First week teaching post-CELTA: 9 things I have learnt

I promise that my post about my fourth and final week of my CELTA is very nearly finished, but in advance of that, I thought I’d write a quick summary of my first week teaching – although it was a short three-day week since Germany had a Bank Holiday on Thursday and my school kindly created what the Germans call a ‘bridge day’ to mean we had the Friday off, too! So it was a very nice, short introduction to the wonderful world of English Language Teaching without the helping hand of CELTA tutors standing close by and gesturing encouragingly!

For those of you who didn’t know, I am teaching an intensive class comprising 7 students ranging from false beginner (A1) to intermediate (B1) as cover for someone I met in a Berlin Language Workers’ Facebook group. It’s 8.30 – 1.50 every day, which has been requiring me to get up at 5am every morning!

1. Teaching a class of mixed ability is hard, hard work. My heart sinks at the slightly bored faces of the fast finishers, who have raced through the exercise in question, when I compare them to the faces of those weaker students, desperate to understand every last word and have finished before I say ‘OK everyone…!’ and start to run through answers. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I had extra grammar exercises prepared for those speedy students, but I need to learn to have other activities on standby, too.

2. Wifi is really important when teaching – particularly, when you don’t yet have a phone contract like me! It’s useful to look up words, brainstorm activities to fill the last 5 minutes of a 110 minute lesson (!) and essential for a touch of humanity and reassurance from home during breaks 🙂

3. The classic language teacher gestures for ‘past,’ ‘present’ and ‘future’ work absolute wonders to prompt self-correction.

4. I hated drama in school and used to do anything to get out of it (including, I am ashamed to admit, faking nosebleeds!) However, in the ELT classroom, I have found myself acting out all sorts: kicking balls to distinguish ‘football’ from ‘handball,’ going up and down a lift, as well as numerous ridiculous actions to make word stress more memorable for my students. A personal favourite is the ‘gee, shucks!’ elbow that goes along with teaching the correct emphasis on the word ‘terrific’ which I believe I first had to teach on the CELTA and has somehow become ‘a thing.’ My students seem to love it!

5. Students love vocabulary on the board and they love to know collocations – even at A2 level (beginners)!

6. Similarly, students seem to love it when I spend a few minutes at the end of every block of lessons writing up mistakes I heard, and getting them to help me correct them – classic CELTA practice, but apparently popular!

7. Always have some paper handy to make notes of mistakes for correction, new vocab that comes up…anything! Then, if you save those bits of paper (/neatly arranged notes!) then you have the basis for a standard vocab test, or something more fun like vocab bingo!

8. It’s worth straying from the textbook: on one of the last sections of Wednesday’s classes (essentially Friday due to the bank holiday), I did a song with my students and they absolutely loved it. Even the weakest of them all was positively gleeful as she told me ‘we can do this again!’

9. Ditto the above for pronunciation practice: I found a very small exercise in a properly vintage beginners’ business English textbook, and used it to teach students the different ways to pronounce the plural ‘s’. Again, to me, it had been planned as a ‘filler’ activity, but to the students it was fun, it was helping them sound authentic – it was great!

In finishing this post over the weekend, I couldn’t help but think of this post by Sophia Khan, which she kindly linked to me in her comment on my post about my first day teaching. Sophia’s post is summing up a talk given by Alan Maley and Adrian Underhill about ‘valuing the unexpected,’ and learning not to stick rigidly to a lesson plan but rather to appreciate the learning opportunities which can come from students’ questions and queries. In my three days, or 18 hours, of teaching since my CELTA ended, it has really become clear to me how important and beneficial to students those spontaneous moments are. I had to explain the difference between ‘lay’ and ‘lie’ in a lesson on Tuesday, but my students then used it correctly from then on and I had that real warm, fuzzy feeling that I had actually taught them something! The best line for me from Sophia’s post was therefore the following:

What I especially like here is that Underhill and Maley don’t say “expect the unexpected”. Don’t be ready, because you can’t be ready – not for anything, which is exactly what walks into your classroom every day: infinite possibility. But value the unexpected. See what happens and play it by ear. You will be alright. And you can end up learning some great lessons yourself.

