Overcoming observation anxiety

Whether you have been observed by colleagues in a more or less unofficial setting, by your DOS as part of a job appraisal scheme or process, or as part of a teacher training course such as the CELTA or the Delta, being observed can be extremely stressful for most teachers.

The topic of classroom observations is very wide but this blog post aims to focus on just one of the aspects involved in the discussion of observations – how to reduce anxiety and feel more confident in order to be able to do your best.

The context outlined below is drawn from experiences of training on or following a training course – a CELTA course or other course at a similar level (or it can be a higher course, such as a Delta or similar); however, job appraisal observations can benefit from the very same suggestions.

Pamellah Hein via Compfight
  Pamellah Hein via Compfight

I am so nervous!!!!

This is a familiar phrase in our CELTA training classroom or our trainees’ preparation room; some suffer more than others, and there are extreme cases when the trainee loses all touch with reality and goes very white and quiet!!!

Anxiety can be of two kinds, debilitative and facilitative and the kind outlined above is not the kind that gets the adrenalin going and puts us into a high energy gear! It’s clearly debilitating and creates panic, loss of orientation and, at times, complete loss of memory!! Trainees forget what they intended to do and with eyes glazed seem to embark on a journey which is quite difficult to comprehend or follow!!!

If you are one of those blessed with a calm and confident personality, stop reading now. Or tell us how you do it. For the rest of us mere mortals, here’s a quick and dirty guide on how to go from terrified to composed in five simple (but by no means easy!) steps.

Be Prepared

Remember that good old boy scout motto? Being prepared in mind and body is very important for any test and any task, so much of this blog post is a reminder of how you can best prepare for a great lesson.

This can be the most important stage for pre-empting potential problems that can quickly turn into sources of anxiety! We’ll call this one the ‘be prepared principle‘ which has a number of important maxims:

1. Clarify your aims

Anxiety is often due to a lack of certainty or clarity of what it is really that we hope to achieve. Do not despair!! This is why you are following this course and not awarded a certificate on day one! There is learning to be done and teaching is a complex, demanding task. Remember these points and try to improve a little in every lesson

  • decide on your primary focus and avoid too many aims
  • be ruthless about leaving out anything not strictly relevant to your main aims
  • write your aims down simply and clearly
  • scrutinise for inconsistencies, tricky points, weak spots.
  • remember not to be over-ambitious as to how much you can fit into your lesson slot. Less is more!!!!

Key words: Be prepared – Clarify your aims – Remove the clutter – Less is more

2. Seek help

Juan Pablo Benavente Maturana via Compfight

Teaching Practice points are not cast in stone and tutors usually encourage any creative, innovative or just plain practical ideas you may have in order to achieve your lesson aims.

  • So, talk to your tutor! This should also help alleviate your anxiety, especially since you would be sharing your concerns with the person observing you.
  • Talk to your peers; use them as a sounding board for your ideas. Return the favour; this is a collaborative learning experience after all, and you can benefit from it in three very concrete ways:
    • it takes your mind off your constant worrying about your own lesson plan
    • you can get the most amazing ideas about your lesson as you are considering somebody else’s
    • you are no longer alone in this! The CELTA course (especially the intensive one) was not designed to be a solitary experience. And you will need all the support you can get (and give), if you are to overcome your worries and fears.

Anxiety and fear sometimes spread like wildfire. Avoid contaminating everyone! A group of trainees who are constantly fearful and anxious is not going to be a productive team and it doesn’t look like this feeling can generate the positive energy and enjoyment in the learning which your course should create in you!

Key words: Connect with peers – Ask for support – Do not spread your anxiety – Keep calm

3. Practice makes perfect!

Even very experienced conference speakers tell us how many times they rehearse a talk to make them feel confident. Truly!!!!

Once you have decided what you are going to do, rehearse and time your activities. Enlist a helpful roommate or family member, or one of your peers, as learner substitutes.

If possible, rehearse in front of a mirror or even record yourself giving instructions and asking questions. Pinpoint and amend any potential problems before you encounter them in class! If need be, script your questions and/or instructions. If all this sounds too much, just think of the immediate benefits:

  • you remove a great chunk of uncertainty about how effective your lesson can be, by pre-emptying certain potential problems.
  • you immediately feel more in control of the whole process; this can actively help reduce observation anxiety.
  • you feel more at peace with yourself, because you know you have done your best preparing for your observation.
  • your lesson may not be perfect, but you can get some peace of mind and satisfaction from knowing you have given it your best shot.

If you are worried about not being able to remember your lesson notes, some ideas:

  • print them large (just your own actions) and use colourful and cheerful text highlighters to remind yourself of your next step.
  • put each step on a large flashcard and hold in your hands
  • use a great online tool which works as an autocue – read a short blog post here



Now, if you are one of those people that tend to express their anxiety verbally, then use this trait to your advantage: find a quiet corner and read through your questions or instructions aloud, concentrating on the language you use.

  • Go into a corner and speak your lines to the wall. The wall will bring back your voice full volume and besides a recording, it’s a great way to hear how you sound.
  • Try to modulate your voice and regulate your breathing. (If you’ve ever had any yoga or meditation classes, now is the time to put everything you’ve learnt into practice). You’ll be surprised how listening to your own voice can calm you, especially if it is clear and modulated.

Key words: Rehearse – Rehearse – Reflect – Revise for confidence

4. Stay ahead of the game

relaxing alfrún
by mararie via Compfight

Do yourself a service and do not leave anything for the last minute.

