When I worked in Costa Rica, my school required teachers to be CELTA or equivalent qualified. They didn’t care where the person was from, whether they were local, a native speaker or a non-native speaker, as long as you had the qualification and experience, then you could work there. To my knowledge, it was the only private language school in the country that had that requirement. The only one. The other schools, and there were quite a few, did not require the same level of qualifications or experience. Most of them had a preference for native speakers (as I’ve written about here), but qualified teachers were not on their radar. As a result, the school where I worked normally recruited teachers from abroad to come to Costa Rica because, as my DoS once pointed out, all of the qualified teachers living in the country were already working there.
The Temporary Colleague
Earlier this year, a new CELTA qualified colleague arrived from the UK. The school provided him with a month’s accommodation and started his visa process at their own cost, two things which no other school in Costa Rica (again to the best of my knowledge) would have done. Within three weeks he was gone. He went back to the UK because he had been offered an interview, not a job, an interview with a clothing company. In his words “I’m nearly thirty now and I have to think about my future”. It’s funny that he hadn’t decided to do this before he flew halfway around the world and created a lot of unnecessary work and expense for people.
I was stunned by his lack of professionalism, integrity and maturity, but most of all I was angry. I was angry that he had caused so much bother for no good reason, but even more so I was angry for the state of our profession. This was a person who had the CELTA, who was equally as qualified as me and who treated the job like an intermittent distraction. And it made me a bit sad, because teaching EFL is a great job. It’s not perfect, but it can be very rewarding, both personally and intellectually. If you’re the kind of teacher who turns up five minutes before class, turns to page 48 in your coursebook, thinks “oh yeah, this one again” and doesn’t get involved in the learning process that your students are going through, then you might want to reflect on why you’re thinking about switching to “a proper job”.
Only Six Hours?
I always think about this when I hear people criticising the CELTA and discussing the entry level requirements to EFL. Often the conversation centres around the idea that the CELTA is an inadequate qualification for an English language teacher. To summarise, the main criticism was that the CELTA only contains six hours of teaching practice which cannot be considered enough for a teacher to be qualified, especially when compared to other professions.
In principle, it’s hard to argue with this point of view. I can’t imagine that there are many people who think that six hours is really sufficient training before teaching without supervision. I do have to say however, that those six hours were perhaps the longest six hours of my life! Six hours when you’re inexperienced is very different from when you’re experienced, especially when you’ve got a tutor and a group of colleagues watching you. That said, I will concede that it isn’t really sufficient.
The CELTA is what it is. It is very open about what it is designed to do:
“CELTA is for people with little or no previous teaching experience.” (source)
If you employ a teacher with a CELTA and not much else, then what do you expect them to be able to do? I would be expect them to be capable of organising and carrying out a well-executed lesson. I would expect the students to learn something. And I would expect the teacher to make mistakes every now and again. I wouldn’t expect much more than that as I think that would be unfair.
This isn’t a criticism of the CELTA in any way. As I said, it is what it is. In my personal experience, I felt that it was exactly what I needed at that time. It gave me structure and direction, and it introduced me to key concepts that I have gone on to develop in the years since. I think that should be enough of an initial certification course.
So this leads us to the dilemma. If you don’t think that CELTA is enough, I’m afraid you’re very far from reality. Perhaps in certain cities in the world you can’t work without one, but it must be a tiny minority of places. If we start to say that CELTA is below the entry level, then you can go ahead and close every school in Costa Rica and a lot of other countries, I’d wager. And that’s not going to happen.
You will also prevent many new teachers from joining the profession, particularly in the private sector. The CELTA doesn’t come cheap and asking people to spend over £1000 on a qualification for a job that they’ve never done is already quite a big ask, especially in countries where this will make up quite a large proportion of the income of the job they are planning to go into. If you want them to go beyond this before they become a teacher, you can wave goodbye to 90% of new teachers. This will get a rid of a lot of bad teachers, but it will also get rid of some good ones. It would have got rid of me.
And if you do think that the CELTA is enough, as I do, then you have to concede that it’s not a perfect situation. Perhaps the course could be restructured, but even if you double the number of teaching hours, it’s still only 12 hours. How much is enough? 20? 40? How many hours do you think you needed before you became comfortable in your job? Is it feasible to include that in a course? And of course, having a CELTA is by no means a guarantee of reliability when it comes to teachers, as I learnt in the story above.
So while I can understand where this principle of demanding a higher level of qualification comes from, and I appreciate the ideas behind it in theory, it’s so far from being a reality in a lot of places, I’m not sure if there’s much point in having this discussion. What is more interesting to me is how we try and raise the actual entry level in EFL which in a lot of places, if you’re a native speaker from certain countries, is having no qualifications and no experience, and if you’re a local, non-native or native from some countries, means that your qualifications or experience are ignored. That is the real issue and the reason why I support this campaign.
The Inverted Iceberg
It’s worth that remembering that TEFL is like an iceberg, to use an old cliche. Above the water, the CELTA line if you like, you will find the career teachers, the ones with qualifications and experience, the ones who blog, go to conferences, read books to develop, experiment in their classrooms, and reflect on how they can become better teachers. Below the line, you’ll find a huge industry of private schools with unqualified teachers, old fashioned methodologies and money making as the primary ethos.
But that only reflects a minority of places in the world where English is being taught today. As I’ve commented before, TEFL seems to be heavily skewed to the private language schools compared to the vast majority of English language classrooms which are in state schools and where the entry requirements are much higher than a four week course. So if you feel a bit depressed about the state of our profession, just remember that the reality is much more like this:
Picture taken from here.