Wow, so the experts in the land of ELT Blogging (I’m looking at you, Hada and Anthony!) weren’t lying when they exclaimed ‘blogging during your CELTA?! You won’t have time for that! You’ll barely have time to sleep!’
Luckily (although for whom I’m not entirely sure…) I’m not a huge sleeper, so I have found some time on Day Two to start a little update on my course so far! As you will have gathered if you have read more than two of my posts on this blog, concision is not my forte, but time really is of the essence at the moment, so I am going to try my hardest to keep this short and sweet – there is lots of CELTA reading to be done! Although, knowing me, and knowing how much I’m enjoying this course already on Day Two, it could become an epistle, so apologies in advance if that happens.
*Edit at the end of Wednesday Week One: It happened. I waffled to such an extent, in fact, that this post is now only about the first three days of the course! But I really will try to be concise from now on…
Day One: Monday 13th April
The One Where I Got Far Too Excited About Ringbinders, Dividers, Pencil Cases and Timetables
Day One was something of a whirlwind. I walked to school with one of the girls I’m sharing the school flat with, Ingrid, and as you could have predicted from our almost-German genes, we arrived far too early. (Alex from our flat bought a monthly U-Bahn pass, so she can leave after us and arrive before us, lucky thing!) More and more trainees trickled into the wonderfully light and huge room we have been allocated for input, and we all started chatting about where we’re from, why we’re in Berlin and how much teaching experience we have. In my group of 12, we have two Aussies, three Americans, about four Brits, and then three people who continue to astound me as English is not their native language, yet you wouldn’t know it at all! From first impressions, it seemed like a great bunch of people, and we are all sat in quite close proximity (given the huge size of the room we’re in, at least) in a U shape, which I think is nice.
Our first session began with a little quiz from our first trainer, Helen Down, to test how much of her fantastic Welcome Pack we had taken in. We had to remember things like opening times of the school (which change since there’s a part-time course happening as well), the names of some of the forthcoming input sessions and how many assignments there are. I had read that Welcome Pack about four times in my excitement to start the course, so that was OK.
We then had a little break and had a tour of the two floors that make up the Berlin School of English. One floor is mainly for trainees (the second floor) and the fifth floor contains a lot more classrooms for normal English, Business English etc. lessons. Don’t ask me why the floors aren’t next to each other – it just means good exercise for us when we need something from the office! The highlight of this tour for me was the specifically commissioned piece of art that the Director of Studies had made when he moved the school to the new premises three years ago. It’s a take on a London Underground map, but the quirky layout of the building was likened to the Tube map, so all the classrooms have names of Tube stops in London. The fact that the teachers choose to ignore them and just use the room numbers is irrelevant – it’s a very cool piece of art! I might see if I can take a picture of it before I leave…
After the tour and a caffeine-filled break, we met our second trainer Eoghan Dockrell, who, as you might have guessed from the name, has the most wonderful Dublin accent. We learnt about teaching lexis, which he exemplified by teaching us 15 or so gibberish words, each using a different technique. We learnt about explaining words by way of a little story personal to you, explaining by use of an antonym or a synonym, directly translating them, and letting learners guess the word through the context – and many more techniques besides. It was fun to switch out of newbie trainee admin mode and into student mode, and the session was very entertaining.
We then had an hour for lunch, and the school had kindly put on a little buffet in the other training classroom for us, to give us the opportunity to chat to each other. One thing I had been expecting which didn’t happen was a sort of ‘getting to know each other’ activity. From all the blogs I had read, I had been anticipating the start of the first session to be a lesson in how to conduct such an activity with your learners, by way of us doing it amongst ourselves! But we skipped that part and went straight in at the deep end, so we just chatted to each other throughout the day. It’s a really interesting mix of people: very varied ages, backgrounds and so many interesting languages between us! So lunch definitely was a good opportunity for some mingling, as the ELT pros like to call it 🙂
After lunch, we had a lesson on receptive skills with Helen. That is, we learnt how to teach reading and listening skills. Helen demonstrated this brilliantly, by essentially taking us through one such exercise, about women inventors, as if we were students, but every now and then coming out of the student/teacher roles to allow us to think critically about the textbook and what we might have done differently. For someone who was often taught using ‘homemade’ materials in an excellent language specialist secondary school, I think this was a very valuable lesson! It also reminded me of my time as an English assistant at a grammar school just outside of Hannover on my year abroad, when my ‘teaching’ was essentially other teachers telling me a double-page spread in a textbook and asking me to teach it, with no other feedback. I see now how unsuitable that is, but Helen taught us that very valuable lesson very subtly and cleverly indeed.
