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Send in the Clones?

October 30, 2011

Tomorrow it begins all over again. The first day nerves. The introductions.  The expectations. The excitement. The trepidation. The fear.

Tomorrow is Celta Day One.

At 10.30 am I will meet the group of people who I will be working with for the next four weeks. Each of them will arrive with their own beliefs and principles about teaching. They will all have certain expectations of themselves, the course and the tutors. There will be different levels of classroom experience. The motivations for taking the course will all be different. They will have different skills and styles. They will be different people.

But one thing will be the same: They will all want to learn about teaching English and will expect to walk out of the course in four weeks being better able to teach than when they walked in.

They will need me to be supportive, respectful and trusting of them. I need to make sure that I give them the autonomy to make decisions based upon what they believe, but also that I am there to adjust any thinking that I know won’t work. It comes back to this element of control. Willy Cardoso commented on my last post:

I’d also be interested to know how trainees see trainers in relation to control, and also how trainers see themselves when trying, in one way or another, to control what/how trainees do.

I can’t comment on the trainees’ perspective at the moment, but I plan to carry out some research during this Celta to find out. Watch this space. (Any ideas on exactly how to do this would be much appreciated too!)

How do I see myself when being a trainer? On the one hand, I am there to give ideas, teach techniques and highlight areas that could be a hindrance to the students in the classroom. But on the other hand, I have to remember that they aren’t me and they aren’t trying to be me. We don’t want clones, we want teachers who can go out into the world of TEFL armed with knowledge, ideas and skills. How they each interpret the input they receive is up to them and down to their experience of the world they inhabit, which is not the same world as me.

The balance of control vs freedom can be really tough to get right. On the last course, for example, I had to give feedback to a couple of the trainees in particular on their body language. Who am I to tell someone how to sit or how much to move, for crying out loud?!! But it’s these elements of feedback that form part of the inwardly analytical process that all the trainees go through; they need to realise what they are doing and how it can affect a lesson/rapport with their students etc… But I don’t feel comfortable doing it. Not in the slightest. Despite the fact that I know it’s part of what I’m there for and that it can help with their ultimate goal of becoming better teachers. Making decisions about whether to comment on certain points in their teaching practice is a tough job – is it really necessary or am I being overly pedantic/critical/controlling? Maybe the control I have over the trainees is also down to my expectations of both myself and of them? I know I am a perfectionist and therefore a bit of a control freak I suppose, so I guess I consciously monitor the amount that I proscribe and expect from the trainees because I am aware that I run the risk of disturbing the balance.

On the Celta I teach, we don’t allocate course book material for the trainees to teach. We expect them to come up with their own ideas for lessons (unlike when I did my Celta at a different centre and we were given pages from books to teach). This means we have already handed over a lot of the control to them and we take the role of supporting and fine-tuning their ideas. I would like to think that by handing this over to them from the beginning, we are setting them up to be autonomous and alleviating ourselves from the role of dictator?

Gosh, this subject has really got my mind running at one hundred miles a hour. I think I will have to do some mulling over of this issue over the next weeks and will blog about it once I have done some research.

In the mean time, what’s your experience, as trainer or trainee, in terms of control? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

23 Comments leave one →
  1. October 30, 2011 6:18 pm

    Best of luck with the new course!!!
    And I love the song “send in the clowns”!
    Will be watching this space!

    • October 31, 2011 8:46 am

      Thanks Naomi, it’s all go in a couple of hours.Exciting! : )

      I like the song too, although it’s a bit sad for this time of the morning!


  2. October 30, 2011 9:13 pm

    Interesting post.

    I have no idea what it’s like to be a CELTA trainer but I still clearly remember my Trinity CERT. I was grateful for the time that my trainers spent with me and I found myself emulating them in my classes and trying to teach as good as they did. I think it’s important to be yourself when training other people. I would hate to be taught something by someone who wasn’t really being honest with me or themselves. Your personality is what makes you unique. Yes your trainees, like me, might end up being a carbon copy of you while they are on the course. But as soon as they get into the real teaching world, they will develop their own teaching personality.


    • October 31, 2011 8:54 am

      Thanks for the comment, Adam.

