequious, grant you a Celta. Any hint that you think you know as much as they do will bring down reprisals.

10. And finally, try not to touch the students, say “fuck” more than once a lesson, or stroll in drunk.