After more coffee (it’s limitless now we have all paid our €12 for the duration of the course, thank goodness!) it was time for our first observation. The Berlin School of English, as most other CELTA training centres do, I imagine, offers cheap English courses for those people who are happy to be taught by trainees. Three o’clock is the start time for these courses, and from 3 – 4.30, we watched Eoghan teach the class which will be our training class for the next fortnight. It’s a group of 6 intermediate B1 level learners, although the level within the class is quite mixed. There are 4 Germans, one Russian lady and one Spanish guy (to whom I spouted a tonne of German when he first arrived and looked lost – before realising he was Spanish and had no idea what I was talking about!)
They all seem really nice, and they responded very well to Eoghan’s lesson on reading skills. He had 90 minutes with the learners, which is something we will never have, so he had a luxurious pace to his class and the students seemed very engaged. After 90 minutes and a short break, the six of us trainees got involved and we all played a ‘find someone who…’ game, whereby we mingled in the room asking each other questions from a pre-prepared list from Eoghan. The list of questions made me laugh a bit: ‘find someone who likes creating things with their hands’ and ‘find someone who cooked for more than four people at the weekend’ – but it’s obviously a great lesson for the students to get to talk loads, and they also learn how to reformulate that structure into a direct question.
After half an hour of mingling, the students had to report back on each of us, and then it was home time. Or at least, home time for the students! We stayed a further 45 minutes until 6 to hear some more information about our first Teaching Practices of the course – eek! Allegra, Rory and I were first up on Tuesday, so Eoghan talked all six of us through what a Teaching Practice actually involves. He didn’t talk so much about the Lesson Plan, though, so I ended up learning most of that from the examples available on our Moodle virtual learning environment that evening.
After class, there was a lot of panicked photocopying in the teachers’ resource room, and I stayed until just before 8 to create some materials for my first lesson. It was a slightly daunting task to have to shut down the trainee area of the school on my own, as I was the last to leave, but it was still there on Tuesday morning so thankfully it seemed like nothing had burnt down…!
I went home, speed-cooked some pasta, as my two flatmates and I are now making #CELTAfood for the next four weeks – food which has to be as swift and as filling as possible, whilst also not being too heavy! After wolfing down my dinner and skipping through my emails and the IATEFL Twitter thread, I cracked on with my lesson plan (which I am going to stop capitalising now!) and got so absorbed in it, that it was gone 11 before I surfaced for a cup of tea! I ended up going to bed not long after that last cup of tea, and waking up to do some tweaking from 6.30 until 8 the following morning, which is when we are leaving to walk to school. So, to summarise Day One: it’s certainly an intensive course, but it felt so good to be packing a pencil case and ring binder in my backpack and ‘walking to school’ – once a learner, always a learner and all that!
(And tomorrow the post will be shorter…!)
CELTA Day Two: Tuesday 14th April
The One Where I Had To Race Outside At Lunch To Buy Flip Flops
Tuesday did not get off to the best start. In fact, you could definitely use the expression ‘I got off on the wrong foot’ because I decided to wear my lovely new brown M&S pumps, as I thought they were nice and professional for my first ever teaching job. I put some plasters on before I left the house, because I knew they would rub like my last pair did at first, but even before Friedrichstraße station the backs of my heels were killing me, so I stopped at Rossman to buy some blister plasters. I thought that had done the trick, but barely 2 ‘blocks’ later, and they had rubbed off because they were too small, so I was back to being in pain. Anyway, to cut a long and tedious story short, I hobbled to school and spent the majority of the morning in bare feet because I couldn’t face the pain of the shoes on my bloodied ankles! However, I realised how unprofessional it would look to teach in bare feet, so I ran to Rossman (yes, I do love Rossman – it’s sort of like an exceptionally well-stocked German Superdrug) at lunchtime and bought myself some €3 flip-flops. They may have been ugly and masculine and blue, but they allowed me to walk around the room normally, and look slightly more professional than a hippy teacher with a nice outfit on, but no shoes!