This simple piece of advice really goes a long way. It means not having to worry about the photocopier or other technology breaking down out of the blue; not rushing around breathlessly to get everything ready at the last minute, among other hurried trainees who are about to be observed too; and allowing yourself a much-needed breathing space to collect your wits and do a few breathing exercises perhaps!
More important even: once preparation is done, and everything is ready, put it away. Stop thinking and worrying about your lesson until about 5 minutes before it is to start. I know this is easier said than done, but here are a few clever tricks to help you along:

  • Remove the whole lesson pack from view: put it in your trainee bag, ready to take with you in the morning; move the digital folder away from your desktop; put away all the reference materials you used. Just don’t lock it in a drawer or hide it under piles of paper: you may forget about it and leave it behind!
  • Deliberately turn your mind to your next project; be it your next assignment due in the following week, writing up your notes from the last input session or just finishing the chapter on listening sub-skills you started on before observation craze set-in.
  • Reward yourself for all your hard work! Preferably with something which will boost your confidence on the actual day.with a new haircut or hairdo
    • a new item of clothing or accessory you’ve always wanted (and is suitable to wear/use in class)
    • an evening out on the cinema or theatre and catch that show you’ve been meaning to see since the course started!
  • Avoid going out with friends and having too much to eat or drink, staying up all night watching your favourite series on a viewing marathon or playing your favourite online-game, and generally anything that saps your energy and prevents you from having a good night’s sleep.
  • If all else fails, exercise till you drop and then go to bed! Just remember to drink lots of fluids.

Key words: Ahead of time – Change scenery – Reward yourself – Rest Body and mind

The self-fulfilling prophecy or….

5. Act confident to Feel Confident

The actual observation day is here, and in a short while, you are about to go into class. Acting confident, even if butterflies are having a rave party in your stomach, is your best ally. Whatever you do,

  • Don’t drive your fellow trainees round the bend by running around like a chicken without a head!!! Remember, they are on the same boat as you and you can work each other up to a frenzy!!! This is a sure-fire way to block yourself (and everyone around you) from doing well.
  • Do not tell everyone (including your students, tutors and support staff) how anxious you feel about this observation and how certain you are that this is going to be a disaster. Repeatedly. Until it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  • Talk about anything else, or just go for a brisk walk around the block until the urge subsides.
  • Turn your self-fulfilling prophecy into a prediction and a predilection for success. You can do it.
Pedro’s self-fulfilling prophecy! Which worked!!!!
  • Do some breathing exercises. A brain without enough oxygen is not going to be much good to you when you need to be alert and going full steam ahead!
  • When it’s time to start, just take a deep breath and smile!
  • Walk into the class room confidently and dive straight into your lesson plan.
  • Smile to your students, look at them in the eye and let the moment sweep you away!
  • Forget your tutor in the corner and concentrate on communicating with your students and listen to what they say. Before you know it, it will be over!

Remember your students – that person in the corner is watching a real teacher teaching real people.

All too often, trainees forget all about the students and teach to and for the tutor/observer.

Not a good idea!!!!

Focusing on your students is a great way to help you forget all about yourself and your own anxiety.

Key Words: Relax – Take a walk – Programme yourself for success – Focus on your students


So, ready for your next observation?


Related blog posts Observation or Presentation Nerves – an #ELTchat Summary

Is the CELTA course just for new teachers?


When the Cambridge CELTA was first created, it was intended as a pre-service course but experience has shown that it is a perfect course for the novice teacher, yes,  but it is also a great course even if you are an experienced teacher who has not had the opportunity to follow a proper training programme.

Here are some quotes from recent course evaluations taken from this page where you can  all 60+ evaluations of our courses.

I have picked some teachers who came to us with considerable teaching experience – I invite you to read the rest of the evaluations if interested.

Often, it is the more experienced teacher who has a lot of trouble adjusting into the discipline and rigour of a course such as the CELTA – not because they cannot process or use the input and tutor advice, but because they have got used to certain ways of doing things in class and, quite often, these habits are very difficult to break.


Vassiliki Mantzaris

Vassiliki was a highly experienced teacher when she decided to register on one of our CELTA courses but she was able to adjust very quickly and allowed herself to be open and accepting of new ideas. She is a bilingual teacher with an English mum and Greek dad who is married and lives in Patras. She said:
” It was a wonderful experience for me. I feel that it has really helped me grow as a teacher and made me want to continue growing and becoming better.”

V. Mantzaris, CELTA student, 15 Apr 2015

Vassiliki returned to Patras where she is pursuing a very successful career in what she describes as a ‘great language school’, the Stamatakis School of Foreign Languages. when asked if she found her course useful, she said I still think about the course every single day, as an experience and as a reminder in my daily lesson preparation”


Yusef Turray in action

Yusef was already an experienced teacher from Africa. At the time of his CELTA course, he was teaching in a college in Saudi Arabia. It was great to see him develop new skills and techniques but at the same time retain his great gift for story telling which comes from his heritage. 

The CELTA is not a leveller and does not aim to produce teachers who are replicas of their tutors or behave like copies of British born and bred teachers. It is a great course which allows teachers to develop their special gifts and to adjust their teaching to their particular context and culture.

“The course is an eye-opener and a stepping stone to professionalism in the field of teaching. One won’t regret doing such a course that broadens your chances of excellence.”

Y. Turray, CELTA student, 13 Apr 2015

Yusef continues a great career as an EFL teacher in Saudi Arabia 


“This course is really tough but it really prepares you with a good foundation to start teaching. I’m currently preparing to give my professional exams for my teaching license in the United States and the knowledge from this course is helping me in this area too. Well worth the money and your temporary stress!”

M. Politis, CELTA student, 15 Apr 2015

As a result of the course, Michelle found a teaching job at the American Community Schools and later worked hard and got her teaching licence for the  US. Michelle was a typical example of someone who worked a little bit on the side as a teacher but, in her own words, ‘without really knowing what she was doing”!!!! (I think we have all been there at one or another time in our lives!!!! 

Although she finished with a top grade, it took Michelle almost half the course to get that “Aha!” moment but she did and produced some outstanding lessons in the second half of her course. Sometimes it takes a while to get out of firmly entrenched habits, but the moment when one ‘sees’ is wonderful to watch. 

You can see Michelle in our advert and watch a minute from one of her lessons on the CELTA course.

Here she is in one of her teaching practices –  you can see what a great teacher she is even in one minute! 🙂


Our last example is a very experienced and well trained teacher who came from a frontistirion experience of teaching English but who had a degree in teaching French as a Foreign Language!!!! Lina was a prime example of someone who made the most out of her course. 

