What can happen when the CELTA is questioned

This is an actual conversation. As far as you know. Just a bunch of guys at the pub talking about the usual stuff.

M: You know what, guys? One thing that always interest and surprises me every time there is a mention of quote native teachers in Korea and job security and the like, one of the first things usually mentioned is qualifications and this word qualified. 
A: Yea. Cool story bro.
M: I think it is sort of important. Really. First of all, I don’t think qualified means the same thing to everyone. Here in Korea it just means that you are allowed to work. Doesn’t it?
B: There is no more to it?
M: I don’t know. To me it just means “able to legally get the job, and maybe do it.” I dunno. I really don’t. But my point is that when people rail on about unqualified teachers that is something to take up with their government or with economics in general. Supply and demand and all that.
A: Great stuff, Mike.
M: I am just getting started. The other thing…
A: [rolls eyes and shrugs]
M: The other thing is this idea that training is the obvious answer. Everyone always seems to mention the CELTA, like it is some sort of panacea. Like suddenly all the issues would disappear of the foreign  barbarians teachers got them their CELTAs. Color me  unsure. Hashtag confused.
D: What are you talking about. CELTA is awesome! It was the best professional development choice I have made.
M: I am happy for you. Really I am. Yet, I am not convinced it is the solution people seem to make it out to be. Seem to.
B: What are your issues, with it Mr. Mike?
A: [leaves]
M: Well, my issues are that I am not sure I can see the connection to the jobs that we are reading about in the media. How exactly does CELTA help you if you are a first year teacher teaching 35 students as a quote Assistant Language Teacher in a public school in rural Korea?
D: CELTA is awesome. I learned a lot.
M: Yep. Happy for you. I am still wondering about the connection between the CELTA and the realities of teaching in Korea, especially in public schools, the ones that are all over the news. I am especially curious about the fact that the CELTA seems to be more geared to those teaching adults.
C: That is a fair point. There are other courses from Cambridge geared more for young learners.
M: Ok then. That is another course then. But anyway, everyone just falls back to the CELTA as the default and I am merely questioning if this is appropriate.
D: CELTA is amazing. I learned so much.
C: It is obviously not perfect but it is standardized and this is both a blessing and a curse in some ways.
E: Are you guys still talking about CELTA? Most employers in Korea don’t even know what it is.
M: Yeah, that “or equivalent” tag is really stretched to the extreme.
D: There is no equivalent. CELTA is a amazing.
M: So it is the perfect course for teaching in public schools in Korea? Even if it trends to be more focused on smaller classes in private language schools.
F: Teachers have to make the learning their own. So, while what is focused on during the CELTA is important it is up to the teachers to make it their own and apply it to their own contexts.
M: Ahh, mmm, well I see your point. I do. My point is just that there seem to be some gaps and some differences in the beliefs that underpin the course and the realities of teaching in Korea. I wish I could be more clear because I feel like I am not being clear enough. Maybe it is not you guys, or all of you anyway but what I am saying is I see a gap between the reality of teaching in public schools in Korea and the course
D: But..
M: And I see a belief that the CELTA is perfect and is the potential solution to all the problems teachers face in Korea.  Again, maybe I am not being clear so allow me an exagerated example. As is my wont. So let’s say you learn how to do a perfect PPP lesson on the CELTA.
Chorus: It’s not PPP!
M: Yeah. OK. Anyway you learn how to do a CELTA style lesson.
Chorus: There is no CELTA style!
M: [lets out exasperated sigh, breaks the 4th wall Zach Morris style] Why is there a chorus in this bar? Ok, you learn how to plan lessons on the course in a certain way. Then you come to Korea and you are told that you are in charge of just making sure the students have fun and that your lesson plans and lesson plan style is not needed in this situation. Or that maybe your job is to provide native pronunciation as requested by the Korean teacher.**
D: The CELTA was really helpful for me as a teacher.
M: I get it. I do. That’s great. My concern is how helpful it is for everyone else. In this context.
B: It is a short course and only a certain amount of things can be fit into it, right?
M: That is totally right. Great point. But, at the same time, I don’t think that means that those things can’t be questioned or that one can’t wonder aloud if the course is suited to this particular context. I don’t think the hour limit is some sort of shield against all questions or criticisms.
B: Oh me neither. Sorry, old chap.
F: I think the learning during and after the course is largely up to the trainee. It doesn’t much matter what the course is or how it is delivered. It is the trainee’s responsibility to learn what needs to be learned, reflect upon what needs to be reflected up and make it work for them in whatever context they end up working in. I think it is far too easy to critique a course. I think it is about the trainees making the most of the opportunity.
D: The CELTA worked great for me and I got a lot out of it.
M: Yes, we know. But, F, then by the same logic, why would someone pay all this money and take the time and everything if what happens in the the course doesn’t really matter? I mean what is the point if it is just up to them to make the learning work? Is it then just for the name or the paper or something else? Surely there is an expectation for things to be somewhat relevant and useful for the trainees in their future work environments.
D: CELTA was so helpful for me.
M: Again? Really? Can we admit that there are some things that are not covered in the CELTA, that it is not perfect and it is not the end all and be all? Can we admit that it is not sacrosanct and it is ok to question its applicability to the context we are in? Anyway sorry for the boring conversation. Cheers! Where is A anyway?