So anyway, classes! In the morning we had an input session on speaking activities, which Helen taught through the medium of taking us through quite a high-level role play exercise directed at Business English. We got into small groups and prepared our thoughts before arguing out in new groups whether or not to send two executives from our (fake) company to a potentially terrorist-infested area. It was actually really fun, and a great demonstration of how to run a great lesson.
After the break, we started our input session with Eoghan with a vocab test on the nonsense words he taught us yesterday – again, a valuable lesson in how we should follow-up on previous lessons’ content. We learnt more about how to teach new vocabulary and how to break down the parts of speech and really analyse it fully, which of course I loved, being the linguistic geek that I am.
Over lunch I finished fiddling with my Lesson Plan and sent it to Eoghan before the 2.30 deadline, and then our learners started arriving early before their classes started at 3pm, so we cleared our stuff from the main desks and moved to the little seminar desks around the back so we could become true observing teachers. Allegra was up first, and she taught a brilliant reading lesson. She has a very friendly, relaxed manner with her class and finished perfectly on time. The bar was set fairly high for the start of Teaching Practice Number 1!
Then it was my turn, and I found it a bit stressful schlepping all my things from the back of the classroom to the front with no changeover time – the first lesson I learnt was to reduce how many materials I use! Aside from that, I think the beginning of my lesson on ‘childhood and upbringing’ went fairly well because the students did a lot of talking to each other, and thankfully they caught onto my explanation of ‘upbringing’ nice and quickly – if they hadn’t, the start of my first ever lesson could have been considerably more painful! The focus of my lesson was supposed to be lexis, so I was aiming to have taught them 10 or so new phrasal verbs about their upbringing. However, the warm-up I used took a lot longer than I had expected, which of course pushed everything else back, so I ended up not having enough time to give the students feedback on the matching activity I had set them to introduce the new words.
In fact, as I was in the middle of this part of my lesson, I learnt some valuable lessons about matching activities:
- For lower levels, keep the vocab you are trying to teach stuck on one sheet, so that the learners have the same order as you for feedback and only have to move around the definitions (it took my learners far too long to find the verb which happened to be at the top of my sheet as I was trying to correct them!)
- Cut up the pieces of paper evenly, so they don’t use the larger parts from the tops and bottoms of the page as an easy cheat
- Allocate way longer than you imagine!
But I did finish on time, even if I didn’t finish my activity, which meant that after a ten-minute break, it was Rory’s turn to take the floor. As he taught his great lesson on time in relation to commuting, I reflected on my lesson and wrote myself some bullet points for my self-evaluation later that evening. Even after only one TP, I have realised that this is quite a good idea, because it allowed me to head home (with an obligatory stop at one of the 20+ German bakeries we pass on our way home for a treat for dessert!) and bash out my self-evaluation pretty quickly. I emailed that to Eoghan and then had a good few hours to sort out my plan for Thursday, to hopefully allow me to get some decent feedback on my ideas in the Guidance session on Wednesday. It’s only Day Two but I feel like I’m getting into the rhythm of this course. It’s brilliant!
CELTA Day Two: Wednesday 15th April
The One Where I Got My First Ever CELTA grade back!
Somehow, I have finished my plan for tomorrow and it’s only 8.30pm, so I thought I would give myself a blogging break before doing some more reading to prepare for tomorrow – the terrifying day when we are given our new set of Teaching Practice instructions, with much less help included, and also when we receive our first assignment.
