Surviving CELTA (against all odds)

For anyone reading who doesn’t know what CELTA is, it stands for ‘Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults’.  It is also known to many who have undertaken it to be one of the most stressful 4 weeks of your life. I have a degree and 2 post-graduate degrees and I would say this was way harder than any of them. Anyway, this is just a few ramblings to share a little about my experience for anyone thinking of undertaking this crazy teacher training. I wanted to write about it so I never forget or under appreciate what I went through to achieve this golden certificate.

International House, Chiang Mai
This is International House, Chiang Mai. If your going to do CELTA, there is no denying that it’s a lovely setting to do it in.

I decided to sign up for CELTA at International House, Chiang Mai, Thailand at the end of my travels. I felt by this point that I wanted a challenge and a different way of seeing a place.  I had been thinking about teaching English as a foreign language since a lady in the market in Santa Tecla, El Salvador asked me to teach her son English and I thought that would be awesome, but I have no idea how. I also wanted to have some options for after I went home so that maybe I could work and travel.

Thai Orchid
Beautiful Thai orchids at the school make it an even nicer setting.

Arriving in Chiang Mai was exciting – I danced around my room when I first arrived as it was the first time I’d had a room for myself for a long time and I was lucky enough to have the biggest bed of all as I was the last to sign up (theres no logic in this – it’s just brilliant for me and rubbish for everyone else). Myself and the new student teachers went straight to the Big C (an enormous supermarket) that evening to stock up on stationary, which was a massive culture shock to me after being very minimalist for the whole of my trip. I wondered what on earth I was doing and had some gut feelings of doubt, but I carried on all the same. It was fun chatting to the other trainee teachers as they were from all over the world. I was surprised then how few people had come from a trip like mine, and how many people had come from home to be there (UK, US, China, Ethiopa, India, South Africa, Iran, Nepal to name just a few countries).

Thailand countryside
Walking into school at the weekend. For a while this was the only view of thailand I had outside of school. It was a good one though.

On the first day, we were given a timetable and course group. The timetable is full on, with classes about different aspects of teaching, feedback sessions and teaching time. The stress pretty much starts from day one, when it is explained what you will need to do to pass the course. For me, this increased immensely because I learnt I would be teaching the next day. I thought I might get to watch a few other people first as I had never taught before but there is no chance of this as they throw you right in at the deep end, which isn’t a bad thing. People are very supportive throughout the course, but the reality is that you will be teaching while your tutor and 4 or 5 other students watch and assess you and this is a little bit terrifying. Actually for me it is very terrifying, but I think I can safely say that everyone found it stressful – even those who had been teaching for years. The pacing up and down seemed to increase around the whole school from about 4.30pm as we awaited the arrival of our students. Also, the tension in the computer room rose and to avoid screaming,  everyone was trying to smile and be friendly to each other while manically chopping up last minute flash cards and looking for visual aids. It was obvious who was teaching that day and who wasn’t.

Free Slippers, Thailand
My slippers, which were compulsory to wear in the hotel. My feet would have liked to spend more time in them.

The tutorials in how to teach are mostly interesting, well organised and they kind of prepare you for teaching – although my brain needs a little more time to process the information and there is no time on this course. I worked probably 18 hours a day on everything that needed to be done, getting up at 6am and falling into bed at about midnight. There was also very little time on weekends for anything other than study – although some people managed a social life, I’m just not sure how they did it. I just about made it to the swimming pool in the hotel.


This was an instagram post from the end of week 2 – the most difficult point of the course. I think I’m writing assignment 2 while trying to plan a lesson simultaneously. I like that I am a trainee English teacher that can’t spell ‘difficult’…

I’m trying to think how I can describe what it felt like to me to be teaching. I think it will be very different when I do it for real and not in a CELTA context. During CELTA, there is so much to think about – are you following the lesson structure? Have the students talked more than you have? Have you elicited the meaning correctly? Are you saying too much? Have they understood anything you’ve been doing? (This probably will always apply). But you learn a lot during the tutorials, so my brain was constantly full of these things and it was difficult to really connect with the class at the same time. It’s not easy to stand in front of people and talk in any context. Thai students are really enthusiastic to learn though and will try really hard to engage with whatever you do, so that is a lovely thing about training in this wonderful country.

Trainee teachers
This is my trainee teacher group with one of our excellent students. She is one of the reasons the course is all worth while as it is a joy to try and help people like her learn English. We all look a little crazy in this pic as we have literally just finished the course so are very sleep deprived.


Feedback was something I dreaded every day, although unnecessarily because it was generally really useful and not as painful as I thought it would be. The tutors are supportive and want you to pass, so they try to help you even if you are doing badly on some parts of your lessons and they will always find good things to tell you also. I guess this is always true, unless you just lie on the floor screaming for the entire 45 minutes of your class – which is tempting.

That said, not everyone’s experience was the same and sadly 3 very able people dropped out of the course. If you drop out, you don’t get a refund so it was a big decision to leave for all of them, and I think they were left quite disappointed. It’s really sad for everyone when someone drops out, because it’s like you are in this CELTA bubble together and want everyone to do well. In my experience they were all definitely able to pass, but for whatever the reason and very understandably they could not stand to continue with the stress of the course and this is something to really think about before taking it.