 **I am not suggesting this is the usually the case or that foreign teachers are valued (or devalued) in any certain way in Korea. I know there are a lot of variety of teaching situations. No offense intended to anyone at all. I simply chose a mostly outlandish example (though I have heard numerous reports of this). 


  1. Matthew Walker

    Hmmm…Sounds like a social-media conversation I had that took up way, way too much of my time. Pub would have been a much better setting. Fun read!

  2. Tim Thompson

    This reminds me of the co-teacher module of EPIK training where two people who work really well together are the “model” co-teachers. P.S. When do the Korean teachers get training on co-teaching?

    • mikecorea

      Good points. A mutual acquaintance of ours once offered to do free training for teachers in a certain district of Seoul with the stipulation that their be both foreign and Korean teachers present. His kind offer was not accepted.

  3. Sandy Millin

    As someone who went through the CELTA system, and then immediately went and taught kids for a month, with no idea what I was doing, I agree completely that it doesn’t tick all the boxes. It constantly amazes me that ‘native speakers’ can rock up with no qualification, or a measly 6 hours of teaching practice which they double in the first 2 days of work, and compete with ‘non-natives’ who’ve gone through a whole university degree to be allowed to teach. And on top of that, the native speakers are often seen as superior just because it’s their mother tongue. Having said that, I appreciate the fact that CELTA got me into this world so easily, and I’m hopefully joining the ranks of the trainers next year…
    No easy answers out there, but thanks for asking the questions.

    • mikecorea

      Hi Sandy thanks for the thoughtful comments. I like your point about there being no easy answers.
      I feel like I would have been a much more satisfied customer if I got the sense that my trainer was aware of the kinds of things I am talking about here. This is one of the (many) reasons I think someone like you will make a great trainer.

      I also really liked your point about the teaching time on the course being doubled in the first 2 days of work! That is a great point! I think, then the key is to make the course as helpful for exploiting those upcoming teaching hours as possible. I am not entirely sure I know what that would look like but it sure sounds nice at the moment.

      I don’t really want to be too critical of the course (though I think there is plenty of room for questions and discussion) but I do think the attitude I think I see about CELTA being some great indicator of…anything is off base. Steve makes a great point below (above? somewhere here on the comments) about how Cambridge describes/considers “the CELTA as an introductory qualification, and are quite clear that anyone who gets a pass in CELTA will require a considerable amount of ongoing CPD and day-to-day support.” I am not sure how much support is granted typically (especlally in the Korean public school context).

      It is all very interesting.

      Thanks again for the thoughts and perspective.


      Ps- you might enjoy the article on reflection and training courses I linked to in my response to Matthew.