So, in the week that I found out that my two wonderful CELTA tutors have nominated me to receive a Pass A grade for my CELTA, I have learnt to stick a little less stringently to my plan for the day, and go where the students feel like going that day! Thanks to Alan, Adrian and Sophie for the inspiration 🙂

About BerLingo

My name is Rachel, I am 25 and I love Germany. I studied German, Spanish and Italian at Durham University for four years, one of which I spent living in Europe, and then worked at Routledge academic publishing house for almost 3 years. Towards the end of 2014, I decided it was time to finally fulfil a long-held ambition to live in Berlin, and so in April 2015 I completed the CELTA qualification (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, adminstered by Cambridge University) here in the German capital. Now qualified, my blog charts my experiences as a new English teacher in my favourite city... (More information about my plans can be found in my first ever blog post.)
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10 Responses to First week teaching post-CELTA: 9 things I have learnt

  1. punster30 says:

    wow! Pass A! Good work Rachel! nice post too, glad it’s going well 🙂


    • BerLingo says:

      Thanks Peter! I was totally surprised too! Cambridge may yet dispute it, but apparently that’s never happened at the Berlin School of English yet so fingers crossed I get to keep the A!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I completely agree with your point 8 and supplementing with different materials. The textbook can get a bit boring after too long. I haven’t used many songs though – I’m not the most musically minded person. I’ll have to try more in the future!


    • BerLingo says:

      I’m not very musically minded, either, but I was so surprised by how much my students loved it! They also seem to enjoy pronunciation practice, which is another good filler for having 10 minutes left at the end of the lesson.
      I am finding it hard to not be totally dependent on the textbook, though! Hopefully I’ll become more creative with time…
      All tips for thinking beyond the course book very much welcome – maybe it’s my previous experience working in an academic publishing house that keeps me tied to the textbook!


  3. Sophia says:

    Hi Rachel! Congrats on storming through your CELTA – whatever the final outcome may be, I’ve never met you and I am already amazed by how you have dived in, becoming part of the online community, blogging, reflecting…it takes most people years to get to that! I love your enthusiasm and am glad you’ve found your launch into full time teaching manageable, fun and interesting – challenges are what keep us fresh! Thanks also for the reference to my post, if you found something in it that spoke to you that makes me very happy 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • BerLingo says:

      Hi Sophia, thanks so much for this comment; I was really quite touched by it 🙂 I started blogging to try and hold myself a bit accountable for preparing for the CELTA, and I just started to really enjoy it! I’m so pleased that some of you wonderful people, whose blogs I really enjoy reading, take the time to read my (not at all ‘little’!) posts.
      I loved the CELTA and am still secretly mourning its ending a little bit, but I think it was such a fantastic course for laying the foundations for teaching here in Berlin.
      Your post did indeed really speak to me, and I’m very grateful you linked it to me 🙂
      This week is my last week in my current school and then it is indeed time for a new challenge, freelancing at the school where I did my CELTA!
      Thanks again for the very kind comment,

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: 8 further things I learnt during my first proper ELT job | BerLingo

  5. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi racehl,
    I second everything Sophia said, andI’m not surprised in the slightest that you’vebeen recommended a Pass A – in fact, I would have been surprised if you’d got anything else!
    It’s great to see you continuing to reflect on your teaching.
    One little correction: A2 isn’t beginner – that’s A0 (namely before they get to anything on the CEFR). A2 is elementary or pre-intermediate, depending on who you ask.
    As for fast finishers, any kind of memorisation exercise is very good for them – read, write, cover, check is one of my favourites because it tests them,but requires no extra prep from you. You could also make them teachers for the weaker students sometimes. Another idea is to set everybody some of the questions (achievable for slower students -e.g. 1-5, then fat finishers complete the whole exercise.
    Hope they help!

    Liked by 1 person

    • BerLingo says:

      Thanks very much Sandy, that’s very kind of you to say 🙂 Reading this back now, more than a month into teaching, and I realise how much I’ve learnt since then! Thanks for the small corrections though!
      Thank you also for the ideas for fast finishers – I’ve used them more this week and it’s made me much less nervy when I see the stronger students tapping their pens (metaphorically, of course!)
      Thanks again (as always!)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Why you should get involved with your local teaching association | Publishing and Pondering

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