In 2012, I hit early retirement.
Wait, what I mean is, I was hanging out with my aunt down in Florida, having just quit my job without any plan for further action. Everything I owned was in the back of my minivan that I had driven down from Michigan, and I was trying to decide if I’d join thousands of other hopeless souls in Los Angeles or make my escape abroad. One involved the delights of low-key adventuring and the creative stimulus of different world perspectives. The other offered $8 soy matcha lattes and the slow death of answering someone else’s phone for three quarters of my waking hours. It was painfully clear to me that I wanted to travel more than I wanted to move to LA.
I just wasn’t sure how to pull my vanishing act off.
I thought about au pairing again, though the lack of sustainability and career made it unattractive. I didn’t really have the tech-savvy skills that could support me as a digital nomad. I hadn’t even thought about freelance writing at that point or built up a portfolio that could draw clients.
And then, at some point I realized – I could teach English.
I loved the language, I enjoyed working with people, and I had the resources to invest in re-training for a new career. After doing some research, I decided to get a CELTA versus other TEFL certificates. If you’re looking for a way to work and travel, if you love language and fostering communication, and if you’re interested in building a real career overseas, it might be worthwhile to consider getting a CELTA to teach English abroad.
Um, what is a CELTA?
The CELTA is a pre-service TESOL certificate course designed by Cambridge University. CELTA stands for “Certificate for English Language Teaching for Adults.”
It is a 120-hour course with 6 hours of assessed teaching practice, designed for the inexperienced trainee who intends to work internationally. It is only run in approved centers, and each course is assessed by an external assessor to ensure the center is reaching Cambridge’s standards.
Why should you get a CELTA?
There are many courses that offer a TEFL certificate (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). The CELTA may not be for everyone – more on that later – but in my opinion, there are several reasons to get a CELTA instead of an alternative certificate.
1. The CELTA is considered a gold standard English teaching certificates.
It makes me blush to admit it now, but I almost bought a TEFL certificate course on Groupon. Luckily, I did a little research first and discovered that the company was a total sham. I didn’t even know about the CELTA when I first decided to pursue teaching English abroad, but I wanted to teach in Turkey and I noticed that nearly all the job listings required a CELTA. When I started comparing different certificates, I noticed how many teachers recommended the CELTA and how many schools requested it.
As an internationally recognized TESOL certificate, it opens the doors for you all over the worlds. Because the CELTA is an assessed program, with the possibility that you can fail, employers are fairly confident you’ll be competent in the classroom. There are a few other top-tier certificates (the Trinity CertrTESOL is also highly respected), but I found the CELTA to be most accessible.
2. The CELTA requires you to teach on the second day.
One of the benefits of the CELTA, and one of the reasons why employers like it so much, is that you have assessed teaching practice. In fact, trainees start teaching on the second day of the course. This is a little bit terrifying, but it is also instrumental in your development as a teacher. You get feedback on your classes from both your trainer and your fellow trainees, and you get to see what works and doesn’t work in their classes as well. And yes, there’s the possibility that you can fail – which is intended to keep the quality of the CELTA up to a certain, respectable standard.
3. The CELTA grounds you in methodology.
You don’t just learn how to entertain a classroom. You learn how to structure a lesson, how to teach receptive skills, how to promote communication over passive knowledge. You get to see language learning (and teaching) in a whole new way. And that’s just the launch pad for your continued development as a teacher.
But listen, the CELTA doesn’t teach you the English language. It teaches you how to teach. Please understand that you’re going to have to plan and research – even if you’re a native speaker. You owe it to your students to know your stuff. And you owe it to the rest of us TEFL industry professionals to not be a jerk. I have to fight enough stereotypes of clueless English speakers running around the world teaching bogus English classes. And there are plenty of qualified and experienced teachers out there that could have your job. Know the methodology. Do good work.
4. The CELTA is intellectually challenging.
With my foundation in methodology from my CELTA course, I feel confident and motivated to get into engaging conversations about teaching English with my colleagues. I love going to teaching conferences, reading methodology articles, grappling with how technology is changing language learning, and putting together my own training sessions for my coworkers. And as a constantly evolving industry, there’s always something to learn and new ideas to suggest.
5. You learn to be a lazy teacher (in a good way).
With what I learned on the CELTA, I can easily whip up a lesson plan based on anything – a textbook, a news article, a TED talk. You learn how to plan smarter, so you can plan in less time.
Also, crucially, you have an auto-pilot function for bad days. Teaching requires a lot, and there are some days when you have little to give. It could be any reason – you’re sick, you’re struggling with being away from home, you’re going through a tough time personally. Whenever I hit one of these low times, I’m so relieved that I have my CELTA training (and subsequent experience) to lean on. My students will have an engaging and instructive lesson regardless of what is going on with me.
Now, to be fair, I have some caveats. The CELTA may not be for everyone.
What are the biggest concerns about getting a CELTA?
The CELTA is a great foundation for people looking to have a career in TEFL. It will get you in the door at reputable English language schools. However, it’s also an expensive and time-consuming course. So, if you’re just looking for a way to travel for a year with no intention of career in teaching English, and you don’t mind teaching at a cowboy school, a CELTA may not be the most cost-efficient path. It might be better to find a solid alternative TEFL certificate course. Just make sure you do your research, find out where its attendees get jobs, and ensure it has teaching practice.
The other is the reminder that this is just a pre-service course. It’s meant to give you the crash-course basics for teaching English as a foreign language. Even if you get a Pass A on the CELTA, the highest mark, you still have a lot to learn from the experienced teachers who will be your colleagues. Continuing professional development is key, as is surrounding yourself with inquisitive and professional coworkers.
It is focused on teaching adults, and all your teaching practices are with adult learners. So if you’re hoping to teach children, it might not be the most practical choice. (However, to my knowledge there are few stand-alone young learner TESOL courses. Many are extensions that you can take after a ground-level certificate. If you know of any, feel free to mention it in the comments!)
Also, the TESOL industry in the US in general isn’t very lucrative for teachers. I was making a little less than $20/hour at my first job in New York City, and there weren’t a ton of opportunities for advancement. However, with additional experience and study, you can have a sustainable TESOL career in the States.
Think you might get a CELTA? A few parting words…
When deciding where to get a CELTA, there are a few things to consider. One is location. There aren’t many CELTA centers in the States. I got mine at Teaching House New York, under the tutelage of inspiring and highly-capable trainers. Some people choose to get their certificates in countries where they’d like to work. That’s one option, though it’s a bit risky – and typically requires you to pay for accommodation.
The other aspect I’d recommend considering is the trainers themselves. Your trainers will have just as much of an impact on your career as the course itself. If you know of trainers who are knowledgeable, motivating, honest (but gentle) instructors, it might be worthwhile to chase them down. For example, if you have a chance to study with Christina Cipriani, Svitlana Bulkina, or Amir Landa, either at their center CCI English in Tel Aviv or elsewhere, you’ll be learning under stellar trainers.
Teaching English abroad has been an unbelievable opportunity for me. And, amazingly, it’s been a job that doesn’t suck out my soul (I know that doesn’t sound like a glowing recommendation, but it is. I have a very low tolerance for sucky jobs). And because I decided to get a CELTA instead of any random certificate, I’ve been able to capitalize on teaching abroad to the highest degree, getting the best opportunities possible and turning this job into a career – one that will keep me traveling for years.
Have questions about teaching English abroad? Whether or not you should get a CELTA? Ask me anything in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer! And if you’ve gotten your CELTA, feel free to leave your advice for potential trainees too!