“This course gave me the opportunity to improve my teaching skills and to be able to work abroad which was an unforgettable experience. The tutors were all very helpful and of a high level of professionalism.”   G. Sapounadelli 2013

Lina later became one of the teacher/managers & recruiters for EF English First Schools in the UK.  Here is a great video she made for a lesson – you can download her lesson plan and wonderful materials and view the video she created below

Lina TP 8 Lesson Plan with Xtranormal (lesson plan and materials)

So what are you waiting for? Life is too short to wait to become a good teacher in 5 or 10 years’ time.

As a novice teacher of English, I spent a full academic year working without having received any training – the reasons are of no interest and they are similar to what anyone in the same position might say.

But that year still burns my mind with the guilt of all the things I now know I was doing wrong.

As Costas Gavrielatos says in his paper on “Standards and Development in ELT” (2002) 

Teachers,  however, as providers of a paid service, are fully accountable for the content and process of teaching, and at least partly accountable for its outcome. This is where the analogy breaks down. As a learner client, I’m not concerned with what my teachers’ level will be in a few years; I’m concerned with what it is now.


Gavrielatos, C, 2002, Standards and Developments in ELT, ELT News 165, November 2002, p. 11

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Language Analysis for Teaching – Is it the last thing you do?

In my experience of training language teachers, mostly on CELTA courses, I have noticed that good preparation goes a long way. Analysing language for teaching purposes is a huge part of that preparation.

Candidates following teacher training courses find language analysis demanding and tiresome though we believe it is essential to bear in mind that it is a crucial part of lesson planning for several reasons.

Some even think it is enough to look at the grammar as it is presented in the student’s coursebook.

Others, rest on the laurels of their presumed expertise, or even think that being a native speaker means this knowledge is part of their knowledge already.

It is one thing to use a language and a completely different process to be able to analyse and describe it for the purpose of teaching it to others.

Why should we analyse language before lessons?

  • Language development: it is a good point to remember that analysing language for individual lessons can be a good ‘excuse’ for teachers to enrich their own knowledge of the systems of the language and therefore become more proficient by studying descriptive/pedagogic grammars to find the information they need. In fact, this seems to be an ideal way of building on their knowledge over a period of time, as it is a given that we are not born with explicit knowledge of a set of grammatical rules.Language knowledge at a high level of expertise is an obligation for a professional teacher. You wouldn’t respect a maths teacher who doesn’t know maths, would you?
  • Effectiveness of the clarification stage: we all want the presentation stage of our lesson to be as succinct and effective as possible; we want to use simple language to explain or elicit, to incorporate helpful techniques such as timelines, colourful and appropriate patterns to indicate significant phonological features on the board, appropriate and natural examples of the target language, and suitable questions to check the learners’ understanding. Can you imagine how demanding and stressful it would be to improvise and come up with all of those things on the spot while trying to take care of everything else at the same time during the lesson?

    Examples from R.Aitken’s “Teaching Tenses”
  • Being confident: I am sure we have all found ourselves in the awkward position during a grammar lesson when a learner asks a difficult question regarding let’s say the tense we have just presented but we are not able to give a clear and simple answer. Consequently, the learner gets confused or even frustrated – a thing that we want to avoid at all costs in the classroom. Well, a thorough preparation can greatly help in similar cases as it will prompt us to think of potential problems the learners might have because of let’s say the difference between their mother tongue and the L2 structure. In this way, we will be much better prepared for learner questions, and this is definitely a thing that all learners, especially adults, greatly appreciate.Remember, learners are not out to get you but they will get you if your knowledge is shaky.
  • Feedback and correction: an essential part of any lesson; we will be much better able to, first of all, identify learner errors revolving around the language presented and give clear and useful feedback, perhaps using the information we have already put on the WB, i.e. the timeline indicating meaning, sentence stress patterns highlighting phonology, etc. Learners expect to be corrected and to know why they have been corrected.
  • Covering all aspects of the target language: by preparing a detailed language analysis, we are less likely to forget to focus on meaning, form, function, formality, syntax, pronunciation, and ways to check understanding; this is how we can make sure we have done our best to help the learners understand all aspects of the target language.


How can we prepare an effective language analysis?

grammar books

Obviously, grammars for the classroom are not going to be enough, even if you filter down only a fraction of what you learn in grammars for teachers.

Find appropriate materials such as:

  • grammars for teachers, i.e. a grammar consisting of sets of rules for teaching/learning purposes. For example, Martin Parrott’s “Grammar for English Language Teachers”.
  • descriptive grammars, i.e. a grammar describing how the language is actually used by its speakers; an example of a descriptive grammar is Douglas Biber’s, “Longman Grammar of Spoken and Written English”.

After we have studied and found the appropriate information, we need to think of how we are going to cover all of the aspects of the language we will be focusing on in our lesson. An effective way of achieving this is to prepare grids or tables.

Here is an example of one such table.

Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 16.37.36

An important thing to remember at this point is that we are not aiming at merely copying the information or the rules we have found in grammars; what we should do is the following:

  • choose the appropriate rules for the level of the learners, e. if we’re teaching the present progressive tense, we need to choose the specific use and not include all of the rules at the same time. This would be entirely unrealistic as a lesson aim, let alone confusing and discouraging for the learners.
  • simplify the language, e. avoid unnecessary terminology which the learners might not be familiar with, use simple lexis and structures to form the rule or the questions to elicit the rule, etc.
  • choose appropriate techniques to highlight meaning/use, form, and phonology in the class.
  • think of practical ways of putting this information on the board/smart-board, e. how many target language examples we should write down on the WB, what different colours to use, where exactly on the board we should write it so that we do not erase it later on, etc.
  • choose suitable ways of checking the learners’ understanding of meaning and form, e. what specific questions to ask to make sure the learners have understood the language rather than simply ask “Do you understand?”, etc.


Language Analysis and popular pre-service teacher training programmes, i.e. the CELTA Course

Let us look at how a popular and best known pre-service teacher training programme, such as the CELTA, includes language analsysis in their assessment criteria.

