The biggest secret in ELT…how do I become a CELTA tutor?

By - Rose Aylett

Since training-up as a CELTA tutor in 2016, there is one question that I have been asked more than any other: ‘How do I get to do what you are doing?!’ From fellow teacher trainers, to newly qualified CELTA trainees, almost everyone in ELT wants to know the answer to this seemingly simple question. For many, CELTA tutoring is the teacher training career goal, a sign that you’ve ‘made it’ professionally. Although this is not a belief I personally support, the issue still remains: Why is there no straight-forward answer?

The reason of course, is that, unlike many more clearly defined career paths, there is no ‘set’ route into CELTA training. Many aspirational trainers soon find themselves disappointed as they come up against various stumbling blocks that prevent them realising their ambitions. While it’s true that becoming a CELTA tutor isn’t just a case of jumping through hoops to be rewarded with a certificate of achievement, the truly determined should not be put off. This article is my attempt to support you in your efforts. Read on to discover how to best position yourself to be accepted as a Cambridge CELTA Trainer-in-Training (TiT). And even if you never make it, to have a great time trying…

The Essentials
Ask any CELTA tutor how they qualified, and they’ll tell you ‘it’s a long story…!’ For many, it was so long ago they can’t remember. Or perhaps they were just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Today, however, Cambridge ESOL is very clear on the minimum specifications candidates must meet in order to begin the process. The Trainer-in-training handbook (2013) states that prospective trainers should have:

  • Substantial (normally five years) varied and current classroom-based ELT experience preferably in more than one context, including a range of levels and different types of class.
  • The Cambridge Delta (or equivalent)
  • Evidence of professional commitment

The Small Print
It’s also worth noting that beyond the personal requirements stipulated above, any application must also be supported by a CELTA centre. After the training-up process (which involves actively shadowing a full CELTA course), newly qualified trainers must deliver at least three more courses at the same centre. So just preparing yourself professionally is unfortunately not enough, you also need to locate, or be currently working for, a centre that will commit to employing you for a further three months as well! Although this will be frustrating to some, from personal experience, these courses are critical in allowing you to consolidate your learning as a new trainer.

Five Steps
If you are still reading, then congratulations…you have overcome the first hurdle! To become a CELTA tutor you will require tenacity and determination to succeed.

To help you with the next steps, here are my top five tips…

  • Start now…and be prepared for the long-haul.
    Becoming a CELTA tutor is a long-term goal, and will not be achieved overnight. Depending on the point you are at in your career, preparing yourself for the role make take up to several years. Along the way you will, quite naturally, face all kinds of setbacks. But the best things in life are worth the effort, so if you know that you want to move your career in this direction, begin now making steps towards it now, and don’t give up!

  • Solicit, and implement, all forms of feedback.
    A key trait of any good teacher trainer is the ability to give sensitive and respectful feedback. But perhaps even more important, is a capacity to receive and act on feedback (of any kind) on your own work. Simply nodding your head isn’t good enough. Highly defensive? Overly self-critical? Both of these characteristics will hold you back. It’s time to take a long hard look in the mirror and think about all the feedback you have received in the past from students, colleagues, line managers, family and friends, and consider the extent to which you have addressed these issues.

  • Get loads of experience.
    This is an obvious one, but how to get the ball rolling? A good place to begin is by conducting a comprehensive review of your teaching and training CV to date. What experience do you have in coaching, mentoring, or training other teachers? If you don’t have any at this point in your career, don’t despair – everyone has to start somewhere. Consider offering INSETT sessions to colleagues at your place of work, or supporting a new member of staff through their induction. Over time, this experience (whether paid of voluntary) will evolve into a portfolio that you can use to demonstrate you have the skills for the role.

  • Network your socks off.
    It’s a fact of life that you are more likely to get offered opportunities if people know who you are and what you are about. First and foremost, networking is about establishing and maintaining positive working relationships with colleagues and managers at your current place of work. After all, they will be the ones offering your professional development opportunities and providing references in the future! But it’s also about getting your name ‘out there’. Put in proposals for conference presentations or write articles for teacher development magazines or journals to show off the work you are already doing to the wider ELT community.

  • Be in the right place, at the right time.
    If you have followed all of the above points, you should hopefully be well on your way to establishing yourself as a self-aware, experienced, well-known and well-regarded teacher trainer. However, to be trained-up by Cambridge, you still need to find yourself working at a centre that offers CELTAs, and has the capacity and willingness to train you. This requires in-depth research. Find out where in your region you might realistically be offered the opportunity to train. It is always worth registering your interest at job interviews, or if you already work in a training centre, establishing this as a clear CPD goal in your annual appraisal. Honest and frank discussions about career advancement are critical if you are to reach your goal. Even if the answer is a ‘no’ at first, that may not always be the case. Work towards demonstrating that you deserve this professional investment. Working diligently, responding positively to feedback, and volunteering for projects that take you above and beyond your role profile, will all stand in your favour when your manager comes to make that all-important decision…

So, in conclusion, sadly there is no magic CELTA tutor pathway. My hope is that the above advice will support you in whatever form of teacher training and development you choose to be involved, whether you are at the very beginning, middle or towards the end of your career. Ultimately, however, it is important to remember that CELTA tutoring is not the be-all and end-all of teacher training. Yes - it is an incredibly demanding, challenging and rewarding job, but half the fun for me has been the process of getting to where I am today. Wishing you the very best of luck!

Rose Aylett
Rose Aylett is a freelance teacher, trainer and Celta tutor, based in Liverpool, UK. She has been working in ELT for over twelve years, predominantly across North Africa and the Middle East. Her research interests include materials-light teaching, creativity in teacher education and the integration of global issues into the classroom. In 2017 she set herself up as the ‘Pop-up Teacher Trainer’ and now delivers training at conferences and teacher development events worldwide.