Two people that left our course were travellers like me and had been away for 10 months. They seemed to have very similar thoughts to me about doing this teaching English thing to be able to continue exploring the world while working. Like them, I was surprised just how stressful it was, despite all the warnings and I really sympathised with their reasons when they did leave and thought it was a brave decision. I wanted to leave the course every single day and could easily have done as hanging out with them would have been way more fun. However against all odds, I survived the 4 weeks. It did make me think that it’s not necessarily wise to take the course at the end of a big travelling trip though, even if you really don’t want the adventure to end. It’s something to really think about first – something that on reflection I probably could have done more of as I can’t say I’m sure I did the right thing by taking the course. My favourite part of the day was when they joined us for dinner and told us all the nice things they had been doing that day. The outside world became an abstract concept to me during these four weeks.

Spirit House at International House
This new spirit house was installed at the school while we were there. I think the fruit offerings given every day by the restaurant staff kept any bad spirits busy as mostly the outcomes were good at the school.

I really believe that if you want something you should go for it. I don’t mean to talk about people dropping out to be negative – it’s just that it’s fairly difficult to get information about this before you start, and most courses seem to just publish the pass rate. Obviously they want as many people to sign up as possible. However, if you are a traveller and thinking about doing the course, I would suggest you really think about whether it really is what you want just so you don’t lose the money.  Are you ready for the challenge and incredible stress after your travels? It is possible to get some teaching experience without it, so is that something you could do first so that you don’t waste your money in case you don’t like it? Whatever you decide, you will have a really rewarding expericene and I’m a believer in following your dreams and gut feelings about these things. However, do have a little think.

Here are some other thoughts on good and less good things I felt when doing the CELTA to try and help with the decision making…

5 good things about having taken CELTA at International House, Chiang Mai

1. THE STUDENTS. Meeting and teaching the very patient and friendly Thai people, who turned up every day to be taught English by us was definitely worth taking the course for. It gave me an insight into Thai culture that I couldn’t have got otherwise and they were generally just really lovely – smiling throughout each class even if it was one of the more painful grammar lessons.

2. JOB PROSPECTS. There are a lot more options for teaching English as a foreign language with the certificate. I haven’t got a job yet (partly for visa reasons) but potential employers have definitely taken my applications more seriously. There are also places I’ve seen that will pay you more with this certificate.

3. TRAINEE TEACHERS. Cheesy as it may sound, the people I met also taking the course were a massive highlight for me. People from all over the world congregated in Chiang Mai, Thailand for this 4 weeks of tearing our hair out. I found it fascinating and inspiring to learn about how many different options there are to lead a different kind of life to the UK classic 9-5pm. The people on the course were like-minded wanderers, interesting, supportive and given half a chance fun (although not many chances for fun!).

4. COMPETENCY. I think it has prepared me for teaching for real, although I wouldn’t say I’m exactly confident yet. I will at least have an idea of what works and what doesn’t. Hopefully.

5. You can do it at any age and then work all over the world. That’s pretty cool really.

5 less good things:

1. It’s really quite expensive when travelling on a budget. I could have come home with money, but instead, I came home with the certificate. That said, it is cheaper to do it in Thailand than in the UK.

2. CELTA at International House Chiang Mai was entirely taught by men. I like men and my tutors were excellent, but there is something majorly lacking when there is no input from a female. I wanted to also learn how a female teacher might take a class and relate to her students. We did watch some videos with female teachers, but these were met with some comments such as ‘she was really boring’, ‘it shouldn’t be done like that’ and ‘it was hard to concentrate because of the mole on her face’ – so the way a woman looks is apparently criticised in a educational context too of course. So, yeah there was some sexism happening, but this is perhaps a thing about taking the course in Thailand. This is something I could rant about for a while, but I’ll stop there.

3. No confidence or competence working with kids. The course is specifically for working with adults (which is what I want to do), but a lot of work out there is with children. This course won’t prepare you for working with kids at all.

4. I could have been seeing other places. This has only really been a negative for me in my floaty head that wants to be exploring… but with the money used I could have seen a lot of Thailand and more of Cambodia, which sometimes niggles a little. This is why it’s important to be sure you want to do it before you do.

5. I can’t really think of another less good thing… but maybe I’ll just mention the stress again. It’s really hard doing this course. I did have a lot of times when I would rather have been in a hammock.

CELTA People
The lovely people I survived with and Andy our brilliant tutor. This was on our last day… we are pretty tired but elated at this point


Anyway, if you’ve reached this point, thanks for reading my ramblings. I’m sure there are more useful reflections I could make in the future but mostly I am still just recovering from the madness of it all.

Have you taken the CELTA certificate? I’d love to hear other people’s experiences.

Or, are you thinking of going to International House, Chiang Mai to learn? If so, I’m happy to try and answer any questions you might have…

  1. I love the pics what an adventure. Good to do this while you are young. I look forward to your pics and what is happening in your world. Mine is very cold -12 Celsius and very snowy right now.

    1. It certainly was an adventure and I’m glad I did it even if I don’t teach forever. More warm looking pictures to follow soon… although I’m quite jealous of your snow – snowy scenery can be so beautiful 🙂

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