Six things that can frustrate/challenge a CELTA tutor…even the most ‘zen’ ones.


I recently complained about ‘listicles’ in a twitter video post but because I’m human I’m a just a lil’ bit of a hypocrite. So I’m going to post a list of six (little) things that can be frustrating and/or challenging for CELTA tutors/short course teacher trainers…

…and if you’re a trainer and one of them rings true for you and you’d like to fill in some details, or you’ve got one to add (this is HARDLY an exhaustive list) do so in a comment!

…and if you’re not a trainer and want to know more about a particular one, ask about it in the comments! 🙂

  • When you’re not sure how many candidates are going to show up and you have to create two or more alternative schedules, TP rotas, and other documents to prepare for the course (this is happening now, argg).
  • When you have a course looming but you’ve yet to find an assessor for it (thankfully this isn’t happening now, but has happened before…it’s stressful!). You always manage to find one, but it’s ful o’ stress!
  • When failing to acknowledge copyright on handouts and plans continues to be an issue even after 243 reminders.
  • When you have lots of great new ideas for an input session, and get excited to try them out on a course, but end up without enough time to prepare it and so end up doing the one you’ve always done…but without your usual verve because you’re disappointed in yourself.
  • When you somehow (once! first and last time!) allow a misspelled name to make it onto a certificate and need to go through the rigamarole to get it fixed…also: #secretpenance
  • When you just. can’t. rustle. up. enough. TP. students!!! (this hasn’t been much of an issue recently, thankfully, and things are GREAT at the moment).

That’s my six. Not the result of an exhaustive reflection, just the first six that came to me, frankly.

The whole ‘beautiful struggle’ of training, of course, is the “training” itself! It’s such a fun job, it’s such a great space to be in. And it’s amazing what trainees experience and achieve in those four short weeks. Each and every time, it’s an amazing (and amazingly challenging) month on planet CELTA.

But it’s only a controlled, microcosmic experience out of which you just hope trainees take some lasting, inspired learnings. And each time hope YOU, as a trainer, also bring out some concrete, lasting lesson which will propel you forward into even more satisfying experiences with learning and teaching. It’s very rare that any of the things listed above get in the way of appreciating the point of it all.

Finally, to continue to put it all in larger perspective…I want to say that (of course) the typical cluster of real, large scale challenges in the career of a teacher (and a teacher/teacher-trainer) goes far, far beyond any particular short training course – stretching out afterwards and in fact long BEFORE any training like this ever occurs, as the slide below reminds…


What’s the “Apprenticeship of Observation”?:

…*10 minutes later*… I ended up ^there…because…well, I think it’s just really important to stay with the ‘big picture’ as much as possible: something listing “frustrations with X” can sometimes stray away from.

Basically, I’m paranoid about cynicism leading to burnout (healthily, I think – what’s the word for that?) and try to ‘manage frustrations’ as mindfully as possible. A short course like the CELTA is potentially experienced as ‘fraught with failure’ – for trainees and trainers. In the same way, a term with learners can feel like an endless uphill battle, and never good enough. The list can grow from 6 to 600.

It’s something I’ve seen play out so many times with colleagues, not to mention certain qaudrants of my own mind.

The shall we say ‘zen’ approach to it, I think, is all about perspective – something the ‘apprenticeship of observation’ concept helps provide so nicely. Also, certain SLA principles which teachers can keep in mind when it seems their students aren’t improving/changing in just the ways they are ‘supposed to’ in X number of weeks/months.

Maybe I’ll post a list of 7 or 12 of those perspective-givers in the future. 😛

20 thoughts on “Six things that can frustrate/challenge a CELTA tutor…even the most ‘zen’ ones.

  1. It’s interesting that three of these things could be ‘waiting for people or getting people to do things’. Maybe I’m a control freak but I always rely on human beings to be unreliable. I always think back to myself at my least functional, cut people slack if I can (though this is definitely a two-way street) and failing all else, vent and then drink tea.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Matthew,

    I’m not a CELTA Trainer (yet) but have experienced my own colleagues having to deal with these. I’d add: finding experienced teachers willing to be observed.

    Found the article an interesting read and upon reflection, did the same when I first started teaching (before CELTA).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Gemma! Yeah, I think the percentage of teachers who are at all interested in any non-required observation of their classroom is relatively small. It’s too bad, really, but also makes sense..I guess (I’ve *almost* always welcomed it myself).

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m not a teacher trainer, but I can totally relate to point 4: lots of great ideas when you start preparing the course/lesson, hardly ever time to put them into practice. That’s so frustrating. 😑


    1. I’m most frustrated by my weakness in archiving and organizing what I create for future use. I’m terrible at it. I have huge towering piles of resources for classes and sessions, but have only ever filled half a binder with clearly marked, organized, and fully replicable planning documents and ‘finished’ materials. It’s a curse, really! 😛


  4. How about that feeling when a trainee drops out because they don’t feel they will pass the course? Doesn’t happen often, thankfully, but when tiredness, stress and self-doubt creep in it can be hard for trainees to be objective, listen and believe what the trainer is saying.

    The last one on your list is a headache Matthew :/


    1. Now you’re talking. Reading back, a few on my list kinda sorta shouldn’t even really be on there – they’re just par for the course, part of the job. But a challenge indeed is when a trainee has that crisis of confidence and wants to give up. Yes, it’s pretty rare that it really gets to a point of emergency, but the handful of times I’ve experienced it have all been complex and intense. I feel like I need to reflect more and maybe write about some of these times. My memory doesn’t self-generate all that strongly though, but maybe with some writerly prodding I can make something of it.