So this morning’s walk to work began with Ingrid by my side, but she forgot her folder, so I toddled up Friedrichstraße by myself, looking at up at all the gorgeous building adornment and all the stunning penthouse apartments I will never be able to afford! Our first session was with Eoghan today, during which we learnt the very important Meaning, Form and Pronunciation technique for teaching grammar. One of the examples we learnt was as follows, to teach the ‘should have’ element of the following sentence:
Mary should have driven more slowly.
So, the meaning of the ‘should have’ is a regret or a criticism; its form is:
Subject (Mary) + should have + past participle (driven)
….and the important element to the pronunciation of this sentence is the fact that the ‘should’ and the ‘have’ are contracted to give ‘should’ve’ – to use the less technical, and non-phonemic transcription spelling!
A very valuable technique indeed, we thought, so we found the practice on four or five more examples very helpful!
After some necessary coffee, it was Helen’s turn for input and our topic was classroom management. Similarly to the way that she introduced the ground rules for the course in her very first session, she based this whole input session on how to manage a classroom on a questionnaire, in which we had to agree, disagree or sit on the fence and select ‘it depends’ for a variety of statements. We learnt that, for example, gestures should always reinforce the target language, but never replace it; that it’s normally better to say a word before writing it on the board so students don’t try to say it using the rules of their mother tongue; and that it’s almost essential to give instructions in the target language, at whatever level, as they are often some of the most useful bits of functional language. We discussed in pairs, except I was in a three because one guy on our course sadly decided to withdraw for personal reasons yesterday. He was a brilliantly bubbly Australian, so that was a real shame. Then we fed back to the class and the whole session was a really interesting brainstorm, during which I somehow scribbled three extra pages of notes on top of the handouts Helen had prepared and beautifully hole-punched for us.
During lunch I chatted to another one of the British guys on the course, Matt, and got insanely jealous of the fantastic deal he has negotiated himself for a flat in Berlin until the end of October! I also worked more on my lesson plan for tomorrow (Thursday) so I could discuss it with Eoghan in Teaching Practice Guidance.
But before Guidance comes Feedback, and at 1pm, Allegra, Rory and I received our feedback and grades for our first ever Teaching Practice. We got To Standard, which I was delighted with as I was expecting Below Standard, given that I technically didn’t achieve the main aim I had been given because I ran out of time! But apparently the first three quarters of my lesson were great, and I have a good rapport with the students and a good presence as a teacher – all of which were news to me, but things I was very chuffed to hear. Everyone else got good feedback too, and it’s more useful than I had expected to listen to other people’s, rather than just receiving a bit of paper with some comments on it individually. Eoghan must not need much sleep, either, as he had written all over our plans, all over our self-evaluations (which we only submitted late last night or early this morning!) and also wrote extensive feedback on the feedback form. They did say that CELTA was all about the feedback!
After Feedback (and more coffee), came Guidance and we discussed our plans for tomorrow’s lessons. Eoghan gave me some really useful tips, such as telling me I don’t need to worry about pre-teaching the words which may be unknown to my learners before I let them read the text which will form the focus of the lesson. Rather, it’s fine to just give them a glossary with definitions from a Learners’ Dictionary – and not an Advanced Learners’ Dictionary, which was my mistake yesterday!
Then the learners arrived and it was Teaching Practice time – it was quite nice to have the afternoon without any serious stress! I did still of course pay attention and wrote extensive notes for the other teachers, and again, I feel like I learnt a lot from observing their lessons. The middle slot of the four was taught by Eoghan since we have lost one member of our group, and it’s still so impressive seeing how naturally he speaks exactly at the students’ level, and how low his Unnecessary Teacher Talking Time (as is the technical term!) is.
After class, I did some photocopying and some chatting, and then walked home in the gorgeous sunshine with Ingrid. People had poured out onto the streets of all the restaurants and cafes, and it was buzzing around Gendarmenmarkt – I LOVE BERLIN! At home, I made myself a quick salad and cracked on with tweaking my plan. I have somehow even squeezed in a load of washing, because I stupidly did not bring enough socks!
Right, time for tea and then some swotting in advance of tomorrow, I think. And I will probably treat myself to an early night tonight; with planning a lesson and writing an assignment, I feel the weekend is going to be a busy one!