Academic qualifications do not place as much importance on critical feedback during teaching practice, as is available on the CELTA, and for me, that is reason enough to take the course.
This is part of a series of interviews I’m doing with CELTA trainees in India to explore their professional journeys after they complete the course.
It’s not uncommon to have trainees on CELTA courses in India who are highly qualified … not just in some random field but in education, linguistics and English language teaching. I’m always curious about why someone with that sort of background would want to do an initial teacher-training qualification. So I thought it would be interesting to catch up with Deepesh, who has a PhD in English language education, to explore his reasons for doing the course and his experience on it.
I met Deepesh when he was heading the CLIL@India project. I had some fascinating conversations with him about CLIL, pedagogy and research. He did the CELTA at the British Council in Chennai a couple of months ago.
What is your academic/professional background?
Having an MA (linguistics) from JNU, New Delhi and an MA (English) from Madras University, I taught English in CBSE schools in Delhi and Doha-Qatar for over 11 years. I then pursued a full-time PhD in English Language Education from the EFL-U, Hyderabad and the degree was awarded to me in December 2016. Subsequently, I taught English courses in an engineering college in Chennai for about three years and then took on the Executive Director’s role in the CLIL@India project (The EU’s Erasmus project on piloting and adapting Content and Language Integrated Learning through four major universities in India). I have also led hundreds of workshops for school and college teachers in several parts of India for the past seven years.
What motivated you to do the course?
I had been looking to bolster my professional development path using credentials that would help me not only in taking a relook at theoretical aspects of ELT research but also have me sharpen the practical skills involved in teaching adults learning English. After much thought, I decided to do the CELTA, even though I knew that most people consider it to be an initial teacher-education course.
What did you expect from the CELTA and did it live up to these expectations?
I signed up for the CELTA to update my knowledge of theory (ELT) and to have the real-time evaluation of my practical teaching skills in the classroom. While I have been open to the idea, I haven’t had the opportunity to have my classes evaluated neutrally by a non-student. Students and junior colleagues (who have sat in) have always given me positive feedback and this hadn’t been very useful for me to improve myself in any way.
The CELTA experience provided me, for the first time, honest and critical feedback from three different experienced teachers (and trainers), as well as from younger and a few experienced peers, along fixed criteria. This was priceless as it gave me insights that I had missed all through my teaching and training career.
A lot of ELT professionals are perplexed when they hear that CELTA trainees have post-graduate degrees in language education. This is often the case on courses in the global south whereas courses with trainees who are for example predominantly from the UK may not even have an initial degree. Now that you’ve experienced the course, do you feel it genuinely addresses a gap in the existing academic trajectories in India?
Different individuals have different expectations from the CELTA and therefore they take away different things from the experience. While I observed both groups of trainees we had in the course – fresh graduates with no teaching experience and those with teaching degrees as well as experience – I found out that what the CELTA experience does to an individual depends much on how willing the person is to receive fresh perspectives and to change one’s established ideas and practices. I would definitely recommend the CELTA to everyone who wishes to start/continue teaching English. This is because I am aware of the shortcomings in the teaching degrees we have in India. Academic qualifications do not place as much importance on critical feedback during teaching practice, as is available on the CELTA, and for me, that is reason enough to take the course. With a teaching degree (BAEd), NET qualification (for teaching in college/university levels in India) in two subjects (Linguistics and English), and a PhD in English Language Education, and with about 15 years of experience teaching young learners and young adults, I say without hesitation that the CELTA taught me a lot.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the course?
Strengths: Opportunity to immediately put into practice the theoretical inputs learnt in class; critical feedback from experienced teachers along set criteria and the opportunity to improve one’s practices based on this ongoing feedback; excellent templates for teaching skills (especially receptive skills – listening and reading) and language (especially the meaning-pronunciation-form template for vocabulary and grammar) lessons; internationally-recognised certification and rigor; fair and transparent assessment methods along declared criteria
Weaknesses (in my perception): Fixed templates with little room for classroom-based manoeuvre; assessment along set criteria with little credit for improvisation; insistence on using the British English pronunciation with little tolerance for General Indian English, especially in the drill stage of a language lesson
Where are you currently working and what sort of work does it involve?
I don’t work full-time currently, and all I am doing is an occasional teacher-training session for school and college teachers of English.
Have you been able to use what you learnt on the CELTA?
I haven’t been able to use what I learnt on the CELTA as yet, but being a conscientious practitioner, I have resolved to use two of the biggest learning from the course in my practice, wherever and whenever I teach – to reduce Teacher Talk-Time (TTT) and increase Student Talk-Time (STT), and to use the CELTA lesson templates for the skills and language lessons and improvise based on the class contours.
What sort of impact has the course had on you professionally and/or personally?
Apart from what I have mentioned in my responses to the earlier questions, there are a few other effects this course has had on me: I have begun to connect with ELT professionals across geographical boundaries on Twitter and engage in meaningful discussions about ELT theory and practices, and also do this through emails. I have realised the importance of CPD in a much bigger way and I seek to do it in multiple ways now (unlike earlier, when this was done mainly through presenting papers at conferences). The CELTA has given me wings to do this.
Where to next?
I am slated to move to Canada for work in a few months and I look forward to an opportunity to use what I learnt on the course in my teaching practices.
What sort of advice would you give to prospective trainees from the global south who like you have some sort of academic background in TESOL/ELT?
Sign up for the CELTA if you want to reinvent yourself as a teaching professional. Read up as much as you can about it before the course and keep an open mind throughout. Adopt whatever is positive about the course and what you can learn from it, and simply play along doing the things that otherwise go against your teaching philosophy or understanding. Remember that knowledge comes from all sides and learning is most effective when you are ready to accept change. It is the most receptive people who benefited most from the course and not those who kept grumbling about one thing or the other. Good luck!
Deepesh’s handle on Twitter is @deepeshc1975