The CELTA criterion 4i states the following:

[Candidates should be able to] analyse language with attention to form, meaning and phonology using correct terminology

•   show that you can analyse language in detail for any language focused on in a lesson

•   show how the form will be clarified on the board

•   indicate how the concept will be established and checked

•   indicate significant aspects of pronunciation relating to this language

The CELTA criterion seems to cover all of the things we mentioned earlier. Let us have a closer look at it:

  1. “… in detail for any language focused on”: it prompts us to analyse language not just for grammar or vocabulary lessons, but skills-focused lessons as well; for example, when we are planning to pre-teach vocabulary in a receptive skills lessons, or focus on a set of functional exponents in a speaking lesson prior to the speaking task, etc.
  2. “… how the form will be clarified on the board”: this is a reminder of the fact that we should prepare an LA for teaching purposes and not for academic purposes as if we were teaching grammarians-to-be.
  3. “… how the concept will be 1) established and 2) checked”: it prompts us to think of specific techniques to convey the meaning to check that the learners have understood it. Therefore, we should perhaps use simple language as well as contextualised and natural examples of language.
  4. “… significant aspects of pronunciation…”: it finally reminds us to focus on the important and relevant aspects of pronunciation and, therefore, how we would present it in the class. For example, if we are focusing on the verb form ‘used to’, we ought to highlight issues of elision between the sounds /d/ and /t/ and the weak form of the preposition ‘to’.


Evaluating a sample language analysis of a grammar lesson

Taking all these points into account, let us now look at a sample LA and evaluate it.

Imagine you are teaching the present progressive to talk about future arrangements to a group of pre-intermediate adult learners. Please, have a look at the language analysis below and decide if it meets the CELTA criterion and if it is useful for a teacher prior to the lesson.

Then, you can look at the tutor comments by scrolling down to compare your answers.

Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 16.33.16

Now, compare your ideas and comments to the ones of the tutor.

Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 16.33.25


I hope I have helped highlight the importance and usefulness of analysing language for teaching purposes. Even if it does take a considerable amount of time in the beginning, you will eventually get used to it and, in the long term, you will become much more adept at preparing an effective language analysis in a short amount of time. A last thing to remember is that EFL/ESL learners, especially adults, appreciate a knowledgeable and professional teacher as much as a ‘fun’ teacher in the classroom. Remember therefore to combine competence and confidence.


NOT a grammar book for teachers of English!

Some Grammar Books for Teachers


N.B. Our library has copies of all these books.

TEFL Is An Iceberg – Reflections on CELTA and Standards

It was good to find this blog post today – I have been working on a draft of a riposte to many critical blog posts I have been reading recently

James says it all and it is worth a read!

The Teacher James


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.

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Our CELTA pass rate remains steady at 100%

You may wonder how that is possible!

Of course, we are careful to select candidates who have a good potential for success!

Before Each Course

  • We screen them – to find out if they have the required knowledge and ability to analyse language
  • We test them – to see how quickly they can think; our tests are timed and highly reliable
  • We interview them – to check their accuracy and fluency as well as their personal qualities; teachers are not just carriers of knowledge! They need to have the right personal qualities too!
  • We warn them – in case they think four weeks in Greece is going to be a great holiday with afternoons on the beach and evenings at the night club or bar with just enough energy to take oneself to the CELTA session the morning after for a nap :-). It’s hard work! Not a piece of cake!

Which is probably why the CELTA is so highly respected by the industry! CELTA holders know how to plan a lesson with their assigned course book but also without it!

It’s so easy to accept a candidate who hopes to be a teacher of English but who does not have what it takes to pass the course! But accepting everyone makes you a CELTA factory – quite a few of them around – not a quality centre.

Image courtesy of Trickart  http://www.trickartt.com/notes/2014/02/how-my-mind-works-or-the-best-gif-ive-ever-made/

During the Course

Once we have accepted a candidate, s/he becomes our mission for success by raising the bar higher on every single course we run; always looking for better ways to introduce our content, to show our trainees how to be the best teachers they can be, to give them constructive feedback and to help them fulfil their potential for excellence.

Our trainees have outstanding support – tutors, library, online resources and social networking, all in combined synchronicity to inform, to connect, to show them what being a professional teacher is like, to turn them into creative and reflective practitioners, to show them how to keep learning long after their CELTA is over.

Isn’t that the main aim of every educator, to make the learner independent of their teacher? 

After the Course

Since we have refused to be a factory institution, it stands to reason that we have a vested interest in following up our trainees’ progress and development. Today, this is so much easier with social networking tools, that we find our bonds with our  past trainees grow stronger as time goes on.

We follow their triumphs and help with their problems, answer their questions and on occasion, even work with them in new projects, offering them opportunities and opening new doors for them.

It’s also great that we are often invited by them in their new roles and capacities as trainers, directors of studies, writers of materials, managers or coordinators to collaborate with them! This is a fantastic feeling!

Teaching is our passion and we hope this is evident in our writings, in our communication, in our sharing with our community. Our hope is for our trainees to get the necessary knowledge and qualification, yes, but also for some of that passion to rub off so that their pursuit for excellence may begin just as their course ends!


P.S. You can find out all about our upcoming CELTA courses here

CELTA and Technology – With or Without it?

Leveraging Technology
Giulia Forsythe via Compfight

In a recent end-of-course evaluation report,  one of our CELTA candidates suggested (complained is perhaps a better word) that her expectations of a higher grade on the CELTA course were not fulfilled because she did not know how to use technology. Had she not been encouraged to use it (by her tutor), she said,  she would have achieved a higher grade. It was the effort she put into including tech in her lessons that which cost her this higher grade.

For this trainee (now teacher), learning to use simple tools such as powerpoint, projecting images and slides on the data projector, or showing a You Tube video in her lessons, was perceived to be a  task which took up  so much effort, that her performance suffered and so the highly desired Pass A or B was not achieved.

Learning to…

  • plan lessons
  • design handouts
  • create role cards
  • design information gaps or games
  • specify lesson aims
  • achieve lesson aims
  • find and adapt suitable activities
  • etc etc.

….these were nIMG_3537ot perceived as difficult or as demanding as plugging in the data projector and hooking it to your laptop to project a simple word handout or powerpoint.

All these things were perceived as normal but knowing how to use a few  simple tools like those mentioned above, or a word cloud  was not.

In fact, using technology was perceived as not only unnecessary, but as a block to achieving the learning of all these complex tasks, an added pain even which put a stop to that trainee’s progress.