  4. stevebrown70

    Hi Mike,
    This made me think two things. Firstly, that your post ties in a lot with a post I wrote that tried to question the notion of a course that is supposed to be equally valid in any context – http://stevebrown70.wordpress.com/2013/05/06/universality-and-mediocrity-part-3-training-for-what-exactly/
    And secondly, I have also had conversations with people who really revere the CELTA, and I’m not sure why. Cambridge describe the CELTA as an introductory qualification, and are quite clear that anyone who gets a pass in CELTA will require a considerable amount of ongoing CPD and day-to-day support. Yet there’s this universal belief that the CELTA is some kind of holy grail in achieving excellence in language teaching. I’m not sure where this belief has come from but I wish it would stop. I mean, just how much can you learn in 120 hours anyway?

    • mikecorea

      Hello Steve,

      Thanks for stopping by. And also thanks for sharing your post which I was very happy to read and enjoy once again.

      I think this “CELTA reverence” is pervasive. I love your point about CELTA being considered (by Cambridge) an initial/introductory qualification. I do imagine that they, (them) have a secret lair where they sit around and pet furry kittens and are quite happy with the state of affairs as they plot the next industry to take over. Or maybe not.

      Your question about how much one can learn in 120 hours is a great one. In the recent #KELTchat I raised the issue that maybe CELTA is less about what is learned but more about showing commitment and the like. This idea was quickly and politely shot down. Oh, speaking of KELTchat there was a recent conversation on the Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/KELTchat/) regarding CELTA and Korea (and much much more)

      Your post covered a lot of ground. I guess I am still stuck on the idea of initial courses preparing people for their jobs but also setting them up for the learning that will come from experience on those jobs. I am not sure that making people think (just to pick one random and not fair example) CCQs are the most important thing about teaching.

      Thanks for reading and responding and helping me think a bit more about these issues.

  5. ratnavathy

    Interesting that you’ve mentioned the CELTA, Mike. I recently applied to work at the British Council, and the reply I got was
    “We’re very much interested to have you working with us, but it seems that you do not have a CELTA. Perhaps you’d like to get CELTA-qualified, or perhaps, with your experience, DELTA qualified. If you do, please get in touch with us after that”. I did reply that email, clearly lining out why I definitely would qualify for the job, and that no, I’d still do well without a CELTA, to which I got a reply saying “CELTA is an an assessed teaching practice”.
    I didn’t pursue that email (wasn’t very keen and just plain lazy, maybe?) but I did have this thought in mind –> how can CELTA be likened to an assessed teaching practice, when it really is an assessed demonstrated teaching practice? I might be wrong, but I think that the CELTAites are assessed only only a number of classes, and could that be equated to 7 years of teaching experience in a similar environment + an MA qualification?
    I’m starting to think that it, is probably, all about the branding. CELTA is a branding I think (with all due respect to the course!)


    • mikecorea

      Hello Ratna!

      Always so nice to hear from you, wherever it is. I think the experience you detailed really strikes to what I have been thinking (and expands it.) I guess in this case the CELTA is really pretty much the default qualification. I was trying to think of things from their side and this is what I came up with. They have a lot of applicants for jobs. They want an easy and reliable way to screen applicants. Thus, just hiring only CELTA graduates might be a reasonable decision in this case.
      (I am ignoring the relationship between the BC offering CELTA courses for now!) That is all I could come up with. The other thing that came to mind was about the ease of making decisions. I have absolutely no idea how it is in the place you were talking about but I know in many places those in charge of hiring have little to no background in teaching. Thus, an easy to follow system is all the more important. Is this a good thing? I don’t think so. But, i guess I can understand a little bit about where they are coming from. There is probably more to it as well but this is what came to mind. As for you specifically, that is unfortunate but also I think it is unfortunate for them! And unfortunate for their students as well. Hmm. Lots to think about. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience.

  6. Micaela

    Thanks for posting this. You brought up some really good points about the CELTA and you used a really original format in doing it. 🙂

    I think the CELTA should be considered an introduction to language teaching. It’s then up to the new teacher to look for training opportunities, which will be different according to each person’s focus. Some will lean more towards YLs, others toward Business English, etc. and new teachers need to find the appropriate courses to fill those holes that weren’t covered during the CELTA course. As Sandy described above, I didn’t feel at all prepared for my first year (or two…) with YLs, which is why I took the Ih Young Learner Course. The course, coupled with a few years’ experience under my belt, really helped things fall into place. The CELTA is only sort of a gateway that leads a person into the TEFL world but it’s nothing more than an initiation.

