Monday, 30 September 2013

CELTA: Journal 1

I’ve been meaning to blog about my CELTA experience as often as I can, but I realized that I probably won’t have enough time to do it every week with all the assignments that are going to be due soon.

I just finished reading a CELTA student’s blog. She’s a mother and was not working full time, but opted to take the 8 weeks course instead of the 4 weeks course. Apparently, that was a better call, and I am happy that I am able to take the 8 weeks course. However she mentioned that her peers who worked full time struggled more; they started to neglect their work.

All I can say is that, I am glad my job is not too heavy and stressful at the moment. I will have 2 weeks out of the next 8 weeks where I have deadlines due at work, but I will do my best to not let my CELTA interfere with the deadlines and vice versa. But I would have to admit that I have been using some work time to organize my CELTA stuff, but that’s because I don’t have all that much to do sometimes, and it’s such a waste of time to sit around and twiddle my thumbs.

Anyway, let’s describe my lessons so far. I will try to update these ‘journal’ entries when I have more time to insert in the key takeaways and summarise my learning journey better.

Lesson 1: Wednesday, 7pm.
I rushed from office to school at Sim Lim Square; managed to get there by 6:45pm and scoffed down my dinner. I was the first one to arrive. Everyone else arrived near to 7pm, and one arrived after 7pm. I was either right on time, or late for the consecutive lessons, and I feel bad because I didn’t want the trainers to think that I was always tardy, but I guess I’ve proven on the first day that I was capable of being on time. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself when I couldn’t make it on time :P

The first trainer we met was Bernard. I was a bit worried that I’d gotten off on the wrong foot with him the first day: I was trying to copy the schedule he wrote down on the board using my phone, and he thought I was texting (>_<) But I guess we’re all good now, especially after our 2nd class together on Sunday.

The first session was mainly about the structure of the course, the grading and the general expectations. Bernard tried to help us set expectations when he talked about the grading standard for the course. Upon completing CELTA, we would be graded (in descending order) Pass A, Pass B, Pass and Fail. The worldwide statistics by far are as follows (approximately):

Pass A – 5%
Pass B – 10%
Pass – 80%
Fail – 5%

He pretty much told us to not worry too much about failing, but at the same time, not to put too much expectation on ourselves by aiming for Pass A. It is perfectly normal to get a Pass, as seen from the statistics. I guess he is all too familiar with the way our Asian minds work. Haha! “I must be the best!” In a way, I agree with what he is doing, because I know fully well that if I set too high an expectation on myself, I may end up doing the exact opposite. But if I were to take it calmly and just try to do my best at each juncture, I suppose I may do better than I expect myself to. However, after reading that student’s blog and seeing that she got a Pass B, I am thinking… I bloody-hell want a Pass A! LOL!

Then we will have Teaching Practices (TPs), where we will have the opportunity to teach real students (Elementary and Intermediate levels). Yes… real people shall become our guinea pigs. Basically, these students get to sign on for free lessons. They pay a deposit of $200, which is refundable if they meet the minimum attendance criteria. We will be observed and assessed, according to the criteria that will be communicated to us on a weekly basis, and for each TP, we will be graded: Above Standard, To Standard or Below Standard.

My goal would be to always be above standard. But what would mean that I had to prep myself well for each lesson, which includes a near flawless lesson plan, and awesome classroom management. According to Bernard, that could include even scripting the instructions that I would give the students.

In the first lesson, we went through the topics on learning styles, what affects and motivates learners. We talked more about the course structure and expectations.

Lesson 2: Saturday, 10am
We met Jill, the 2nd trainer, and we started to go more into the technical stuff like planning a lesson, and grammar. Yes… this is the part that scares me the most. While most of us, whose first language (L1) is English, have no problem using proper English on a day to day basis, we aren’t really sure about the different grammar rules that exist. So you can be assured that it was a painful process for me, and will probably continue to be for the next few weeks.

I’ve found a site that lists out the tenses. I think that in the coming 8 weeks, I have a lot of brushing up to do, on top of getting my lesson plans and assignments done.

On Saturday, we learned a lot about the Receptive Skills, reading and listening, the different levels of reading and listening, and how we were going to be training our students to be proficient in them. It became clear to me that teaching wasn’t all about guiding the students through reading a passage, or helping them do the exercises. It’s more about knowing how to prepare them for the tasks so that they can better attempt them, and even have more confidence to attempt them on their own. Eventually, we had to also work on a Productive Skill such as writing and speaking, to put into action what was learned during the reading and listening. Don’t forget the endless drilling we will also need to do to help them remember vocabulary and grammar rules.

Lesson 3: Sunday, 10am
Finally on Sunday, we explored, in detail with Bernard, how to plan a lesson, and all the dos and don’ts when conducting a lesson. We had the opportunity to watch a lesson on DVD and to dissect that same lesson to learn the tips and tricks of a good lesson, and methods of a good teacher.

We went into the technicalities of classroom management, how important it is to monitor students constantly to see if they are following, giving short, clear instructions but maintaining a friendly and respectful tone, and knowing how to manage time so that the lessons don’t overrun or end too early.

Knowing and setting aims are also important so that we ensure the lesson fulfills the learning purpose required. This is something I will really need to think about when preparing my lesson plan. I feel that there is so much consideration required just to prepare a lesson. Teaching is definitely not just about pointing, miming, lecturing and telling students to hand in homework.

This coming Saturday, we will have an unobserved TP, which means the trainer would not be watching and assessing us. It’s an opportunity for us to get to know our students and also conduct a dry run with a short lesson we have been asked to prepare. There are some teaching methods that I have been considering; I suppose this would be a good time to try them out?

On Sunday, we will have our first assessed TP. I’m done creating my material for the students. Just some minor tweaking to go and it’s good enough for submission. The concern now is the lesson plan. I have an idea of what I will be doing. Completing the material has helped form in my mind how I would go about conducting the class. Now I will have to sit myself down and complete that lesson plan.

As you can see… almost everything about this course is very practical and hands on. This makes me believe that I will be truly qualified to teach when I complete this course. On top of that, we’re assessed all the time and receive feedback on strengths, weaknesses and what we need improve on after every assessment. This means I will always know my level of progress and what I need to do to fix my mistakes.

I’m a bit worried that I will procrastinate. That’s what I did over the weekend, knowing I had no time to chill the evening away. But I am also fully aware that if I push myself too hard, I might break and go into my ‘escapism’ mode again. In any case, I just need to bite the bullet and be disciplined about this. From today onwards, I need to spend my evenings trying to complete my work ahead of schedule, rather than trying to complete on time. While it’s tempting to get cracking on things while I’m at work, I should reserve doing my coursework in the office only for those items where I need the resources in the office.

So 2 things on my list now to complete ASAP:

1.      Lesson Plan for TP1
2.      Assignment 1

Wish me luck…

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