Blocks to technology

Typically, those who resist technology and express similar views are older candidates who have some or a lot of experience of chalk and talk (or board marker and talk, if yoIMG_1982u like).  Some younger candidates though can also be staunch resisters. Our philosophy of teaching and educational values often comes from being a learner and many of these teachers come from a highly teacher-centred educational framework of chalk and talk, of grammar translation, of teachers untrained and uneducated in terms of pedagogy studies.

Educational values are unconsciously acquired, even if our conscious mind never found any pleasure in learning in such situations.

One of these trainees even went as far as to tell us that we should be warning people on our website that obtaining the CELTA involves knowledge of technology (it doesn’t). Knowing how to use Word and Powerpoint is not real tech or part of a teacher’s 21st century skills toolkit.

No one asked us to issue warnings about the fact that that learning teaching involves knowledge of pedagogy or that lesson plans take time to learn to do properly.

quote3So why is it that some people think they actually can put us to task for not having warned them about the use of educational technology?

Surely, pedagogy is much more complex as a field than knowing how to use some simple apps or tools,
but there you have it in a nutshell: using technology raises the hackles of some people.

We tend to call such people technophobes and may be we have all gone through a stage like this at some point in our lives.

But we managed to overcome our fear; some of us even jumped right in without any fear even but with excitement about the new learning opportunities and the chance to do an even better job.

This is not to say that we do not acknowledge the learning effort though we do wonder when it raises such obstacles and such strong emotions.

Without Technology?

Of course we have seen ( and still see and teach) some absolutely wonderful lessons which did not use any of the latest technology or apps, not even a powerpoint or typed and colour printed handouquote2ts!  I have some such lesson plans in storage and keep them in awe of the artwork that has gone into them

But the professional effect achieved took the trainee teacher numerous hours of hand-drawn artwork – such as all of us have done at one time or another.

I have drawn numerous flashcards myself and still remember the time that went into creating them. And I do also remember the pleasure I got out of doing them. So may be some people do get their kicks out of creating their own hand -crafted materials and that is fantastic. There is no reason to stop doing that if you have the time and the will to do it.

Does technology stop us from doing that? Of course not! But when we don’t have the time to indulge in such pleasurable handiwork for our classes, it’s there to help us produce professional and neat looking materials that will also be visually pleasant and memorable for our learners.

Incidentally, would this trainee complain had she had to do handwritten and hand-drawn materials and handouts? Would she have then blamed the lack of technology for her grade? I am curious.

With or without?

Saying swimming sucks because you can’t float is not just narrow minded, it’s also not very clever. But phobias of this or that – technology in our case – are not always backed up by intelligent reasoning; they exist because of the strong emotions they generate in individuals, their lack of self-esteem and the blocks they themselves have created which say things like “I am not good/clever/old enough to learn how to use this technology because it would take me forever” or “I can’t be bothered to learn this technology because it might make me look incompetent or I would rather not spend time learning it”.


Technology, after all, is just a range of additional tools but it is not the answer to every teaching or learning problem.

Ignoring it or resisting it, however, will not be an option for long; teachers who cannot use it will eventually be phased out by teachers who do use it as it provides us with numerous learning tools that go far beyond a nice looking image, so resisting learning about or using what is available limits learning opportunities for our learners.

It’s not just there to replace images; this is just one function!

More importantly, the decision to use or not to use technology is one that you can only make if/when you can use it, not when you can’t!

As I write these lines in the year 2015, I am thinking of all the impassioned discussions between technophiles and self-proclaimed luddites back in 2009  and 2010. You might not think that 5 years is not a long time but, actually, in tech and web culture terms, it is!

I didn’t think such attitudes would still be going strong today but, there you have it; the same issues need to be addressed and re-articulated in new ways, to catch the latest batch of digital resisters 🙂

With Technology but for a good reason

The Cambridge syllabus stipulates that courses should include

IMG_3740The selection, adaptation and evaluation of materials and resources in planning (including computer and other technology based resources) (4.4)

Technology has been a part of the syllabus for a long time, although it is true that many centres still opt not to train their candidates in its uses for the same reasons that trainees resist it: ignorance, lack of confidence, lack of conviction in its educational value and just plain shirking one’s duty as a trainer – in the same way that some teachers shirk their duty as teachers.

I feel this an opportunity lost for ever – given the funds, effort and energy one puts into this qualification, surely, they would want to be taught all the required components of their syllabus!

This could go round in circles for ever. I think I will just close with a great aphorism – widely quoted but of uncertain origin – which epitomises the spirit of this post as well as why we believe in making educational uses of technology an integral part of all our teacher courses – including the CELTA.

Technology won’t replace teachers, but teachers who use technology will probably replace teachers who don’t. 

.Power User

Alec Couros via Compfight

It’s inevitable and we cannot go back. We can choose to have lessons or activities without tech but this, also, must be a considered option not a random decision or a non-decision.

Related Posts  

The CELTA Handbook  

N.B. All photos w/o attributions by Marisa Constantinides  

CELTA interview series- Michelle Smith Politis – an American in Greece

Michelle Smith Politis is from Wisconsin, US but she married a Greek and moved to Athens about 15 years ago.

  She is a mother of two – because of her children who are still very young, she chose to follow our part-time option. 

Michelle holds a BA in International Relations and by now, she has been working as an EFL teacher in Athens for 5 years.

In many ways, she represents the typical native speaker who finds it easy to get jobs because of her native speaker status. Of course, she also has great personal charm and is a great communicator, but when she started, she was not properly qualified to teach English.  

To her credit,  once her children were a little older and she could find some time while they were at school, she decided to take a proper course in order to learn more about the pedagogy of teaching English. 

Here are the questions we asked her;  we hope you will find Michelle’s answers interesting. 

1. What made you decide to follow the CELTA course?

Before taking this course, I had three years of teaching experience with adults and young learners in private language schools in Greece. However, before I even got to Greece my background was in finance management. I decided to pursue the CELTA as I soon realised that just because I am a native speaker it isn’t always so easy to teach the English language.

2. What were your expectations of the course? Were they met?

My expectations were many! I needed to learn how to plan a proper lesson and to exploit the lessons in the coursebooks further.

