What impact does CELTA have on the classroom practices of experienced teachers?

What impact does CELTA have on the classroom practices of experienced teachers?

As part of the IATEFL 2018 Forum on CELTA, I presented on research that I carried out with 29 experienced Egyptian teachers of English who took CELTA courses in 2016. I was interested in finding out what impact it had had on their classroom practices, and how much they had needed to adapt what they had learnt on the CELTA upon return to their (primarily) secondary classrooms in private institutions in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. While it was not possible for me to observe their lessons after the course (an acknowledged limitation of the research), the strong rapport and respect we had built up during the course (on which I was a tutor) led to comparatively open and free-ranging discussions during the Skype interviews I conducted. Nonetheless, I interpreted the data not as reports on their actual practice but as insights into potential changes in beliefs, attitudes and perceptions. I also felt it important to give as much voice as possible to the participants and the narratives that they wanted to share.

More details on the research questions and methodology can be found on my slides here.

Watch my talk on YouTube:

What did I find?

Unsurprisingly, the study found that, while there was a clear commitment on the part of most participants to implement what they had learnt, most had perceived a need to adapt and appropriate critically from the methodology and practices of the CELTA course to make it work in their own classrooms. This is hardly surprising given that CELTAs were initially designed with the needs of inexperienced native speakers of English in mind and a focus on adult learners, rather than the experienced non-native speaker teachers (NNESTs) that constitute almost the entire cohort on CELTA courses run in Egypt today. Indeed, internationally approx. 50% of CELTA participants worldwide self-identify as non-native speakers, approx. 70% are taking courses outside of the UK (Charnaud 2017) and approx. 60% have prior teaching experience (Harrison 2018). What’s more, the vast majority of non-native speakers on such courses have prior teaching experience (Anderson 2016), indicating that the challenges that these teachers had faced constitute the reality for many, if not most, CELTA graduates today upon completion of their courses.

Figure 1: Areas of change discussed by participants. Frequency indicates number of respondents who discussed an issue.

Areas of practice discussed by participants are shown in Figure 1, and elaborated on below, where representative quotes from participants are also provided.

Areas of perceived positive change or success most commonly discussed were:

  • the importance of allowing freer practice opportunities: ‘providing an environment for them to practise the language that they’ve learnt’;
  • a stronger focus on the needs and interests of their learners: ‘I can vary my teaching techniques to suit the learners I have in my class’; ‘I started thinking from the point of view of my learners’;
  • many feel better able to structure lessons more effectively: ‘getting the CELTA was like the first step in organising everything’;
  • increased self-confidence: ‘it has a tremendous impact on enhancing my self-confidence’;
  • some success with pair and groupwork: ‘the good thing about pairwork is I could put students together who… could help each other’.

Areas of perceived challenge or negative effect most commonly discussed were:

  • collaborative learning: ‘I tried to focus on group and pairwork yet I suffered from students’ lack of interest, especially in teen classes’;
  • freer practice: ‘sometimes students turned the freer activity into chaos and start resorting to Arabic or they start going off track’;
  • motivational issues, esp. in exam-focused classes: ‘they’re so worried about the exam, so… when it comes to reading, it has to be reading texts similar to the exam… for them to really engage’;
  • learning culture: ‘They like to present the speaking in front of everybody. They were not satisfied with just speaking together and I monitor them and give them feedback.’.

My recommendations

I argued in the talk that there can be no justification for using the same CELTA courses when working with majority NNESTs as are used when participants are mainly inexperienced native speakers. Each course must be tailored to the balance of needs of these two, very different demographics, and creative solutions for drawing upon their resources as a diverse community of learners need to be sought to make CELTA courses work in any context today. Based on this study and 2 others (Anderson 2016, 2018), I made six recommendations as to how CELTA courses can be adapted to better cater for the needs of the increasing numbers of experienced NNESTs who are taking them, as follows:

  1. Adopt more developmental approaches to teaching practice when working with experienced teachers (see, e.g. Freeman’s Alternatives Approach, 1982).
  2. Provide opportunities for critical discussion of how experienced teachers will appropriate from what they’ve learnt, rather than simply implement it, including an input session on this (a round table discussion led by participants often works well), and adapting the ‘Lessons from the classroom’ assignment to encourage discussion of how they will do this.
  3. Engage trainees in discussion of issues of models and norms (re: pron., grammar, etc.) throughout the course, and raise awareness of English as a Lingua Franca, which can empower NNS teachers.
  4. Include an input session on using L1 effectively, especially when working in ‘monolingual’ contexts, and encourage those trainees who can to experiment with it on the course (see forthcoming change to CELTA syllabus; Charnaud, 2017).
  5. Use experienced NNESTs as resources (e.g. in grammar inputs and younger learner sessions, as well as in lesson planning), and empower them in so doing.
  6. Raise awareness of all course participants of discrimination towards NNESTs in the industry, and encourage them to actively oppose it (Kiczkowiak et al., 2016).

I added a final, perhaps most important piece of advice, based on personal experience of working with experienced teachers on CELTAs and CertTESOLs:

  • Remember that when you are working with experienced teachers, your job is not to show or tell them how to teach. Your mandate is only to help them get the qualification.

This applies particularly to ‘itinerant’ CELTA tutors, who have rarely observed the classroom contexts of many of their course participants, let alone taught in such contexts themselves. I suggested that if tutors explain that their focus is specifically to help them get the qualification at the very start of the course, this provides a shared goal that can lower affective resistance to criticism of teaching practices during TP feedback. Critique is perceived less as criticism of who they are and what they do as professionals, and more as advice for meeting the Cambridge CELTA criteria. Even if tutors do hope to influence participants’ future teaching practice directly, by following this advice, I believe they will more likely have such an influence. However, my personal opinion is that, above all, we need to cultivate the critical evaluation skills (see above), largely absent from the CELTA criteria, to provide all course participants with the ability to appropriate effectively from what they’ve learnt, as masters of their own teaching contexts.

Publication of my findings

The findings of this latest study are due to be published in the near future in the journal Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, in a paper entitled: “‘Buying into’ communicative language teaching: The impact of ‘initial’ certification courses on the classroom practices of experienced teachers of English” (Anderson, forthcoming). The title was chosen to reflect the fact that many of the participants invested a year’s salary into the course, a reflection of their commitment as participants, one that should also be reflected in our commitment as tutors.


Anderson, J. (2016) Initial teacher training courses and non-native speaker teachers. ELT Journal 70 (3): 261-274.

Anderson, J. (2018) The role of initial teacher training courses in the professional development of experienced non-native-speaker English language teachers. ELTED 21 (forthcoming).

Anderson, J. (forthcoming) ‘Buying into’ communicative language teaching: The impact of ‘initial’ certification courses on the classroom practices of experience teachers of English. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching.

Cambridge English Language Assessment. (2015). CELTA Syllabus and Assessment Guidelines (4th ed). Cambridge: University of Cambridge English Language Assessment.

Charnaud, D. (2017) Latest Developments and Future Plans: Cambridge English Teaching Qualifications. Paper presented at 3rd Cambridge English Teaching Awards Symposium, Sheffield, UK, Sep. 9-10.

Freeman, D. (1982). Observing teachers: Three approaches to in-service training and development. TESOL Quarterly 16 (1): 21–28.

Harrison, C. (2018) Teacher training in the 21st century – is CELTA still relevant? Paper presented at IATEFL 2018, Brighton, UK, Apr. 13.

Kiczkowiak, M., Baines, D. & Krummenacher, K. (2016). Using awareness raising activities on initial teacher training courses to tackle ‘nativespeakerism’. ELTED 19: 45-53.



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