Sunday, August 28, 2011

Becoming An English Teacher

If you've been paying attention, you may have noticed that I have only posted a couple of stories this past month. I've even had two people email me asking what's up since I normally write something here every couple of days. Well, I've been going to become an English teacher! Here I am in action at the front of class (believe it or not!):

Getting trained as an English teacher's something that I've been kicking around for a couple of years but I really got hooked when Diana and I were in Tibet and I had a chance to sit in one day at an English class there. Since I had to leave Spain for my required 90 days and Diana stayed behind to work on her thesis, this was the perfect opportunity. I registered at the International House in San Diego to get the CELTA certification and began classes four weeks ago.

The class was way more intense than I expected it to be even though they are careful to tell you in advance that it's intense. But, how hard could it be, right? Umm...yeah. I went to school from 9am to 530pm five days a week and did on average four-to-five hours of homework per day. You have classroom training in the morning and are teaching in the afternoon. I taught on my third day! During the course, there were a few times where I didn't get more than two-or-three hours of sleep per night for several nights in a row. They are basically taking a random person off the street and training them in four weeks to be an English teacher. We learned about classroom management, lesson planning, grammar analysis, how to structure a lesson, and how to create activities that would engage the students regardless of their learning style. I can't believe how much I learned in such a short period of time.

It wasn't all nose-to-the-grindstone though, we did have a bunch of fun too. Here's a couple of photos from some activities that we did one day where we were learning to use music in the classroom:


International House did an amazing job getting us ready to be in front of the classroom and I ended up enjoying it much more than I thought that I would. Really what did it though was the quality of the trainers and the amazing, amazing group of students that I was part of. To be in a group of 12 people who all speak at least two languages (we counted at least 10 languages spoken fluently between us) and the majority who've lived overseas for some part of their lives was pretty impressive. I left the class bummed that I probably wouldn't see most of them ever again but exceptionally happy for having gotten to know them. Can I say one more time, WOW, what a group:

And what would school be like without talking about the students? Our students were mostly made up of recent immigrants (in some cases, less than a month) to the United States. We had three main groups: Haitians and folks from Thailand and Myanmar (or Burma if you prefer). Others came from Iraq, the former Soviet Union, and a few other countries. To say that I was amazed at how far they came in their abilities and confidence in four weeks would be an understatement. I think that the process will become addictive. The more people that I work with and the more success I see, the more I'll want to do it. Here's half the student group and some of the teacher trainees on the last day of class:

Like I mentioned, passing the course makes you a CELTA-certified ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. The CELTA is controlled and administered by Cambridge University and is considered the gold-standard for ESL-teacher certification. I'm looking forward to teaching, whether it becomes my full-time gig or something that I do on the side. It'll really depend on my experience with it, how much work I can get, where Diana and I decide to live, and whether or not I end up back in my same field again. In other words, the excitement never ends! This is me getting my certificate with my beyond-awesome teachers, Emily (from Liverpool, England) and Tony (from Sydney, Australia):

Thanks to Chris, Sarah, and Karen at International House San Diego for your work making our course a success. A super-so-big thank you to Tony and Emily for helping me along the path to becoming a great English teacher. I have so much more confidence now compared to when I walked in that door four weeks ago and it's all due to you guys. And finally, a huger-than-huge thank you to my fellow classmates without whom I would have crashed and burned. The awe that I have for who each one of you is, the quality of people that you are, and for your commitment to making the world a better place is inspirational. I look forward to following your (without-a-doubt) successful careers where ever you end up. I'll miss you all. Thanks!


  1. A truly touching and accurate depiction of our time at CELTA. Now back to the real world :p

  2. Too bad I already speak English! :)

  3. Hey Darren,

    I've been considering taking this course all year long and I want to be prepared before filling out the application. I intend on taking the CELTA course in San Diego.

    Given your successful experience, what would you recommend for me to do before the interview/application/schooling?

    P.S. I'm aiming for the October-November course.

    Big thanks in advance,

    1. Hi Joshua!

      I really enjoyed the IH class even though it was a really intense four weeks. Don't underestimate the amount of time and effort you'll be putting in.

      As for prep, you don't need to do too much. Maybe brush up on your English grammar before the class starts. Other than that, you'll mostly be learning how to put a class together, understand your students' needs, and how to make it interesting.

      I think you'll be surprised at how much you enjoy the class and the other folks that will be in the class with you. Once you're out, take any teaching job you can get so that you can have some experience. Once you've got a year, you'll have many more work options.


  4. Hi Darren,

    This is Karen at International House San Diego, and I just happened upon your blog today by looking at UT Austin's CELTA site of all places.

    Anyway, it's great to hear how your experience with the CELTA course and certificate has changed your life in such wonderful ways.

    We are in the middle of our September CELTA course with another awesome group of trainees and TP students, and they always ask us what previous CELTA grads did after the course. Now we have another success story to add to the list.

    Take care,

    1. Karen,

      Yes, CELTA has been great for me in many ways -- the people I met, a bunch of great experiences, and the ability to teach English in a variety of settings.

      Even though teaching English hasn't ever been my main gig, I've taught almost continuously since the class ended in one form or another. Currently, I'm doing two different one-on-one classes and I still love it.

      Thanks for stopping by!


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