I wanted to learn how to improve upon them and make them more communicative.

I also needed help in analysing grammar to prepare for any questions that could come up in a lesson.

I really wanted a way to make grammar lessons fun and memorable.

This course met all my expectations and more!

3. What was the most demanding aspect of the course?

The most de2013-11-19 13.34.34manding part of the course for me was probably the four written assignments we needed to do. Writing those assignments and preparing creative lessons was a true lesson in time management!

In the end, it all went well and I made it through. The most important lesson I learned was to stay calm and keep on going.

4. Any tips for prospective CELTA candidates?

The most important advice I would give to any future CELTA candidate would be to just relax and enjoy the course. Be open to constructive criticism and try not to take everything so seriously. Your tutors are there to guide you through the whole process and are your safety net.

5. Many people say that what you learn on the CELTA is impossible to use in ‘real classes’ . Your thoughts on this?

In the end, it’s up to you how you decide to move forward after your course. You may decide you want to plan less for your lessons, or even perhaps more. All this is up to you.

Everything you learn will definitely be put to practice over and over as you gain experience in your teaching.

This is a very practical course that prepares you to teach confidently in your classroom.

Make the most of the experience. Good luck!

Michelle Smith Politis

After her course, which she passed with flying colours, Michelle started blogging, first of all in this very blog and later, it was great to see her create her very own teaching blog!

Here are a couple of posts she wrote on this blog:

Both these blog posts include videos of Michelle teaching one of her final lessons in which she got her students to write some pretty poignant lyrics for a country song –  I shall let you guess her language aims by watching that video!!!

You can follow her on Facebook,  Linked In, Twitter and Pinterest – Michelle is already a well connected teacher indeed!!!!

 Since March 2014, she has been a Substitute Teacher at the American Community Schools of Athens and continues to offer private tutoring in English. 


CELTA Interview Series – Iman Vahdati Dovom – a teacher from Iran

Last May CELT was ‘taken over’ by a group of trainees from Iran – they captivated all at CELT, tutors and colleagues alike and we all loved the great mix of Greek and Iranian candidates with a couple of other nationalities thrown in !!! 

Sometimes it’s hard for us to imagine the teaching conditions in a country and setting other than our own. One of the great benefits of training on a CELTA course is meeting so many people from other countries, other mindsets and, sometimes, completely different education cultures.  The sharing and learning that takes place is that much more enhanced as well by watching teachers with different teaching styles and who come from such diverse backgrounds. 

The learning is not just by the trainees but by the tutors as well and this group was a prime example of a great learning group for all parties concerned.

 Iman Vahdati Dovom


Iman is 29 years old and hisw home town is Tehran. He came to Athens with 5 years’ teaching experience under his belt and an MA in TEFL.

So this was no novice to ELT, nor a teacher who was unaware of the principles or practices in current English Language teaching, so it was interesting for us to find out why he opted to do the CELTA course AFTER his M.A.!!!!

1. What made you decide to follow a CELTA course?

I was familiar with different pedagogical theories prior to the course. To me, many of these theories were too obscure to put into practice; so, I decided to do the CELTA since I considered it to be a change for the better.

Snapping out of the traditional teaching mode and getting the inspiration from candidates from other parts of the world added to my overall motivation.

So, at the suggestion of my boss, I took the course without hesitation.

2. What were your expectations of the course? Were they met?

Receiving loads of support, illuminating grey areas in ELT, providing blanket solutions to practical problems, careful assessment, reflecting on what I did before, during, and after lessons, were my expectations to name but a few.

Another expectation was that hoping to ‘see’ what factors may prevent learning from taking place. Basically, I needed to learn how to break the vicious circle of teacher-fronted lessons.

Many of those expectations were met and I consider the course as a stepping stone to success.

3. In your experience, what is the most demanding aspect of the course and why?

The most backbreaking part of the course was its intense nature. I could not sleep for many nights in a row and that affected my performance on the course quite a lot.

4. What tips would you give prospective CELTA candidates concerning the course?

Get ready for sleepless nights and rough days; brace yourselves for stressful situations! And remember: there is no rough and ready rule to overcome this.

Pay attention to the academic aspect of the course as well. What should be borne in mind is that the course might have a deep-seated influence; especially, for those who do their best and want a change; it is worth the pain and pressure!

5. It is widely believed that what candidates learn on the course cannot be put into practice in the ‘real world’ (sic). In your experience, how true do you think that might be?

I should say I agree to some extent since many of those ideas are not culturally easy to adopt in every country of the world or with every age group.

Another issue is that the different personalities  of the students are not taken into account either; so, much of what we learnt on the course was a basis of general rules and tasks which are not tailored for different learners.

It’s also true that I have not been able to plan in such meticulous detail! I have to teach many classes everyday and this kind of preparation is really time-consuming.

But knowing these techniques, aside from having learnt how to do a needs analysis for my learners, is vitally important to me now.  I feel much more confident using them!

I believe that putting what we learnt into practice depends very much on each individual’s creativity and imagination.

Thanks to the CELTA course, I have learned some new ways of building bridges between my theoretical knowledge to the actual teaching.

The CELTA course taught me to reflect on what I do – this is another area that I was introduced to on the course and I have been mainly focusing on it since then to keep developing and improving myself as an ELT teacher.

 Iman Vahdatti Dovom

May 2014 group of CELTA trainees on the last day of their course. Iman is in middle in the last row.

Many thanks to Iman  for his candid comments. Despite his belief that his performance was affected by the sleepless nights, he managed to leave the course with the highest of grades.  On completing his course, Iman returned to his job as an ELT teacher at Hermes Institute in Teheran. 

Our next interview will be of a teacher from the US who also completed her course in 2014 at CELT.

(Images by Marisa Constantinides & Angelos Bollas)



A couple of comments about Iman in the social media – quiet people make less noise but leave lasting impressions 🙂

Angelos Bollas on Twitter    Marisa_C What a great month was that  And what a great guy      wordpressdotcom



CELTA Interview Series – Mado Lambropoulou – a teacher from Greece

A course like the CELTA may have a public syllabus which is open to scrutiny but teachers, whether experienced or new,  following this course take different things from it.  

