CELTA course in Philadelphia: 2013 scholarship winner’s blog

Rumina Iftikhar won our Suzanne Furstner Scholarship in 2013, and this summer she took her prize of a 4-week CELTA course in Philadelphia. Here is Rumina’s blog article telling us about her experience. Congratulations Rumina – we’re delighted you gained so much from it!

The Cambridge CELTA certification! It had been my dream for the longest time. This year that dream came true and I got the opportunity to go to the US to do my CELTA. Back home now, I often think about those four weeks that I spent in Philadelphia. It was a memorable time and has left me with many fond memories. At the time, of course, there was no opportunity to think of anything beyond the CELTA. Would I pass? Would I make it through the next teaching practice? What if nobody liked me? It was a new place I was going to and I didn’t know much about their ways and customs.

I soon realized that the CELTA is a lot more than a course that just teaches you ESL techniques. It forces you to challenge yourself, to improve, to grow, to be more, more professional, more determined. It teaches you about life. You are thrown together with complete strangers and these strangers become your family for the next four weeks. You grow to love them, to rely on them for comfort, support and encouragement. For me, it was not easy leaving my family and going off to a country half way across the globe from mine. On the first day I was sure I would fall flat on my face walking in through the door, or say something incredibly stupid and become the butt of all jokes. Instead I found a group of people who, though as uncertain and unsure of what to expect as I was, were incredibly warm and open. For the next four weeks, though I missed my family, I never felt alone. For one, you don’t have much time to feel or think about anything else and secondly, should you stumble or make a mistake, your colleagues are there for you. Always!

During the CELTA, we were thrown into the deep end of the pool almost immediately! Now I didn’t know much about the course so it came as a shock when I was told, on the first day, that I would be the one to teach the first class. Of course, the trainers helped. Their advice and help was invaluable. But the thought of teaching a class while being assessed not only by my trainer, but also by my group members, was daunting! However, if you prepare well beforehand things never go as badly as you fear. I did a lot of things I shouldn’t have done and it was not a perfect class, but the students seemed to enjoy it and that gave me the courage to keep going.   During the feedback session, I was gratified by the encouraging and supportive words of my peers and trainer. Of course that doesn’t mean it’s all praise and nothing else. If you do the CELTA, please leave your ego at the door. Because the feedback is meant to point out not just what you did well, but also what you didn’t do and should have done! So, though couched in the nicest possible way, it is brutally honest. It has to be! You need to learn and quickly. The course simply isn’t long enough to give you time to nurse your ego or learn at your own pace!

The input sessions in the morning were a lot of fun. We got to learn by being the students, by first-hand experience. There was a lot of laughter and a lot of bonding. Then lunch break and the teaching practice. Did we go out for nice, leisurely lunches? No! We ate on our feet and then got down to preparing for the teaching practice. The ‘lunch break’ saw me running between printer and photocopier nonstop. And I had to be quick because everyone else needed the printer too. Actually, I think I had lunch a grand total of ONCE during the course!

The best part of my day was the long walk home. In the morning I would just take the bus, to ensure I wasn’t late. But in the evening, I’d walk back. I still get nostalgic when I think about those walks. It was the only time of the day when I’d put all thoughts of studying out of my mind and the lovely sunshine, the beautiful Philadelphia skyline and the smiling people helped me unwind and prepare for the long homework sessions. For once at home you DO need to put in a few hours to prepare for your next teaching practice. And you should. You don’t want to enter a class unprepared and not ready to deal with questions the students may have. That can be embarrassing and, of course, will affect your grade.

But when it was done, I was almost overwhelmed by the sense of achievement that washed over me. It was over. I’d done it! What did I take away from the course? The knowledge that if I can survive this then I must be made of tougher stuff than I thought, a head teeming with new ideas and creative teaching methodologies and friends who’d warmed my heart. People I didn’t know even existed a month ago, and yet they’d seen me at my worst, at my best, seen me stumble, picked me up and encouraged me when I didn’t think I was doing anything right.

Since I’ve been back a lot of people have asked me if the course was as grueling as people say it is. My answer is, yes! It’s not a course for the fainthearted or for those who think that they will sail by with a modicum of effort. It takes everything out of you and you do NOT have a moment to relax! But is it worth it? I’d answer (again) with a resounding YES!   These four weeks have taught me more about myself than I could have ever imagined. Most importantly, I learned that teaching can be fun! My pet peeve against teaching had always been that I felt that conventional teaching techniques never left much room for the students to enjoy learning. But after the CELTA I have learnt to incorporate fun in my lesson plans. I can’t wait to use all I’ve learnt on my students, to watch as they take charge of their own learning and see how interactive and lively the classroom can be! To watch as attitudes change from resigned boredom to active interest and they grow to love the language as I do. The CELTA has opened my mind! Not only has it given me oodles of confidence, it has also left me thirsting to learn even more and keep growing and improving as an ESL teacher!

Rumina won a CELTA course through the Suzanne Furstner Scholarship, which gives away a prestigious CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL course each year.

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