      I will say this: it’s so satisfying when something you can do to support a trainee who is failing or flailing or generally frustrated find a way through it to the other side. That is definitely one of the biggest rewards of the work!


  5. I can relate to all of these but I have a different problem at the moment. We borrow existing ESOL students for our teaching practice classes. In the old days when the quality of ESOL teachers was much lower than it is now, things were pretty dandy, and the learners loved the lessons: they enjoyed the drilling, beautiful PowerPoints, etc. However, now, they are a much fussier bunch and I’m getting bombarded with lots of complaints. It’s a bit of a nightmare!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, that doesn’t sound fun. What have you done in response to the complaints? And I’m curious, because I’m not sure I fully understand: are you saying that those ESOL students used to appreciate the CELTA lessons because their program teachers then didn’t provide great lessons, but now they’re getting much better lessons in their program and don’t now appreciate the CELTA TP classes in comparison?


      1. I think our students expect more quality of teaching now, which is, of course, not a bad thing. We “borrow” ESOL classes for our teaching practice and the students a) object to the number of teachers in the lessons and b) the quality of the teaching they receive. They expect the trainees to be of the same calibre as their core tutors. I understand their dissatisfaction because why wouldn’t you want good teachers? However, the trainees need teachers to have access to larger groups, to build up a profile of their learners, etc. The alternative is to go back to ‘extra classes’ but when we used to do this, hardly anyone turned up. I used to have to beg students to attend!

        In answer to your question, the ESOL Manager and I have explained the rationale for the classes and agreed to put on some extra classes as the learners need to prepare for assessments. Not all the teacher trainees are poor but it’s so difficult to take over someone elses class.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I see. Sometimes I really do think, somewhat guiltily, “bless these volunteer learners who appreciate even this most UNEVEN teaching in an opportunity to have a class when they wouldn’t easily find another”!


  6. Hi Matthew. Thanks for the insightful post. I´m just being trained up as an IHCYLT (teaching young learners and teenagers) course tutor at the moment, and am keen to become a CELTA tutor in the future. How much freedom do you have on designing the content of the CELTA input sessions, which you mention in one of the points? The IHCYLT seems quite restrictive in this regard in the interests of course uniformity across the IH network.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi James! I was happy to find your blog the other day and it’s great to see you here! I’m in a huge rush but I’m looking forward to catching some minutes to think about your comment/questions and give a proper response!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. James, I’ve been a CELTA trainer for 2.5 years now. Not a long time…and I want to mention that you should never take my word about things outside of my own short and relatively small CELTA world for more than it is, just my impressions/perspectives. In my experience, CELTA trainers don’t usually see themselves as free to be ‘content designers’ on the course in the sense that they might move away from typical CELTA course content, tied to the Cambridge criteria and I think pretty much standardized throughout the whole CELTA course universe. That said, I would say I’ve had a good amount of “freedom” when it comes to how I run my own input sessions, how I conduct feedback, how I do guided lesson planning, etc.

      I will say that I started on a course which was part of a big network of locations, and there was some ‘drive for uniformity’ across courses. I think that’s just the nature of the business when it comes to big companies, etc. I now work on a course which is my school’s only course – so that’s no longer a thing so much. So, well…not sure I’ve actually said much here, but it’s always been interesting to me to see how the CELTA seems to work so well without say, using a core ‘text’ like ‘The CELTA Course’ on the course itself…and how so many different trainers can be themselves, do things in different ways, but still always seem to be in harmony, be ‘CELTA’ without much static at all. Sure, you’ll hear the occasional bit about something or someone that just didn’t ‘fit’ the mold, but seems quite rare to me.

      I remember finding it worthwhile food for thought, when I first started, that assessors never observe trainers’ input sessions. Nor ever ask about them, look at input materials/handouts, or really have anything to do with them at all. This certainly makes sense seeing as they DO look very, very closely at the *results of* all that input when they review the candidates portfolios and watch both TP lessons and a trainer’s post-TP feedback session. But it also means that on this side of things, it’s up to colleagues and institutions (and PLNs, etc if you’re into that) to influence and shape what happens and what standards are.

      I’ll end with this: I love what I see as some productive creative tensions in this part of my job, as I strive to balance convention and creativity, standards and experimentation, human connection and on-paper criteria, etc. etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. #3 – yes!
    #6 – as the person who almost always ends up with the A2 group, this is a constant problem. I once ended up teaching an impromptu observed 121 lesson because none of the other 11 (!) students on the register deigned to turn up.
    #7: when the trainees ask you how many students they’re going to have, and keep asking, even when you’ve told them you have no idea. “But how many are on the register?” “12” “So we’ll have 12 then?” “If you’re really really lucky!” I’m constantly surprised when more than 50% of them show up!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Sandy, do you not observe both levels on each course? We have a system where, for example, I’ll observe Group A in Week 1, then switch to Group B in Week 2 and Week 3 (moving with them as they change levels), and then switch back to group Group A for Week 4. In this way, both trainers will see both groups at both levels. Seems to me like a pretty good way to work it. I generally feel like I’ve had basically an ‘equal’ exposure to all the trainees. But there is some difference: with one group (A in this case), I’ll have a bit more of a kind of ‘before/after’ perspective, seeing first hand how they’d grown from the end of Week 1 to the final week. With Group B, I’m with them for the ‘heart’ of the course, bringing them through the crucial Stage 2 tutorials and such.


    1. Hi Matt,
      I’ve done that on some courses, on some week 1/3 with one group, 2/4 with the other, A2 1/2, B2 3/4 (not sure how to explain that), but on most courses I’ve been left with A2 all the way through and seen all of the trainees with them, partly because they’re such big courses and it’s less disruptive for the students themselves.
      I have to say I prefer the version you’ve described though 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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