We thought it would be a good idea to share some of these individual perspectives with our blog readers so this is the first of a series of posts.

Some people follow the CELTA to change their career, some to obtain a formal qualification, others in order to feel more confident about their teaching in the classroom.  But no matter why they follow it, they find themselves in the role of a learner on a demanding course.

We decided to ask everyone the same interview questions for this new series of blog posts but, of course, they were free to answer in any way they liked and to add any facts or opinions which they thought were important to share.

We hope you find this series useful. Our first guest came to the course with 15 years of experience under her belt!!!!!!

Mado Lambropoulou


Mado is a teacher from Greece; she’s in her 30’s and joined our intensive CELTA course last summer after 15 years of teaching experience without any prior formal training.

Mado studied Political Science and Public Administration at the National and  Kapodistrian University of Athens but, being unable to find work,  she got herself a  C2 certificate in English and a teaching licence; this allows people to work as ELT teachers in Greece ever if they do not have a related degree (or no degree at all), but only in private language centres.(1)

Mado is married and a mother of one.

Here are our questions to Mado.

1. What made you decide to follow the CELTA?

First, I needed a certificate in ELT and the CELTA course seemed to be the best option; second, I needed to know if what I had been doing all those years was right – or wrong!

2. Your expectations of the course? 

Before starting the intensive CELTA course, I had read almost everything there was to read on the internet: official pages, blogposts, discussions in ELT forums, etc. Everyone mentioned how demanding the course was and that in order for a trainee to benefit from it, they would have to be open-minded and ready to change everything in the way they had been teaching. I was terrified and excited at the same time; my expectations therefore were quite high.

I expected it to be a unique, exhausting, almost mind-blowing experience that would totally transform me as an EFL teacher – and that was exactly what it was!

3.  What was the most demanding thing on the course?

I saw what I had got myself into on day one!


The input sessions, getting your lesson plans ready on time, gathering information for the assignments, being in the same place with 20 absolute strangers for 8 hours – everything seemed too much! As the days went by, however, everything became much smoother.

The input sessions were an excellent opportunity to gain valuable knowledge from the tutors and fellow trainees from all over the world; the lesson plans and the assignments gradually started to make sense; the strangers became my good friends who had been going through the exact same difficulties.

The only thing that remained a real challenge throughout the course, though, was the necessity to put newly-acquired knowledge into practice almost immediately.

4. Tips for prospective CELTA candidates?

Since the course ended, I have spent quite some time reflecting on it. It has been a worthwhile experience, which I would have probably been incapable of completing if I had not followed my own “set of rules” :

• Listen to your tutors! They will do everything in their power to help and prepare you.
• Organise your reading beforehand. It is almost impossible to do any serious studying once the intensive course begins.
• Organise your time accordingly. Leaving things for the last minute will only stress you out even more.
• Be open to feedback and respond to it. This is probably one of the reasons why you might choose this course.
• Eat, sleep, and spend time with your loved ones. Reboot before starting any task!
• Enjoy every minute of it!

5. Many people say that what you learn on the CELTA is impossible to use in ‘real classes’ . Your thoughts on this?

Since I finished the CELTA course, it has been impossible to teach the way I used to.

It has not always been easy as I have had to deal with untrained employers and colleagues and comments like this do usually come from them.

However, I believe that once you have made such a huge effort, you owe it to yourself to continue developing; and you will soon find out that you are not alone in this.

There are countless students, colleagues, and employers out there seeking innovative ideas, inspiring suggestions, and teachers willing to work and think out of the box.

Mado Lambropoulou


Many thanks to Mado for this first piece. She was certainly able to think out of the box herself and despite the challenges, she  passed her course with flying colours and left  with a Grade A!!! Congratulations are due! Once Mado completed her CELTA, she found a teaching job at the local British Council as a teacher on their Young Learner courses. 

Our next interview will be of a teacher in Iran who also completed his course in 2014 at CELT.

(1) Being able to work with a C2 qualification is unique to Greece and has been happening for more than one cares to remember; currently, this is a law which is under revision and which will mean that C2 holders will not be allowed to do this any longer.

(Images of adult learners at CELT by Marisa Constantinides)



Do your CELTA with us


Doing the CELTA: Do’s and Don’ts

This short guide is by no-means comprehensive, but I do hope it is practical and to-the-point. It is based on my experience as a CELTA trainer, so one might say I have seen the course form the inside J So here goes!

What is the CELTA?

The Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages formerly ‘Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults’ (CELTA, /seltə/) is an initial credential ( pre-service qualification) for teachers of English as a foreign language, a well known requirement for those entering the field of English language teaching. Since it is recognised internationally, it is a particularly popular credential among both new teachers as well as amongst more experienced colleagues, who see it as a passport to teaching English around the world or locally.


 (adapted from WIkipedia)                                      


It’s both a journey and a destination!

Back RoadsCreative Commons License Photo Credit: Justin Brown via Compfight

More than 10,000 candidates follow CELTA courses successfully every year. The CELTA is not the end of the road, of course; it’s the beginning of a great journey with the goal of becoming a great ELT teacher!

Who can do it

Anyone with a good knowledge of the English language, at C1 or preferably C2 level, be they a practising language teacher or an aspiring one can apply for the CELTA. Ideally, a candidate should be over 20 years of age.

Anyone with those pre-requisites can, potentially, be accepted on a course. But do remember:

  • You also need to do well on the language assessment set to you by the course provider
  • Your spoken English must be at a level appropriate to teaching a variety of levels
  • Your knowledge of grammar and ability to explain language should be at a good level
  • You must be healthy and of sound mind!
  • You must prove to your interviewer that you are ready to commit to the demands of the course
  • You must provide evidence that you are potentially a successful CELTA candidate

Do bear in mind that teaching is a demanding but rewarding profession. If you are prepared to work hard, be a lifelong learner and commit to the idea that it takes time to become a great teacher, then the CELTA is a perfect choice for you. With this qualification, you will have many more opportunities for career development than with other, non-recognised, qualifications.

Once you are accepted, there is more work to do!

