CELTA in the time of COVID-19, 2020 Retrospective

Pictured above, left to right: Paul Lewis, Heidi Luk, Alex Torry, and module leader Neal Evans

As we know, much of the university’s teaching went online from mid-March, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For some modules this posed more of a problem than others; those with a practical element especially.

In the Department of Applied Linguistics at Swansea University, we offer the CELTA as an embedded part of our BA degree programmes (open to those in our department, subject to suitable progression and interview). This is run alongside our modules in teaching block 1 (October to January) and teaching block 2 (February to April) and is run as a ‘part-time’ course (rather than the usual 4-week full-time intensive training on a CELTA course).

Many of our students embark on this pedagogical ‘baptism of fire’ and come out shiny new professionals eager to get their teeth stuck into teaching students. We are very proud of all of them, particularly several of our latest embedded CELTA students who, along with their non-embedded colleagues, had to face the disruption to the final three weeks of their training.

Below are some of the thoughts from module lead, Neal Evans, and his students on this year’s CELTA experience.

Neal Evans (ALE225 Teaching Practice, Module Leader)

As it became clear that the CELTA course was not going to be able to finish in a face-to-face capacity we offered our trainees the option to continue and complete input and assignments online. 

3 weeks of input followed and together with support for assignments all trainees reached the point where everything was completed.

Feedback from the entire group was one of appreciation for the flexibility and support to transition to this very different training experience. It is no surprise that a very close-knit group helped each other throughout the process and became even closer.

The three embedded students also completed their ALE 225 module assessment based on their newly acquired knowledge and skill set.

Two trainees (not the embedded students) even completed their Teaching Practice online and now await their certificate from Cambridge Assessment. This required special dispensation as the course is conditional on 6 hours of face-to-face teaching. In this extraordinary move, the course established precedent and protocols which are now guiding ELTS (English Language Training Service) to deliver an entirely online CELTA certification for the very first time!

Paul Lewis, second-year student, BA (Hons) English Language

The Cambridge CELTA is often touted as an intensive course, being one of the industry-standard qualifications in the English Language Teaching field. It is offered by Swansea University’s Applied Linguistics department in partnership with Swansea University’s English Language Training Services department (ELTS).  Having seen course mates ‘suffer’ through it previously, I eventually decided to do the same and took the plunge.

It’s very unlike me to take the initiative in this way. I see myself as quite an anxious, quiet person; the type to be content staring at the walls. Indeed, I’ve often thought of myself as someone better suited to sitting at the back of a classroom, rather than standing at the front of it.

In all honesty, I was feeling conflicted beforehand. While anxious to do something with myself, I usually also try to avoid stepping out of my comfort zone, and I hate taking risks. In the end, however, I took the plunge at the behest of an encouraging family member; the relief was immediate and palpable – it seemed that life was no longer passing me by.

I think the best I can do to characterize the CELTA experience is to say that it is all it has been cracked up to be. The party line is that “it’s hard, but it’s worth it”, and that captures my personal experience adequately.

During the first weeks I learnt a lot about myself: how I handle stress; how I work under pressure, and how I treat deadlines. Through a dissection of my behaviors and coping mechanisms, the course allowed for personal growth. After a few weeks, it becomes more enjoyable and less stressful. Over time, I began to appreciate the moments that make up a lesson, and saw the value in what I was learning to do.

Then, as everything was coming together, the quarantine began. The remaining input sessions were given online, which helped to break up the long, socially distanced days. The rest of the teaching practice is to be done online, which will be interesting – a new challenge, a new focus, and a new skill.

It’s difficult to distill my experiences into a few paragraphs. So far I’ve said nothing of how brilliant the staff are, or how it feels to teach the first lesson, or what it was like when the university closed, or the mental and physical toll it takes. I bumped into someone I taught in a shop the other day, and still have no idea how to respond!

And I suppose that says it all: that my life is richer for having taken this course, and that I’m gently optimistic about what comes next. While it may be some time before I can really understand what I’ve done, I know I’m definitely better off for having done it.

Heidi Luksecond-year student, BA (Hons) English Language and TESOL

CELTA was the highlight of my second year at Swansea University. It allowed me to learn practical teaching techniques and to practise English teaching. I am glad to have such a tiring but enjoyable and precious experience.

Learning in CELTA was very effective as knowledge gained could be put into practice almost immediately and frequently. Teaching practice every week gave me to an opportunity to apply techniques learned the week before. In addition, immediate feedback on the practice from trainers helped us evaluate our teaching and make improvements. It was a valuable experience, trying different techniques in class and adjusting my teaching plans.

One of the best things of the course was the experience teaching real students.  It was lovely to engage with people who are eager to learn. I had a lovely time with them and explored my own teaching style while teaching them. 

Throughout the course, support from trainers was very helpful. It was not easy to manage CELTA and other university work in such a limited period of time (the course is 12 weeks part-time and sits alongside your other modules). Support and flexibility given by trainers have helped me to complete this course with much less stress than I had originally anticipated. 

Most importantly, CELTA has allowed us to apply for numerous teaching positions. I am excited about my coming volunteer teaching and paid teaching jobs.

Alex Torry, second-year student, BA (Hons) English Language and TESOL

have a friend whose life was changed by teaching in Vietnam. We would often talk about it, and how I should do the same. I have always dreamed of living in Japan and my friend convinced me that it was something I should pursue, lest I regret it in my later years. So, I enrolled in university in pursuit of this through an English language and TESOL degree at Swansea.

Once I found out about CELTA, I knew it was something I needed to do. Doing CELTA embedded within the degree scheme was highlighted as being one of the most intensive and difficult things I could expect to experience in my university life, to the point where I had initially decided to put it off until after my degree. However, encouraged by my friends, my family, and my lecturers, I took a leap of faith and decided to do it.

I won’t lie, the beginning of the course was terrifying. The intensity and difficulty of balancing the course alongside other university obligations was not undersold. It was difficult, but surprisingly I loved it! What I later realised was that when the initial fear of standing in front of a class had settled, it would be replaced with so many positive things. I learned a lot about myself and my students. I started feeling a sense of accomplishment, and the course affirmed that this was something I want to do with my life. 

The best part of it all is the students, undoubtedly. They’re fantastic, and they’re rooting for you from day one. I’ve grown as a person on account of the course itself, but also the instructors, university staff and my peers. My confidence, my ability to deal with pressure and my maturity in dealing with stressful situations have all improved dramatically in such a short amount of time. Beyond learning to teach I’ve learned valuable life lessons that will go with me wherever I go in life. 

Everything was going great; we were almost done. Then, with three more lessons left to teach…COVID-19 struck. 

Everything suddenly shut down and it felt like the rug was pulled out from under us. The initial frustration was overwhelming. However, thanks to the efforts of Neal, Jen, Peter and the department as a whole, we completed our input sessions online and we got the assignments done. Now, we are preparing to teach our final three lessons online. It’s not how I pictured it, but these circumstances have stressed the importance of flexibility and adaptability in the face of change. And, in spite of the current uncertainty, I’m excited! Excited by the opportunity to gain experience in another area of teaching – one not initially covered in the course, but one of increasingly apparent importance. 

I guess, to sum up my feelings about CELTA, I would say that if anyone who has done the course, embedded with their degree, says to you “It’s not that hard…” don’t trust them to feed your cats whilst you’re on holiday! It’s difficult, it’s stressful, and it pushes you further than you thought you could go. But it’s so worth it.