The life and times of a teacher trainer

by Jacqueline & Alastair Douglas

We’ve had rather an interesting time delivering CELTA courses at IH London and we want to share some of our quirky, fun and sometimes gratifying experiences with you. While it’s been great doing input barefoot in Chiang Mai (culturally appropriate, and feels great!) and challenging going to midnight TP during Ramadan in Saudi Arabia, most of our training’s been in good old London.  As you read, you’ll see a bit of poetic licence: these things really happened, but not all on the same course.  We just wanted to characterise our experience over 10 years of training and thought it would save a bit of time.  Oh, and the names have been changed to protect the innocent (and the potentially litigious).  So, here goes.

Monday 2nd July

It’s Day One and I go up to find 14 pairs of eyes trying to look keen but trying not to look too nervous.   I think I’m doing the same.  Adela arrives late, full of apologies.  Benjamin introduces himself as ‘Jamin’, which seems to fit his image – bleach blond pony tail and flirty with the girls.  He’s the most relaxed trainee I’ve seen since one turned up with a surfboard under his arm.  Bob points out he’s single and says with a glint in his eye that he’s doing CELTA to travel: I can’t help thinking ‘is he just doing the course to find a girlfriend?’. In general, the day seems to go well which I’m happy about, remembering the wise words of a colleague ‘A good Day One and you’re set up well for the course’.

Wednesday 4th July

The first day of observed TP and I have my usual sense of anticipation.  I love seeing a trainee who’s been quiet in input magically engage a class. Laura was very nervous, literally shaking, but was lovely with the students. She was in tears in feedback, fortunately more from relief than anything else.  Alastair had a rather more interesting time. Emma had told him she was very worried about teaching, but looked like she was doing ok. After about 10 minutes, she suddenly turned and ran out of the room – Alastair had to step in and finish the lesson. Will she want to continue with the course?

Thursday 5th July

Laura was in input this morning and was very apologetic when she spoke to Alastair. She’s keen to continue with the course and hopefully she can get over her nerves when she teaches tomorrow.   At coffee time, Derek asks to see me, looking a little pale.   He says he was up all night planning his first lesson and got nowhere with it.   I ask him to talk me through it in our Supervised Lesson Planning (SLP) time and reassure him that what we’re looking for at this early stage of the course is basic classroom management, a connection with the students.

In Jamin’s lesson, not surprisingly he ‘gets by’ on entertaining the class. TP feedback is straightforward – the usual Week One mix of language grading, eye contact, and position.    Derek’s lesson was a typical week one affair – fine.

Friday 6th July

In SLP time, I’m sure I smell drink on John.  This has never happened to me before, so I decide to ask Alastair what he thinks we should do.  We agree I have to speak to him and when I do, he sheepishly says he went to the pub on the way here for some ‘Dutch courage’ and that it’s a one-off.   I hope so, and walk away thinking we do get all sorts on CELTA.

One of the classic nightmares happens in TP – Sue turns white sitting next to me at the back of the room and writes a note ‘James is teaching my lesson!’.    I reassure her it’ll be ok, the students could probably do with the practice, and make a note to remind everyone to liaise.  At least it’s not as bad as a trainee running out of the room. Guiltily tell them not to work too hard this weekend, knowing I don’t have an assignment to write.   Alastair says that Laura was fine in TP. What a relief!

Monday 9th July

I get an email from Justine, an ex-trainee, saying she’s got a job where she wanted, in China.  It’s lovely when they let us know.   After too good a lunch, I struggle not to doze in TP. Did my eyes close just then?  Did the trainees notice?   I feel comforted knowing that colleagues have on occasion had this problem.  We’ve compared strategies – get up and monitor students’ writing, go to the loo, or just dig your pen into your palm!   Lesson plans start today and one little gem has me smiling inside, Sarah’s written in her procedure ‘Illicit verbs’ – should be an interesting lesson!   I watch Pete’s lesson and can’t decide how to prioritise what he should work on.  I recall the helpful words of Frances Eales when I was a new trainer – ‘What’s the one thing I could say to this trainee that would make a difference?’.   One of the best things about working at International House, certainly from my experience in London, is the quality of training delivered by our colleagues, those who’ve trained up at IH and those who’ve brought fresh ideas from outside.

Tuesday 10th July

At the end of input, Dave, a trainee who’s been having problems with giving clear instructions comes up to me and says ‘with your instructions, you do that quite well’ – praise indeed!

I have a ‘full house’ in TP – watch one above standard lesson, one ‘to standard’ and one below.  Individual feedback seems the best option and Sue, whose lesson was ‘AS’, is in tears because she’s convinced it went badly.  It’s frustrating to give feedback when there’s this little self awareness.    Unfortunately, at the end of Pete’s lesson, the lovely students applaud him, I think by way of encouragement, which makes it harder to tell him it was ‘below standard’.

Alastair comes down and says he saw Derek had a bell on the table and was dreading what he might use it for.  It turned out to be a set of chiming bells from India and Derek gets students’ attention gently.  Alastair’s pleasantly surprised – and it reminds him to be open-minded, to look at and not for.