To find our how you can face some of the demands of the course,  we have prepared some tips listed below, based on our experiences of having worked with numerous CELTA trainees since 2006.

Some Do’s and Dont’s

 approved-151676_1280  cross-157492_1280



  • Decide whether the part time or the full time option is the best choice for you.
  • Automatically assume that there is only one option: the full-time, intensive course.
  • Take into account that intensive courses are demanding and not ideal for everyone’s learning pace & style. Choose this option if you thrive on pressure!
  • Follow the course if you are going through a hard time in your personal life; this affects concentration and performance.
  • Allow adequate preparation time. Your centre will provide you with a pre-course task, a series of exercises to prepare you and to get you to do some background reading. Do this systematically and thoroughly.
  • Rush through the pre-course task, giving short, superficial answers to the questions posed; the task is not a test, it’s a reflection and learning tool.
  • Do some background, preparation reading before the course; try to read at least two or three of the books suggested in the pre-course task.
  • Avoid doing any background reading because you think you will have time to do this later during your course. This is usually not the case!
  • Revise your formal knowledge of grammar; your tutors may have made some suggestions when interviewing you; follow them.  Read at least two or three good grammar books, including Scott Thornbury’s ‘About Language’.
  • Assume you know it all, either because you are native speaker or because you studied grammar as a learner. A teacher needs a higher level of expertise;  intuition or information passed on to learners is not enough.
  • Be very clear as to what is expected from you on a CELTA course. Download and read the CELTA handbook very carefully so that you can understand the course objectives and course expectations.
  • Think that there will be time for you to do that later. There won’t! You will need all your time to plan lessons and design great activities!
  • Download and read the CELTA 5 Candidate Record Booklet  and any other orientation material your centre provides, e.g. a trainee guide. This will be your constant companion during the course and the assessor will examine it for evidence of good performance.
  • Neglect this opportunity to be well-informed and well-prepared; neglect to learn the rules and how to maintain your CELTA 5 in top condition, so as to give the external assessor the best impression about your potential as an ELT professional.
  • Map out your study schedule for CELTA work: if possible, clear your schedule of other activities during CELTA days and allot specific time slots for your lesson preparation and course study.
  • Not even for one moment should you imagine that this is something you can breeze through without being organised and prepared to work really hard,  especially if following the  full-time option.
  • Approach the course with an open mind. This is a personal and professional development experience. Be prepared to reflect and experiment with all new ideas!
  • Block new ideas and approaches to teaching because they do not fit in  with either how you learnt the language or how you have been teaching (if experienced).
  • Be ready to interact and participate actively, to contribute as much as you can to the sessions, seminars and workshops. Be willing to share your experiences, your knowledge and your reading!
  • Expect the course to be a series of lectures, followed by memorising content and a final exam. This is a highly participatory course and your tutors will practice what they preach!
  • Be prepared to be observed by other teachers and, of course, your tutors. Take deep breaths and light exercise like a good athlete before a race!
  • Be surprised if you feel nervous or shy, even if this is not your usual attitude: it is absolutely normal and usually soon overcome.
  • Brace yourself for the high value of critiquing lessons and learning from your mistakes. Teaching Practice and feedback on your teaching is the most useful aspect of the course!
  • Expect to be praised or feel that you are a failure if your tutors or fellow trainees offer critical comments. Oversensitivity to feedback never produced excellent teachers!
  • Be prepared to observe other teachers teach, look at their lessons critically and offer objective, constructive feedback. Understand that these lessons will contain mistakes; treat them as learning opportunities
  • Be subjective and personal in your peer assessment: you will not help your colleagues this way, nor yourself. We learn valuable lessons even when we observe someone make mistakes.
  • Take the feedback provided in the spirit it is offered – to help you reach your full potential as a teacher.
  • Assume that negative comments imply that your tutors or your fellow trainees do not like you.
  • Do your very best every step of the way and avoid worrying about grades.
  • Obsess about grades! Some of the best teachers and teacher trainers started with a standard PASS.
  • Take risks and try out new things, new ideas that you have learnt in your input sessions.
  • Expect to stay in your comfort zone and do the bare minimum to scrape through.
  • Pace yourself: your study schedule should allow for some “me time”, essential to unwind and recharge your batteries.
  • Devote every waking minute to your CELTA studies, stay up all night, eating badly, depriving yourself of sleep; you need your energy!
  • Collaborate well with all your fellow trainees be they less or more experienced than you, be they more or less proficient in the English language than yourself. The bonds you create during your course will last you for a long time and are the beginning of your PLN (Personal Learning Network)
  • Be a lone wolf, someone who discourages collaboration and sharing of ideas with others. Learning is a social activity and we learn better together. Avoiding others will rob you of the opportunity to experience collaborative learning – something your course hopes to teach you to be able to do.
  • Enjoy your course! Rest assured that, even if you think you are suffering and you believe it’s hard, once finished, you will remember even the hardest moments with a great nostalgia, as many of our trainees so far have proved! It’s the experience of a lifetime!
  • Keep complaining about the work load, your grades, other people’s comments, the students who are not responding to you in the perfect way you thought they would! Moaning and groaning never got anyone anywhere near the energy and enthusiasm needed for great results!

 Haven’t discouraged you?

Join the good race, then, and happy TEFLing!

Sun runners
Creative Commons License
Photo Credit: Michał Koralewski via Compfight

More advice

If you need more information and advice, here are two possible websites to browse through.

The official Cambridge English website 

The CELT Athens Cambridge CELTA Wiki 

Do your CELTA & DELTA with us


CELT International

lost in the mistThis short guide is by no-means comprehensive, but I do hope it is practical and to-the-point. It is based on my experience as a CELTA trainer, so one might say I have seen the course form the inside J So here goes!

What is the CELTA?

The Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages formerly ‘Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults’ (CELTA, /seltə/) is an initial credential ( pre-service qualification) for teachers of English as a foreign language, a well known requirement for those entering the field of English language teaching. Since it is recognised internationally, it is a particularly popular credential among both new teachers as well as amongst more experienced colleagues who see it as a passport to teaching English around the world as well as amongst teachers who teach locally.

(adapted from WIkipedia)      …

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