Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The CELTA Games - Part 1 - Getting Around to It

I once wrote about how I don't really feel at home living in India or Kuwait. As a TCK (third culture kid) I don't really have a problem blending in with people, but I don't feel that sense of belonging anywhere. And then I came across a quote that made me realize I don't really need to:

"Language is the only homeland." - Czeslaw Milosz

Another epiphany! It is within the boundaries of the English language that I thrive, with grammar that I feel most at home and in control and words with which I snuggle in contentment...words that gush comfortingly within the nooks and crannies of my mind. And let's not forget the in-built, grammatical error detection radar that unfailingly goes berserk every time it's put to good use and won't cease until the cause for its suffering has been corrected.

So when it was suggested I teach English for a living, it really wasn't too preposterous a thought. Marketing had lost its appeal; I wanted no part in encouraging people to spend more on gorging unhealthy meals that offered obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol at no extra charge and on purchasing things they didn't need. Unless it was books, of course. Books are about the only things worth buying.

In Kuwait, the British Council is the only Cambridge approved CELTA center. The CELTA application included a pre-interview task, and if you passed that, you'd score an interview. It took me some time to be completely satisfied with the task; there were a couple of concepts I was unfamiliar with, and a section on grammar that required some pondering upon. I said a silent prayer as I emailed it. Fast forward to the longest interview of my life; it lasted about 2 hours 15 minutes as it included two written tasks of 40 minutes each, but on the whole, it went pretty well.

By now I'd gotten a fair idea of what I was signing up for, from all the research online to the information I received about the course from the interviewer herself. Every single source said that it wasn't necessary to have any teaching experience; in fact it was better if you didn't. Every forum I read emphasized on how challenging and extremely stressful it was, and how most trainees pass but that it was virtually impossible to get Pass A or even Pass B and that you could fail the course if you didn't pull your weight. The stress factor had me a tad worried but more than anything else I was desperately looking forward to the challenge and being involved in something I loved; I was so bored with my routine.

Another reason why I knew the CELTA was the right choice for me? The first day of class began the day after my last day at work. That's too much of a coincidence for me. There was a Greater Power at work here.

The first couple of hours of the first day were very laid-back with warmer activities intended for us to get comfortable around each other and build trust. My classmates and I knew a little about each other through introductory emails we'd exchanged a week prior on the request of our trainer, which was a fantastic idea. Every single one of my classmates was either a teacher or had a degree in literature, or both. I admit, I was slightly envious of the latter.

Part of what I loved about the CELTA is that it involved teaching an actual class of students who were attending for free, as a way for the British Council to give back to the community. That made it even more worthwhile. As the day progressed, we were divided into groups and were introduced to our students. Our jaws dropped when the students came in. I'd expected them to be young students around my age or even younger (they'd still be adults!). Most were in fact 10-15 years older, working in hospitals or hotels.

My luck ran out and I had to teach the first 40 minute lesson in front of a class of 17 adults, almost all of which were men, the very next day.

What the heck had I gotten myself into?

Part 2 coming soon! Be patient with me :*
Title credit goes to Ms. Fish, my adorably awesome friend and fellow CELTA survivor.