Elena's CELTA journey at IH Belfast

CELTA: an amazing journey through the eyes of one of its students. Meet Elena from Russia.

"When one teaches two learn" - Robert Heinlein


Last week, we visited our school in Belfast to experience, through the eyes of the trainees, what it is like to train as a language teacher on the CELTA course.

We learnt many things over the two days, including the typical ‘day in the life' of a CELTA trainee, their progression and journey through the course, and why bringing a toothbrush is potentially less important than making sure you’ve got your laptop for this course!

Let's start by saying that the typical day for a CELTA trainee is not typical day at all.

In the CELTA course format you normally have these key elements:

  1. Input sessions to cover new topics from the tutors;
  2. The opportunity to observe more experienced teaches;
  3. Lesson planning and sharing ideas with your peers and trainers
  4. Using what you have learnt to teach a real class (with real students!)
  5. Feedback from your tutors and peers.

But in fact this is just what’s on paper. The actual day-to-day experience covers many other factors and emotions. From feeling insecure in front of the students, to feeling elated because you nailed teaching your lesson plan, to feeling under pressure because you need to hand in a task by a specific deadline. CELTA students go through it all.

When we first arrived at IH Belfast, we met the group of CELTA trainees who were starting their third week of the four-week course. Immediately we saw how much they supported each other by sharing ideas and asking interesting questions. The tutors were always available for suggestions and to give advice to trainees.

We spoke with one of the trainees, Elena from Russia. “I came from a teaching background and decided to upgrade my skills by taking the CELTA course,” she said.

What does she think of the CELTA course now that she is taking it?

“It's very challenging but at the same time it is really fun because there is a lot of interesting information that I can find. I can learn something new and upgrade my knowledge. It is challenging but interesting, very professional and a very valuable course. At the beginning I thought from 9am to 6 pm it was too much, but now I realise that time flies and goes like this,” she said, snapping her fingers. “We really enjoy the process. I never feel tired at 6pm!"

So what is a real day on the CELTA like for Elena?

“I wake up in the morning and think, ‘Have I done everything for today?’, so I check and start preparing to go to class. I must say that each and every day I am very happy and rush to the class because I know that today I'll learn something new and I can show what I have already done.

“When I come to school, we share our ideas and then we start class. Usually in the morning we have group classes where we study all together, and in the afternoon we have really exciting and interesting activity practicing our teaching. We don't need to be worried that we are not familiar with something; it is never a problem to ask tutors.

“During the lessons, we apply what we have studied in the morning, so we are clear on what to do from the tutors and then off to the teaching practice. For the practice, we have smaller groups where we can put our theoretical knowledge into practice.”

We had the opportunity to observe the teaching practice with Elena and we could tell that the students had really built-up a rapport with her. It felt like they were seriously engaging with the lesson and having lots of fun too. In these classes there are basically two types of students: the teacher doing their CELTA training, and the language learners. Both were learning, but each type of student needed that lesson for a slightly different purpose. The CELTA trainees feel a sense of responsibility towards their learners and their learning and needed to prove that they could put the theory into practice. The language students were perfecting their language (English), but at the same time had an empowering feeling: they felt part of the learning process of their teachers in training. A truly inspiring learning environment.

After the lesson, Elena added, “For the teaching practice, at the beginning I was really scared. When your tutor tells you, ‘Elena, you are teaching today.’, you have no choice, you know you have to do this. You take a deep breath and get on with it.

“But I liked it, even the first time, I really enjoyed doing it, and it was so exciting. That feeling when you share the knowledge and skill you have already learnt with someone that is not quite familiar with it and they need your help… Every lesson I can feel and see the difference in my teaching. I am climbing slowly, but I am going up and up.

“We’ve learnt how to organise a lessons with lesson plans, the materials to choose. This is quite interesting and I realised that at the end I will be quite familiar with this and I won't be scared of this anymore, it's really exciting!”

Being halfway through the course, we asked Elena what a new candidate should bring with them for the CELTA. “Laptops not your toothbrush,” she laughed. “Of course, there are computers here, but you are preparing and have assignments all the time, so having a laptop with you means you can work when you’re not at the school. Also, bring your favourite book because it is a very hard course in terms of the length. It is an intensive, four-week course and sometimes you need to just refresh your mind.”

What advice does Elena give to somebody who is thinking about taking the CELTA course? “Don't skip lessons, keep on track, listen to your tutors because they will help you grow. Be ready to work hard from 9am to 6pm, keep being on track during the day, concentrate, and be ready to work hard for four consecutive weeks. It's an amazing course and you should go for it. I wish you good luck!"

We would like to personally thank Elena for all her enthusiasm, energy, and for helping to put us in her shoes for one day. We feel grateful that the CELTA tutors and trainees helped us understand more about this amazing teacher training journey though their eyes.

We also received a warm reception from the whole team, there was a lovely and welcoming atmosphere in the whole school. You could tell students where having a great time and felt at home just like we did. In the true IH spirit, we all felt welcomed in an international house.

Thank you IH Belfast, thank you Elena!

Interested in taking the CELTA course? Read more here.