      I think you are right, we need to offer enough support to help them get better at what they are doing, and allow them to use the input they get from us (whether that’s from observing us, feedback or actual input sessions) to play around with until they find their own way. I always see it a bit like learning to drive – that once you have passed your test you relax more, and when you go out on the road by yourself, that’s when you really learn how to cope with it all. Of course, this includes picking up bad habits etc… and that’s not so good. So I think that by giving trainees the best model I can whilst they are on the course will mean that they will hopefully continue with a fair amount of this once they leave to pursue their careers. The trainer/trainee relationship is a complicated one due to the intense pressure under which the relationship develops. I don’t want to be an idol to them, but I do want to be a motivating force and someone they can look up to and respect. I just hope I get it right!


  3. October 31, 2011 7:58 am

    Great post.

    I like the idea of handing over more responsibility to the trainees but do you think they know enough and even have enough time to create their own lessons and materials/handouts/teaching aids. I remember spending hours planning 30 minute lessons on the CELTA even with books. I think I probably spent a lot of that figuring out how to adapt books but I don’t think I knew enough at that time to do much else.


    • October 31, 2011 9:06 am

      Hi Phil,

      Thanks for reading.

      This is a matter which many people are concerned about. Have you seen Anthony’s writings in this subject? E.g.

      I think there are a few different elements here that make the unplugged approach worthy of the time and effort that we as tutors put in and expect the trainees to:

      1. We are allowing them to ultimately connect with the people in the room, not connect with the stuff in a coursebook. This is the most important thing that trainee teachers can often find hard to do, due to previous learning experiences and their beliefs about what a teacher should be. They come with ideas about what a teacher should be doing, and what language learning is. This often means doing gapflls and being the authority in the room. Our approach moves them away from this from day one.

      2. Today (as Day One) we will actually give each of the trainees an edited idea from Teaching Unplugged (e.g. Space Travellers) to develop into their first 35 minute lessons which will happen tomorrow and Wednesday. We don’t leave them out in the cold, but we show them that less is more. This is a lesson that is so worth learning before they become the kind of teachers that Luke Meddings blogged about ( I wish I had been taught this lesson when I did my Celta.

      3. We expect more from them, yes. But I believe they get more from it. They learn so much about who they are as a teacher, how to use their own lives/stories to shape lessons, how to get people talking, how to create a range of lessons by listening to what the students need, how to be a human in the classroom etc… etc…

      Maybe time is better spent battling with your own ideas for a lesson than some distant coursebook writer who you don’t know, doesn’t know your students and has no idea what they or you like and need?


  4. Claudia permalink
    October 31, 2011 3:39 pm

    I am very often at the receiving end of feedback and here is my opinion on that: I am a perfectionist myself and I always appreciate feedback (good and constructive) as it helps me getting better. Important for me is that it is always given in a respectful manner, that I know why I am being given that piece of advice (was I plainly wrong, how did my behaviour/mannerisms… come across and what conclusions might students draw from that). With these reasons for the advice I am always able to decide as to whether I want to change that aspect about myself and about the way I am working with students or whether I am happy with the effect. Maybe that’s true for some of your students, too? You could always ask their opinions on being given feedback…
    Good luck with the course!

    • November 1, 2011 8:24 am

      Hi Claudia,
      Thanks for reading!

      Definitely, respect is the most important thing to remember. It’s one of the most difficult things that form part of the Celta tutor’s job to be sensitive whilst dishing out feedback on lessons to people who are mightily stressed and have worked so hard.

      I actually always ask them for feedback on my feedback at the end of each week of the course, which is great. It either lets me know that my balance is right for that group or what they would like more or less of. It’s this reflection that makes the teacher/trainer’s job a constant process of growth, exploration and development. I love it!


  5. Chris Ożóg permalink
    October 31, 2011 4:04 pm

    Hi Jemma,

    This was a fascinating post to read, so thanks very much for taking the time to write it. It interests me particularly as my situation is very much like yours and I had been mulling over a post on my own blog about this aspect of CELTA.

    We seem to share a common set of Unplugged values for our teaching. I have been worried about this aspect of my training, so it was interesting to see you write about it. I do not want to push an Unplugged agenda as I train, but do gently encourage trainees in that direction. I encourage them to come up with their own lessons, to critically evaluate coursebooks, to connect with the learners, to use absolute minimal materials and so forth. The best TP I have ever seen (honestly, it was a religious experience) took all of those things on board and shaped learner output to help them express what they wanted. And yet, as I watched it, I thought: “I’m watching myself, my idea of good teaching”. Interestingly, the assessor saw this lesson and concurred that it was outstanding (he got an A for the course).

    However, there was another trainee who got an A too and he was completely different. He was much more ‘in control’ of the group, less interested in using the learners as a source of a lesson. But man, could he teach or what. He was like a teaching machine. And some learners really appreciate this style. I did not enjoy watching his classes one little bit, but I knew they were really effective. I found myself asking myself how much I was letting my own ideas about language teaching influence how I evaluated these two very different, but very good trainees. How is it possible to be objective?