    I also think that institutions use the CELTA as a common standard when weeding out candidates. In some ways, this is good for our profession because it shows that not just anyone can show up and teach English. On the other hand, there needs to be some flexibility and common sense when weighing up a candidate’s qualifications. As in Ratna’s case, the lack of a CELTA should not have been an obstacle, given that the candidate has other (and possibly better) qualifications.

    Thanks again for bringing all of this up. To paraphrase Einstein, we should never stop questioning.

  7. Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto

    Fascinating discussion. I’ve been having similar discussions lately, about the value of certificates and diplomas in general, particularly when any course is likely to be only as good as the people administering it, and accreditation seems to be for sale. A good friend with a Masters in Linguistics from Georgetown, and a couple decades of teaching experience at all levels (including university) needed to go back and get a CELTA before he could get hired at his new university. He just kept his mouth quiet and got the certification, but also noticed that teachers with limited language and teaching skills were also passed through and were able to get positions with language schools based on the CELTA brand. Clearly, there are excellent trainers and teachers who get excellent training, but it’s not a guarantee of quality.

    I certainly don’t have anything against qualifications — I have a lot of time and money invested in my own teaching degrees, graduate degrees, licenses, etc. (but no CELTA). However, these days I find myself turning to portfolios or blogs or conference presentations to see what teachers have actually learned and can do.

    Anyway, the whole debate is a healthy one for our profession!

    • mikecorea

      Hey Barb,

      Thanks for stopping by. As you might expect, I am in full agreement with you on the idea that such healthy debates are healthy for our profession. I think the story of your friend is instructive about the state of affairs.

      I like your point about portfolios or presentations and I feel like these can be great ways to see what teachers can do.
      Interestingly, in other places in the comments on this post I found myself sort understanding institutions deciding on the CELTA as a requirement. I think they can save time and energy by using this as a starting point. The point that keeps creeping is that many institutions might not feel comfortable using something like a portfolio as the main basis of hiring because they might not know what they are looking for or might not trust their own judgment. Perhaps I am not being fair but that is what keeps coming to mind.

      In the past few years, I feel like I have seen more and more people like your friend (very experienced) taking the CELTA. There might just be some sort of observer bias (as I and those around me get older and more experienced!) but I think it is an interesting trend (which might be connected to the hiring practices you and Ratna mentioned here).

      Thanks for the comments and thoughts!

  8. ratnavathy

    Love these discussions, Mike. Interesting that apart from the job at the British Council, all the other universities that called me in for an interview actually based it on my portfolio (which was in my resume). From my observation about ELT recruitment here in Malaysia, there seems to be 3 major criteria of how a person is recruited:

    a) Public and international-based private universities require the applicants to have a minimum of an MA, regardless as to whether they’d be teaching General English of ESP. Of course, experience counts as well.
    b) Primary and Secondary public and private schools require a TESL/TEFL degree, at the minimum.
    c) Language schools (and in some cases where universities hold the franchise for these schools) generally equate CELTA or Professional TESOL Cert + basic degree OR TESL or TEFL degree as the same. In fact, some places value the CELTA more than the MA (as I’ve mentioned above).

    I think I’ve finally figured out the reasons for these ;–> it depends on the direction of the educational institute in terms of languag e teaching. Universities are always geared towards research – the more paper they publish, the higher they’re ranked (hence the strict MA or PhD requirement). Language schools, on the other hand, focus more on the teaching practice itself – teachers move on to become trainers. I suppose there is no urgency for academic papers to be published.

    I guess it all depends on the path an individual plans on taking – > research-focused or practice-focused. Funny thing is it takes both of these to form the ELT industry!



    • mikecorea

      Hello again my dear,
      Thanks for the interesting and informative response. I think you highlighted some important points in the hiring system. I guess perhaps we can also see the assumptions that are built in about teachers who have (or don’t have) these certain qualifications. As you say, a lot depends on the path an individual teacher plans on taking. I guess what I am still hung up on is the idea that teachers are perhaps best hired on a case by case basis for the job being offered. Maybe I should keep on dreaming. 😉

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