Wednesday, December 1, 2010

CELTA, Week 3: This Time It's Personal

Now that I'm partway through week four, thoughts on week three:

God. Damn. Brutal. We had to design our own syllabus for this week, which was fortunately fairly hands-off and not as terrifying as it sounds. I think at this point my fellow CELTees have started to wonder if I'm not going to just "get a Glock and mow these people down!"* This isn't commentary on CELTA as such; more that my time management skills are terrible. (I should be working on a self-evaluation right now. What am I doing? Hint: you're reading it.)

The other thing about CELTA is that there is literally a whole rainforest of paperwork to sort. In addition to the two to four handouts we get per "how to teach" class (two of those classes per day), for every lesson we teach we have to fill out lesson plans, cover sheets for the lesson plans, and language analysis or skills focus sheets. Additionally, whatever handouts we use or create, we need an extra copy for the portfolio we send off to Cambridge. Then, once we've taught our lesson for that day, we go home and type up a self-evaluation to go in the portfolio, along with our lesson plan and the tutor's evaluation of our performance (which we get the next day, during group feedback). If we're not teaching, then we're assessing other teachers (so we have things to contribute to group feedback the next day), which means we get copies of their lesson plans to mark up with notes. And for the cherry on top, there's the written work we have to turn in. For the first two, it's quite straightforward; for the second two, since they're about planning a theoretical lesson, we have to (again) include any handouts we created for that theoretical lesson.

In case you couldn't tell, that's a lot of paper. Paperwork, and keeping track of papers, is just not really my forte. I think at least half of the stress I've had to deal with on this course comes from sifting through a whole notebook of papers. Every couple days I go on what I've come to call a "hole punch bonanza" so I can at least not have them faffing about loose, but it's still annoying.

"Oh, but Katherine, there's so many ways to organize your stuff! You can fix that easily!" Well, nuts to you. Every attempt to impose some kind of logical order on my morass of stuff degrades into chaos, 99% of the time. The 1% exception is books. My library at home is very neatly sorted and categorized, maybe because books are much bigger and easier to see? No clue. Without the time to sit and sort and purge my coursework of unnecessary faffery, things get out of control. Papers and little things are a hot mess and will continue to be so until I die.

Moral of the story? If you have issues with your executive functions, prepare to crank your attention knob all the way up to eleven if you're doing CELTA.

So three weeks of swimming in handouts and lesson plans will just do you in. My latest feedback session, I probably gave off the impression of being absolutely frustrated with myself and depressed and convinced I'm a total failure etc. It's not that. It's just a combination of 1) having high standards for myself that I never live up to 2) getting absolutely overwhelmed with handouts and paperwork and bits of paper every day, five days a week, for the last three weeks, 3) a broken sleep schedule and 4) having to, within a lesson, be conscious of five trillion things at once.

And here we're back to the executive functions bit again.

Instead of just planning a lesson and having it assessed on whether it was a successful lesson or not, you are constantly performing to CELTA's standards. Some of those are fairly broad and important, like: creating good rapport with the students, successfully conveying the meaning of new material, whatever. But others are minor, almost to the point where I'd call it nitpickery. Things like task-checking, when you drill and when you write things on the board, etc. Having to juggle all of those nine hundred things in your brain while simultaneously interacting with your students and facilitating a successful language class takes an intense amount of concentration—at least it does for me, since interacting with students and taking on the performative role of a teacher sucks up more of my spoons than other people.

(Aside, that article is really interesting. No, I don't have Lupus, but I think it works out for everyone—teaching may take more of my spoons than of a coworker's; on the other hand I can sit down and breeze through a writing or "language awareness" assignment with only half a spoon or so.)

So on some level, CELTA is going to cost you some spoons. Either you're an energetic, gregarious entertaining-type who can't bear to sit and spout off a lot of analytical nonsense, or you're a total language pedant introvert who cranks out the essays with a certain academic glee, but absolutely struggles with classroom management and engaging people. It's not even a spectrum, probably, it's more like a Cartesian plane: at (0,0) is where you need to be to get through CELTA without losing any spoons, the ideal balance between whatever factors are relevant. But of course people have strengths and weaknesses and so you have (6,0) or (2, -2) or whatever else. You're going to have to make some weekly (even daily) sacrifices and struggle (to a greater or lesser extent) through all of them as you try to traverse the distance from your point back to (0,0). And it will take a toll on you. The question is, how far do you have to go, and how much can you push yourself?

*To end on a more lighthearted note, the "get a Glock and mow these people down!" line is a reference to the legendary MST3K episode Overdrawn at the Memory Bank. I quoted it to myself during a break and managed to confuse just about everyone who heard me. To clarify, here's the clip. The whole thing is hilarious, but the line in question is at about the three minute mark. It loses something in the pure reading of it; half of the humor is Mike imitating Raul Julia (or imitating Mike's imitation of Raul Julia).

Fingal: Maybe I had to put up with out there, but not in here.
Mike (as Fingal): I'm going to get a Glock and mow these people down!

And for Facebook, which hates embedding video in notes:

You make me tingle, Fingal. Are you single? Gimme a jingle. ;)


  1. hang in there --- if you can zipline, you can do paperwork :)

  2. I'm just about go into week three of CELTA and enjoyed reading your blog - I'm glad someone else finds the paperwork possibly one of the worst things about it. Every time I get given another sheet it's difficult not to burst into tears!