    And now on to the uncomfortable moments. You write that you didn’t like commenting on trainees’ body language and I know exactly what you mean. On my last course, I had to tell a trainee that he needed to bring more energy into his teaching to help build (the at the time non-existent) rapport with the group. He was far too laid back, which was just the way he is – who am I to comment on this?! And yet, I know I have to or he simply won’t be able to build on what’s happening in his classes.

    Another thing I find uncomfortable is re-teaching, during feedback, aspects of trainees’ classes that went badly. I absolutely hate doing this, but feel it’s quite valuable for everyone in the room to see why I feel the need to do it. I do it in a supportive manner, emphasising positive aspects of the trainee’s lesson, but eliciting/highlighting too things which just don’t work for whatever reason.

    By means of illustration, here’s an example from our last course: trainee ignores pre-lesson advice and what he’s planned, gets in front of the class and plays “Anything you can do I can do better” to a group of elementary learners, before stopping it at the end and saying “today we’re going to talk about “can’t”. “can’t” is a modal. It is used to talk about ability”. Now, this was something that I had to highlight for the TP group as seriously problematic, uncomfortable as I might have felt in re-teaching it.

    This leads to the part of your post about control. I had spoken to this trainee before his lesson and told him not to use the song or, if he absolutely had to, to set-up a context and pre-teach some vocab (the lexis in said song is not really appropriate). He ignored all of this in the end. So where is my control? How pushy should I have been about the song? In the end, he got a below standard for this lesson (TP 4) and I had a bit of hard time not saying “I told you so”. I wanted to encourage his autonomy, but feel I should’ve simply, said “no”. Or was it better that he learned the way he did? And everyone got a chance to see why it didn’t work?

    And then of course there’s the intervening while they’re teaching. I sometimes find myself almost jumping up and down to help them out from the observer’s chair.. (On that front, have you read Scott Thornbury’s post on Practicum? Another fascinating read, if you haven’t already – To a certain extent, I’m not that suited to this role as my face is quite expressive and I’m constantly trying not to betray so much how I feel about what I’m seeing. Its something I’m working on… I’m sure you know what I mean here.

    Anyway, this is now a very long and rambling comment, so I’ll leave it there…


    • November 1, 2011 8:42 am

      HI Chris,

      Thanks for much for your comment! I am going to have to reply in bits and pieces, I think because time is non-existent (I’m sure you can empathise!).

      To your first point – differentiation in trainees in terms of style, not just ability. Yeah, I’ve had this too. Watching a trainee teach a lesson that I would never want to do myself, but realising that it actually deserved an Above Standard because it really was brilliant. I guess as long as we don’t forget that there are other ways to teach, even if we don’t do that, we can make sure we serve the needs of all the people who come to us. I find that talking about the lessons with my colleagues helps this, because sometimes, in my mind I think the lesson wasn’t that good, and as soon as I begin to describe it I realise how good it actually was. (This also works the other way around too, unfortunately!)

      Reteaching – this is hard, isn’t it?! But so incredibly useful. (A demo paints a thousand words?!) I’ve had exactly the same issue as you. I had to do it on the last course with a grammar lesson that had been taught wrong, so I quickly taught the grammar point myself in feedback as none of the trainees had noticed that there was a problem. This was really difficult for everyone in the room, but it meant that everyone left the room understanding that grammar point better and seeing a way you could teach it. I don’t remember my tutors doing that on my Celta, and I wish they had.
      I had actually spoken about this grammar point with the trainees multiple times over the week running up to the lesson (modals of deduction – they were using “must be” as a 100% certainty. E.g. I teach English, I must be a English teacher.). I have seen this go wrong before, so I was really careful to push the point home so they didn’t fall into the exact trap that they did. When I was sitting watching the lesson, it was painful, knowing that I had told them not to do this, but I guess they had to learn the valuable lesson themselves? However much you can remind people, nudge people and recommend, in the end – they are humans and humans are fallible and liable to be so.

      I liked Scott’s post too. Today we do rehearsals for TP1 on the first 5 minutes of their lessons and I try to build this idea into my feedback as much as possible, but I don’t do it during the lessons unless it’s something simple but important to the success of the lesson (seeing a trainee pair himself up with one of the students in his first lesson on the last course rather than make a three and be able to listen to all the other people in the room, for example.) Today they also practice doing language feedback on the board having seen us tutors do some in the lessons yesterday.
      We teach the same students as them in front of them. 4 times this week, as we only have 8 on this Celta. Do you do the same? I find this really helpful, because I can completely understand what the students are like and how they respond to different things.

