As described before, the heart of the CELTA is the practice teaching time – one teacher trying their best in front of a class of real students, every other day. But between sessions trainees can’t relax completely – they have to attend all of the other teacher’s classes to observe them, and later give feedback about the lesson – both positive and negative. I’ll now take a moment to talk about what it is like being watched by other teachers, what it’s like to be the watcher, and what the feedback sessions are like after class.
Big Brother is watching
Being watched is a strange experience. Some trainees were quite visibly shaken by it. At first glance it seems like it shouldn’t matter much – teaching is always a public job, and any mistake a teacher makes will be observed by their whole class. But it felt quite different knowing that the instructors were grading me, that my fellow trainees were taking notes, and that I would have to relive and discuss every mistake later on.
Personally I was lucky, my former employer, Chungdahm Academy, videotaped all classes via CCTV, which were randomly watched by supervisors, so I was already used to the feeling. Furthermore, Chungdahm’s preferred teacher training method is “mock teaching,” where a teacher gives an example lesson to other teachers and is then critiqued. During my CELTA, there was only one practice teaching session where I was shaken by being watched; after my 5th teaching practice, right in the middle of the course, I received a bad review for one of my classes – during my next practice teaching lesson I did a better job overall, but I was incredibly nervous because I was intensely aware of every tiny mistake I made throughout the lesson.
Being Big Brother
Now, as for being the watcher instead of the watched, the number one word I can think of is,,,dull. In my teaching practice group there were 6 trainees total – so for every hour I spent teaching, I had to watch 5 hours of others teaching. At first there were a lot of things to pay attention to – taking notes on the other teachers good and bad points, learning the students’ names, watching the class dynamics and thinking of ideas for my own lessons. But as the days and weeks passed, I got to know the students, I got to know the teachers, and the classes began to feel somewhat standard – I learned what mistakes the students would make before they made them, and what each teacher was going to do, good and bad, before they did it.
If I could repeat my CELTA experience, I would have made a little more effort to follow the advice in the course book. Early on in the book there are observation exercises, which give specific details for observing teachers to watch for. For example
“Choose two students in the class and observe how they…work alone, work in pairs, work in groups…are they stronger or weaker than the class average? Is it their vocabulary, grammar, fluency, pronunciation?”
“As you watch the teacher, try to visualize their lesson plan…Try to guess their plan and outline it below…what pattern of lesson plan was used?”
“Write down errors/mistakes made by students, and then write how the teacher corrected each error/mistake. What method does the teacher use to correct errors? What do you think of their method?
Some of these observation exercises are also given in the recommended textbook “Learning Teaching” by Scrivener. The instructors said completing these exercises was optional, but they did not give us any other guidance in how to use our observation time. I’m not saying that following these specific exercises would have made the process any less dull, but I think it would have helped me get more out of the experience. I would advise any future trainees to either follow the exercises or make up their own, different, observation task for each day to give themselves more focus.
Finally, the feedback sessions. Every day the teaching group holds a feedback session to discuss the previous day’s practice teaching sessions. My two teachers, John and Barry, had very different ways of handling these feedback sessions.
John went to each trainee, asking them to give their own positive points, then asking the rest of the group for their positive notes. Next he went back to the trainee and asked for things that “need improvement,” and then asked the rest of the group for problems they noticed with the lesson. Finally, he would give his own comments and tips for how to improve.
Barry on the other hand would write the names of each trainee to be discussed in columns on the board, with two rows below – a (+) sign and a (-) sign. He then gave everyone several minutes to mingle and write good notes (+) and problems (-). We then sat down and openly discussed each trainee in turn, both the good and the bad.
After a bad lesson, this process can be kind of brutal. I only had one lesson go really badly, but during that feedback session I wanted to crawl under a rock. I can’t imagine what it must feel like for someone who knows they are close to failing the course. However, my instructors and my group were very good and supportive. We were all in the same boat, so it wasn’t unbearable – and for every day I was embarrassed, everyone else got their turn. And above all it was constructive – they pointed out things that I really needed to work on, some things I didn’t even realize I was doing. I wrote a post about my most common mistake – “Uh oh, I pulled a Seth!”
Listen carefully to criticism during these sessions – the instructors don’t expect trainees to ever have a 100% perfect lesson, but one thing that drives them crazy is to watch trainees make the same exact mistakes over and over again.