Wednesday 11th July

I watch Sarah teach a lesson that’s below standard and, as always, feel terrible having to break the news to the trainee.  It’s good to remember the wisdom a fellow trainer once passed onto me ‘BS brings change’.

Thursday 12th July

TP’s over for the day and we tutors are de-briefing in the staffroom.  As we say things like ‘James is lovely with them, but if only he’d shut up’, I’m conscious that two colleagues who were taken on by IH London straight from their CELTAs here are within earshot.  Are they thinking ‘Did our tutors talk about us like that?’   I’m reminded of a similar chat when I was working in an all-female team and we were talking about the good-looking men on our course (‘well, he’s got….’ etc).  A passing colleague asked tongue-in-cheek ‘Is this your handover meeting?’

Friday 13th July

Jamin asks if he can bring his guitar into his lesson.

Alastair tells me Sarah’s to standard – she’s worked on all her action points.  Hurrah! BS does bring change.  I’ve also had a good afternoon – Paul’s above standard and it’s been great watching the students learning in his class.  When we were still in the old Duke of Gloucester’s house on Piccadilly, Rodney Blakeston once wrote in the IH Journal something like ‘a student can attend a potentially great lesson in a room with an Adams ceiling in a grade one listed building  – and all for 50p an hour!’

We begin Stage 2 tutorials and gratifyingly, no-one’s below standard.  Derek’s chuffed that he’s doing ok, and so are we.   Adela’s late, though, and hasn’t filled in her part of the CELTA 5 – we should have known from Day One.

Monday 16th July

We’re halfway through Paul’s lesson in TP and the fire alarm goes off.  1, 2. 3…I wait hoping it’ll stop ‘cos it’s a mistake or something.  But no, I have to tell everyone to leave and just hope the students will be able to stay the extra time at the end without being late for their kitchen and bar jobs.  As for Paul, I just feel really sorry for him. Like most of them, he’s worked really hard preparing this lesson.

Tuesday 17th July

Another TP drama.  I walk in to find no students.  It’s summer and we have lots of parallel CELTAs and now a DELTA just starting, so students are thin on the ground.   Two arrive after 10 minutes and I scour the building for warm bodies of about the right level so the class can begin at some sort of sensible time.

Wednesday 18th July

Derek’s lesson’s below standard and we have a repeat of the Week One collywobbles.  Alastair does a good job of reassuring him that this is normal on a CELTA, it’s a training course and what we need to see is progress on his action points.

Thursday 19th July

We’ve set the skills assignment and asked trainees to choose an authentic text, suggesting they run their choice by us before going off for the weekend to write it.    Martin shows me his choice ‘Man beheads fellow passenger on bus’ and asks if it’s ok.  I say firmly ‘no’ and he looks surprised.  I ask ‘do you need me to say why?.  He clearly does, saying ‘but it’s short and it’s got a picture.’

Friday 20th July

I get to work and Alastair tells me he had a text from Sergei after midnight which said ‘I’m drunk‘.  This is a first. He’s obviously enjoying his first visit to London a bit too much.  In input, Sergei arrives an hour and a half late and says something about transport problems!  I challenge him and he denied the text, but eventually admitted it.

It’s Derek’s penultimate lesson – and it’s ok:)

Monday 23rd July

Alastair gives the trainees a language awareness task in which we tutors are the context.  With sentences like ‘Jacqueline’s favourite evening involves a rom com and a box of Thornton’s’ and ‘Alastair likes a good real ale’, he’s hoping he’s easing the path for them to buy us appreciative gifts come the end of the week.

Tuesday 24th July

We’re getting ready for the assessor’s visit tomorrow and several trainees ask what I’ve come to see as a standard question: ‘is she coming in to TP?’.  I reassure them she’ll be assessing us and the running of the course, but Derek’s looking nervous.  I privately think I’ll try to keep the assessor away from him, we want to give him every chance and the extra nerves won’t help.   From past experience, assessors thankfully tend to be understanding on this.

Wednesday 25th July

The assessor arrives full of apologies about an hour late – an Olympics-related tube strike, but apart from that, the day goes smoothly.  Derek teaches his final lesson, with the assessor in another TP room, and he’s passed the course.  Good for him he stuck at it, he’ll be a solid teacher somewhere in the world.  We bid the assessor goodbye and head for the pub.

Thursday 26th July

Last- lesson day and everyone’s safely home and dry, hurrah!  Adela turns up without a lesson plan, but she’s done enough to pass.

Friday 27th July

Alastair’s cunning plan has worked!  At midday, I’m presented with the biggest box of Thornton’s chocs I’ve ever seen and he gets a presentation pack of real ale.

Author’s Bio: Alastair and Jacqueline Douglas are teachers and trainers at International House, London, where they have each trained on over fifty CELTA courses, including the first CELTA Online. Alastair has also worked in Japan, Indonesia, Peru and Saudi Arabia and now additionally trains on Delta. Jacqueline started teaching in 1997 and has worked in the UK, Turkey, Spain, Bolivia, China, Thailand, Peru and Saudi Arabia. Contacts: and