      Right, I managed to cover everything, I think! Now, breakfast and then school.

      Have a great day! And thanks for reading.

      • Chris Ożóg permalink
        November 2, 2011 3:26 pm

        Hi Jemma,

        I agree about talking lessons through with colleagues. I have found that abundantly helpful, if for no other reason to articulate my thoughts, hear myself say them and then evaluate them from there. That said of course, colleagues’ advice and opinions are indispensable, particularly as I’m at the start of the CELTA career.

        I don’t remember there being any re-teaching on my CELTA either. There also weren’t any demo lessons either and we don’t have them on our course at present, though are considering changing this for our first one of 2012. What do you see as the advantages and disadvantages to this approach? Can you do it successfully with 12 trainees and 2 tutors? I’d be keen to talk to you about this in greater length actually, if you wouldn’t mind, though once you’ve finished your course of course…

        Now it’s my turn for breakfast (ok, coffee) then work.


      • November 3, 2011 11:36 am

        Hi Chris,

        We can definitely talk about this in greater length. I am also at the beginning of my Celta tutor career and it’s great to be in touch with others who do the same job in different ways.

        Just to explain how we deal with these “demo lessons”, as you called them:
        Us tutors are the “experienced teachers” that the trainees observe. We have 8 trainees on this course rather than the usual 10 (= 2 TP groups of 4):
        This week, I taught a 120 minute speaking lesson on Monday (for half of which the trainees got to meet the students and begin gathering data on two of them for the FoL assignment).
        Tuesday = 2 x 35 min TP1s, then a 40 min lesson by me (live listening).
        Wed = the other 2 TP1s, then a 40 min grammar lesson from me.
        Today = 2x TP2 & a writing lesson from me.
        Tomorrow just the remaining 2 TP2s.

        So by the end of today, the trainees will have seen me teach 4 different types of lesson. These are also the types of lesson we expect them to teach over the first two weeks. I find it’s really helpful for both me in my ability to be understanding when giving feedback and for the trainees to see me with the same group they teach.

        When I did my Celta, we watched other teachers in the school with their own classes. This had its benefits as we got to see a wide range of styles and teachers. However, our way means we can discuss what happened in my lessons as well as their’s. On our course they also watch a couple of DVDs too.I think the ideal way would be a mixture of all of them.

        How do you guys do it?

  6. brad5patterson permalink
    October 31, 2011 4:57 pm

    Wow. Some magnificent discussion going on… and another inspiring post indeed !

    Hope the first day of introductions, ice-breakers and warm-ups went well !

    • November 1, 2011 8:43 am

      HI Brad,

      Thanks for stopping by! I felt a bit like this was a non-post when I wrote it, but turns out I said more than I realised!

      First day was great, the group seem like a good bunch. TP1s today….


  7. November 4, 2011 11:55 am

    Hi Jem,

    It’s interesting that you do Speaking and Writing classes. Is this new? I only say that because all we did, and many of my friends, was watch and teach general EFL classes. I remember having short introductions to BE and YL cos we had a choice on the last days but it really would have helped having exposure to more varied (and realistic) EFL teaching. Actually, perhaps we should have had lots more.

  8. November 8, 2011 10:01 am

    Hi Phil,

    Sorry for the delay in replying to this. Been busy with Celta and cycling.

    The classes they observe are of a certain type because they also teach a lesson of each type throughout the course, but not before seeing us do one first. I think this is great, and completely different to what I had on my Celta when we dropped into another teacher’s lesson and observed whatever was happening in there that day.

    I think they way we do it (which is how the centre I work at has designed it, not Cambridge who only stipulate the minimum time spent observing – 6 hours) allows the trainees to see how to create a lesson on one theme, rather than on what the coursebook takes you through.

    We do input sessions with them on BE here, but they don’t get any explicit chance to try it out, unless they realise that their TP group needs it and they design a lesson on a business skill or something. But most of the time the TP groups here want general English, so that’s what they get.

    The more observation, the better, I would say. The learning cycle never ends, I still like watching my colleagues teach, shame I don’t get to do it more often.


  9. Anthony Gaughan permalink
    November 8, 2011 10:16 am

    Glad to see this post has risen above your expectations for it 😉

    Not much to add, except a bit of a technical downer, perhaps (how “me”…): while we may all agree that the more observation a trainee can do, the better, on CELTA the 6 hours is in fact not only a minimum, but a desired maximum.

