Week 2, Day 1: surrealistic confusion

by celtaconfessions

Surreal day for me.

I’d just given my last lesson to the pre-intermediate group, which was a shame, really. Just as we were getting to know each other, we had to say goodbye… and it was a good lesson, too. See the last post. So, a large part of my mind was still mulling over the students, my lesson, the disappointing grading, while the rest of it tried to pull me back to the here and now, to the discussion with Ceri about the level we’d be teaching for the next seven days.

It started well enough. We discussed the differences we’d noticed between our previous level (pre-intermediate) and this level (intermediate), bearing in mind we had only one day to observe the students from this latter level. We also discussed the differences in the rooms – this one was much larger, with three round tables, and two WBs, one of them a smartboard.

When that ended, we were given a handout of a plan for our 20-minute TPs the following day. The first spate of confusion began. We read what was written but we couldn’t make sense of it because it didn’t coincide with the coursebook. It turned out that this handout was based on an older version of the book. Great. Thanks. Good start. This eventually led to a series of chops and changes resulting in a state of confusion that would stretch until the end of the day. I was too exhausted to keep up.

The best part of this planning was, for the first and only time, I had the chance to work together with Al and Hatty as a team. We’d be doing a test-assessment activity, split into three 20-minute tasks. For a change, haha, I’d be the last again. So, my lesson would very much depend on how Al finished his.

Cutting Edge Intermediate

Cutting Edge Intermediate; image by Chiew Pang copyright 2013

Coursebooks, friend or foe?

After lunch, our input session with Jo was on using coursebooks. There was a lot of pair and group work, discussing their pros and cons. Personally, I didn’t get much out of this – I don’t know about the rest of the trainees. It was all somewhat confusing for me, all the talking among ourselves, changing partners and tables, analysing our coursebooks, unsure of the purpose… and then somehow, this led to us having to prepare our own TP schedules for this level!

We spent a long time on this, chopping and changing, none of us really clear on the way forward. We had to follow the book, but, at the same time, we had to make sure we didn’t have two grammar or two skills lessons on the same day. Don’t forget that teachers 4-6 had just come from their last TP with the pre-intermediate group, and we weren’t really sure what this intermediate group of students knew or didn’t. In the end, after the umpteenth change, we had some sort of schedule.

Then, Ceri, our secondary tutor came in and checked it with us. To add to the confusion, those doing the skills lesson the following week would have to do their skills assignment (3), which meant, basically, they’d have to prepare their reading/listening material on their own, from scratch. The best news was that Friday was a public holiday, so we’d have some breathing space. Looking back, however, my advice to future trainees would be to avoid months where there are holidays if at all possible. I’d thought a break would be good, but all this does, really, is to intensify the pressure. The fact is the centre has to complete its schedule within the four weeks, holidays or not, which means that the lost day will have to be recovered in one form or another.

There were more changes made to the schedule we’d prepared, adding to the day’s surrealism. Was anyone sure of what they were doing? It was probably just me, a stupid old git, my mind being detached from my body, if you can call what I had a mind. The good thing (I think) was that I wouldn’t be doing my skills assignment lesson until week 3, day 4! That happened to be our last day with this group – I just made it! Otherwise, I would have had to do it with the next level, back with our main tutor, Ian, and those who have been following this blog know of how I’d feel about that!

My two pence worth

The coursebook debate is one worthy of more thought. What was given barely touched the surface, most of the time wasted on our own discussions, the worst being the part where we were formed into a trio, one from each level, i.e. pre-intermediate, intermediate and upper intermediate. We had to discuss the merits of the coursebook we’d used. We were given a checklist which filled a double-sided A4 sheet, and we were supposed to make comments. What an utter waste of time! I don’t know about the other groups, but mine just flicked through the pages and said, yes, yes, no, no. I am sure no-one will remember much of this session. I personally had hardly used the coursebook in the week I had it, so I couldn’t give much valued opinion anyway.

I know Cambridge is a big-time publisher so it is in their own interests that trainees be encouraged to use coursebooks, but I felt we ought to be lectured, for example, about their benefits, their weaknesses, how they should be used, etc. Coursebooks aren’t meant to be followed from cover to cover. At the same time, trainees ought to be guided on life without coursebooks. Or are CELTA trainees prepared only for materials-rich environments?

The other waste-of-time activity for me was when we were pussyfooting about organising our own teaching schedules. What was the point of this? Surely, this would have been more appropriate for DELTA and not CELTA trainees? OK, sure, it is a useful skill to have, perhaps, but I think other skills could have been given more priority. What made it worse was the point it was introduced, too. One minute we were discussing coursebooks, then the next, we were told to complete our schedules! Oh, well, at least it gave us a chance to speak to each other!