11 January – 5 February, 2016
6 weeks ago I walked into International House Izmir, the language school where I would be becoming a CELTA-certified English teacher. It was early, and I was nervous. I didn’t really know what to expect. I had done some training previously when I got my TESOL certification last summer, but knew that the CELTA program, run by the prestigious Cambridge University in England, would be much more in-depth and intense.
In the common area were four other tired-looking, quiet strangers who I took to be the other members of our group. Soon, we met our two tutors and dived right into our training with some getting-to-know-you activities.
There was Asya, a local Izmiri who has been teaching English for years and was in search of a little professional guidance. Şefika, also Turkish and an English teacher already, came up to Izmir from Fetiyhe, a city on the coast. The tall, blond man named Darek hails from Calgary but his wife has been teaching in Kazakhstan, and with a CELTA he can teach there as well. Last was Saloua, a well-dressed Moroccan woman from Casablanca, who wanted a life change and had been considering CELTA for a while and finally decided to take the plunge.
Our tutors were Billy and Julie, two skilled teachers with completely opposite teaching styles. Billy is half-Turkish but was raised in England, so although he has been living in Turkey for several years he is quite British. Billy is friendly and fun-loving, with an exuberant energy, and specializes in phonology, a topic I used to know nothing about but am now obsessed with. Julie is acually Iulia, a Romanian woman with short hair, square glasses, and an eclectic taste in jewelry, as evidenced by her jingling silver bracelets and ever-changing selection of earrings. Julie is more orderly in the classroom, and is a grammar queen, which my nerdy grammar-loving self appreciated.
From the first day, we got down to business. Each day was long and full. We would begin at 10, with 3 45-minute teaching practices with our students until 12:30. Then there was an hour for feedback sessions, where we would critique the morning’s lessons. We would have around an hour for lunch, and from 2:45-5:30 we would have two “input sessions”, which were focused learning sessions on specific topics that covered everything from classroom management to lesson planning to language analysis. After input, Zac and I would take a break and then stay at International House for another few hours to work on lesson plans or written assignments. And repeat. For four weeks.
We each had 8 practice lessons, 4 with a beginning level group and 4 with an intermediate level group. Our students were truly wonderful. Most were university students using the course as a chance to brush up their English skills before the spring semester, and all had unique personalities. It was interesting for me to see the differences in the levels, particuarly in terms of spoken communication. CELTA teaches a communicative approach, which means a lot of speaking practice. With the beginning students it was like pulling teeth to get them to speak for longer than a few minutes together, but with the intermediate students it was hard to get them to stop talking and move on to the next activity!
And just like summer camp or drama class or any contained environment where you spend a lot of time together, the six of us stopped being strangers. Our feedback sessions were like AA meetings where we vented, supported each other, and gave constructive criticism. We shared music, we shared lunch, we shared countless tea and coffee breaks. Asya helped us go to the tax office and the bank, errands that would have been near impossible without a Turkish speaker. We watched each other grow and develop our teaching styles and gain confidance and rapport with our classes. We became family.
Four weeks, 8 practice lessons, 4 written assignments, and many lectures later, it was the last day. We bound up all of our paperwork, the product of many hours and sleepless nights of labor, to be sent off to Cambridge to be validated. Billy and Julie gave us our certificates, we had an emotional moment thanking each other for an amazing four weeks, and took some photos. We went out for one last lunch as a group with our tutors, and bought some presents for Fatma, the cheerful custodian of International House who brought us a much-needed pot of tea each afternoon, as well as some little cakes for Billy and Julie.
Darek would be flying back to Kazakstan the very next day, and Şefika would be driving home to Fetiyhe. Saloua was planning to stick around until her tourist visa ran out, and of course Asya and us would be remainging in Izmir for a while. But we still had time for one Big Night Out. . .