    I queried this with Cambridge ESOL once and had this confirmed (in the interests of international standardisation and candidate equality of experience). So – formally, at least – there is a limit to what centres can provide.

    • November 8, 2011 10:26 am

      Of course, you are right. I’d forgotten that it was a maximum. Well, I personally think that’s ridiculous.

      It’s like limiting how much knowledge each Celta tutor is allowed to impart upon the trainees over the course, or whether the trainees are allowed to read beyond the usual Harmer etc…

      Is this what would be called Positive Standardisation?

      How about all of the Celta tutors standardising our lessons so that no trainee gets to see a better or worse teacher at work? We could all go to Cambridge ESOL for the weekend and learn to be exactly like each other, and then go back to our respective centres and regurgitate the same lessons so that each and every candidate around the world gets to see the same thing, just in case, heaven forbid, we should want to maximise the trainees exposure to the world they will soon inhabit in order to share our knowledge, experience and skills with them.

      Clones anyone?!

      • Anthony Gaughan permalink
        November 8, 2011 11:42 am

        Some might say that you are being a little unimaginative there Jemma, and that the Online CELTA (with its apparently complete standardisation and centralisation of both input and observation of experienced teaching) will achieve precisely this outcome (intentionally or not is another question) without recourse to formally re-educating any local tutors (who will essentially be observing in TP the results of an input and reflective observation cycle in which they themselves have no direct involvement).

        There *may* be pressure for local tutors to view lessons they observe in line with the standards espoused by these centralised forces – whether they like it or not.

        I presented this issue to a panel discussion on a related topic hosted by Cambridge ESOL at IATEFL Brighton by the way, and asked the panelists whether they saw any issues in this, especially in terms of local centre sovereignty. They all agreed there was a potential problem that needed to be worked out here – the chair of the panel, in summarising, made a point of suggesting that an organisation with such experience in relevant matters as Cambridge ESOL might be expected to be on top of this. And perhaps they are. Time will tell.

  10. November 12, 2011 5:56 pm

    Hello Jem,

    I am so pleased that you commented on my recent blog post – and that this brought me over to yours. It’s been a great read.

    I am entirely sympathetic to the idea that getting trainees to find their own content is ?often more meaningful than having them work with or from coursebooks. Amazingly I can still remember (as a trainee) having to do just that on the CELTA equivalent decades ago! The late nights worrying about how to do it. Exhilarating, terrifying.

    But the one thing we didn’t get trained to do was how to use a coursebook and that was an omission, I believe. Because teachers DO use coursebooks and/or sometimes they are expected to use coursebooks. And if you use coursebooks well (and good teachers can use anything well) they can be useful and rewarding for students – and, who knows – teachers.

    I’m not pushing coursebooks. If teachers can manage fine without them then that’s fine. Not necessarily better. It depends on the teacher. And of course I know the value of unpluggedness and the benefits that may accrue. But I wonder, sometimes (I really mean wonder – this is absolutely not a criticism), whether it is more a question of the teacher’s style and preferences rather than a necessarily superior way of doing things.

    I reckon your trainees are lucky.


    • November 12, 2011 6:37 pm

      Hi Jeremy, and welcome!

      Thanks for reading, it’s much appreciated.

      I think you have a very good point there about teaching trainees how to use a coursebook. It is important to develop an approach coursebooks which isn’t all-consuming, but is critical and principled, especially seeing as in so many contexts teachers are expected to use them.

      There used to be an input session on our course which looked at using coursebooks with a discerning eye. It has recently been replaced with other sessions such as an introduction to genre analysis, which I personally think is more useful as they are unlikely to learn about such things ‘on the job’. The trainees often end up coming to conclusions about coursebooks themselves anyway.

      We don’t disallow the use of published material and coursebooks, but rather we start the course totally unplugged and then from week two they can use the published resources we have if they want to. Often what happens is they go to a coursebook for inspiration and then close it and go and design something themselves, realising that it will make more sense to them and their students that way. Some trainees never look in a coursebook, whereas others find it suits them to work that way, so yes – it’s definitely about individual style along with beliefs/assumptions/expectations/experience etc…

      I love seeing what they come up with, and I love helping them hone their ideas in prep sessions. The creativity I observe even from those who come to the course thinking they haven’t got a creative bone in their body is truly inspiring.

      Thanks again for commenting and reading,


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