4 weeks without sleep, or how I survived the CELTA course!



The day after finishing my CELTA course (a 4 week intensive course for the “Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults”, a qualification from the University of Cambridge), I have (along with a raging hangover) an overriding feeling of guilt that I should have my head in a grammar book, be planning a lesson, or writing an assignment, until at least 1am.
It is just a bit hard to believe that it is over…


Rewind to August.
Since going to Peru in 2004, a move that I never realised would have such a huge impact on my life, and then coming back to Blighty in 2006, I have always been very, very keen to go back to “la vida loca Limeña” (the crazy, crazy life in Lima!)


I’ve been doing a bit of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teaching as a volunteer at a local community centre, which has been amazingly rewarding.
Teaching is a job that I love doing and after 7 years (on and off) at the Brewery the shifts finally got to me. It is a bit like living your life on a treadmill, and then being spun round a tumble dryer, when you step off the treadmill. Many of my work colleagues don’t mind them, but they were really sending me round the bend. Something needed to change…

Back in 2004, I did my TEFL qualification (Teaching English as a Foreign Language, there are a tremendous amounts of acronyms in this game), which was a good foundation, but I really wanted something that would carry a bit more weight.
I have 2 good friends who did the CELTA in 2004 and so I quizzed them.
The word that came back was “intense” (very intense).

I made enquiries and found a great place called “Action English” in Leeds who run courses, I had enquired about a year ago, but just couldn’t afford (a) the course, or (b) to take a month off work, so it was put on ice.

When little Valentina arrived on the scene in March, everything else was put on the back burner.

A few months later in June, we discussed the pros and cons of possibly going back to Peru.
The little one would still be little and it would be a good opportunity to give it a go.
The decision was made and flights were booked for January 2015.
This decision was followed be a chaotic house move, then resigning from my job, followed by the lengthy pre-course task (a mere taster), finishing at midnight the day before I started, at the time I didn’t realise that this would be an early night!
So, on the 4th of November, I did battle with the Leeds rush hour traffic on the Clunk and started the course, completely frazzled, before I began.
The course lasts 4 weeks and the administrators put a huge amount of stress on the fact that it is very intense and that you really do need to put your world on hold for 4 weeks. There simply isn’t time/space/energy for anything else.

The 120hr course consists of:
– 6hrs assessed teaching (9 lessons), teaching students of Elementary, Intermediate and Upper Intermediate levels.
– A big chunk of input (theory, methodology and more)
– Observing colleagues teaching.
– Plus assignments!

Oh the assignments!
Only 4 in total, but slotting them in around lesson plans all became a bit frantic and I was burning a hefty amount of midnight oil from day I.

A lesson is built around a plan. The plan is King. A lesson may last as little as 40mins, but the plan often took me over 4 hrs to put together. Backed up with Language Analysis sheets, Vocab Analysis sheets and bullet points (don’t forget the bullet points, I did and the previous night’s work crumbled before my eyes in the first 10 minutes of the class, d’oh!)

The plan is painful, tedious and very time consuming, BUT, it works.
It works and without one, it simply doesn’t work, as the class has no structure and no matter how good one is at winging-it, it will show to the trained eye (of the Tutor/Assessor) assessing your lesson.

As it was my first experience of full-time studying since leaving school (26 years ago), this all built up into something very intense, very quickly.

Am I overusing the word “intense”?

I managed to get to bed before 1am twice in 4 weeks, up at 6am. My latest night was 2:45am. Coffee was my very best friend the next day and every day, bar one day when I was in a bad way and couldn’t stomach coffee, my first day off the java in 9 years! I survived, somehow…

It is not meant to a sociable course, there just isn’t time, but the feeling of working as a team was overwhelming. Everybody was knackered, had a cold/cough/sore throat and was run down, but we all and willed each other along at low points (and there were low points and plummets in confidence, along with highs and feelings of intense happiness (relief), it was an emotional rollercoaster for sure).
My colleagues were a mixture of all ages, backgrounds and with different motivational reasons for studying, but we all got along nicely and most importantly, nobody died!


I had a lot of points to work on.
My biggest problem was talking too fast in class.
I do tend to talk quite quickly anyway.
If I’m under pressure I talk faster still.
If I’m running out of time I talk even more quickly.
When I’m excited/emotional/full of coffee, there is no chance for anybody (as even in my head I am making less than no sense at this stage!)
S-l-o-w d-o-w-n…
This would take some doing.

I thought that having worked nightshifts and having a little baby would help, it did to a point, but then the little nipper got poorly.

It wasn’t anything serious, but a trip to the LGI on the Friday of week 3 suddenly put the pressure on me (possibly the “crux” of the course, a weekend which was going to be bonkers even if I had worked every single hour available).

At this point I was convinced that I wasn’t going to pass.
I told myself that if I failed the course, it wouldn’t have been the end of the World, the baby comes first, always.
Somehow the nipper suddenly bounced back over the weekend, then I gave myself a good talking to.
If I could just last one more week, there was a chance that I might just scrape through!

Week 4. Lots of deadlines, lots of lesson plans, lots of assignments and lots of paperwork.

The ability to do other normal day-to-day tasks outside of course life became trickier as time went on. I ran out of petrol in the Clunk twice and had lists of “to-do lists” all over the place, but I still forgot most non-course-related tasks.
Head down, auto-pilot, caffeine, moodswings, more caffeine.

The thought of no more of the above and a pint on the Friday night spurred everyone on.

2 crucial lessons in the last week went well and confidence soared.
Last class on the last day was very emotional.
Brilliant students.

Then, at 4:30pm, as suddenly as it had all began, it was over.

The first pint tasted sweeter than sweet.
We’d done it!

Thanks to all my awesome colleagues and to the amazing tutors, you all rock!
Thank you and apologies to Lina, Valentina and my family. You rock too!

Countdown continues to Lima 2015 when the job-hunting will begin in earnest.
Watch this space…

Johnny (CELTA)

(Not sure if I can put the letter behind my name, but I feel that I’ve earned them!)
P.S. My friend Neil wrote this fantastic article which sums up just how a 4 week CELTA course feels…


P.P.S. Re-reading this, I realise that grammatically it is a bit of a mess, tenses all over the place and jumping about, as I do tend to do when I get giddy.
I’m hoping that once I’ve had some sleep, normal business will be resumed & I’ll be able to string a sentence together a bit better than I can do right now.
Thank you for your patience :-)




5 thoughts on “4 weeks without sleep, or how I survived the CELTA course!

  1. The Bandits

    if there was ever a man to rise to the Occassion it was always going to be you my friend. What a great ride had; what an amazing ride to come. Love to you, Lina and Valentina always xxx

  2. Andy from CELTA

    Awesome blog mate, love the top tips videos! Gonna try and make something like this for mine and Lily’s journeys over the next couple of years :)

  3. Neil

    Captured it perfectly Johnny!! Ten years ago for me now, and this brought it all right back – the stress, late nights, and constantly having to push yourself on. I don’t think it matters how many times you use the word intense – it won’t be enough :) ) Oh, and thanks for the shout out!

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