My tutor wants to get me stoned.

I haven’t really written anything about the CELTA course, mainly because when you’re taking the CELTA course, there’s not actually an awful lot of time left over for luxuries like writing, and, y’know, sleeping and eating and stuff.

I’m really loving it, though. Loving the busyness, loving the studying, loving the chance for self-improvement and development, loving the learning, loving the pressure. Loving it… but totally fecking shattered. It’s the most intensive course I’ve ever been on in my life, and after just a few days I could see why it’s “only a month long” – you’d probably die from sheer exhaustion if you kept up this level of effort for any longer. As it is, I had a little quiet cry to myself last night when I realised at 1am that I was going to have to abandon my lesson planning (due to being too tired to even see the screen any more) and wake up at about 5.30am in order to have time to finish it, shower, go to the library to print and photocopy, drink 3 gallons of espresso, and be in school ready to start teaching at 9. Look, it was 1am, and I hadn’t even had any dinner. I am not ashamed to admit to that little tearful moment! Only a brief, exhaustion-driven weep, though. Then I went to sleep, got up a few hours later, overdosed on caffeine, and just got on with it.

It’s pretty gruelling. You could probably get away with doing less than I’m doing, but I’m determined to get a high grade. As are many of my fellow trainees, so we’re mostly in the same boat – which means that right now (at the halfway point in the course) there are people who were complete strangers 2 weeks ago feeling like soul mates because surely no one else on the entire planet can be feeling as insanely knackered as we are.

CELTA is an intensive teacher training course – relatively expensive to take, but worth it in terms of how it’s viewed by employers.  There’s no exam. Instead, you have regular observed, assessed teaching practice – and they throw you in at the deep end, teaching a bunch of adults from the second day of the course. I was beyond terrified last Tuesday, when I had my first teaching practice. Not only are you observed by a super-thorough, experienced, and highly critical tutor, but you’re in a group of 6 trainee teachers – so, while one of you is teaching, the other 5 are watching your every move and taking notes on all your mistakes, just like the tutor. There’s a feedback session after the class, where they basically tear your lesson to shreds.

Well, OK… it’s not as horrifying as I make it sound. But that’s how I felt last week, when I had to experience it for the first time! They do highlight all the positive things and improvements in your classes, as well as the mistakes – the tutors dole out encouragement and criticism in fairly equal doses. I’ve now taught 4 classes, and sat through dozens more, and I don’t feel like throwing up before them any more. I actually quite enjoy them, and I’ve been getting a lot out of the practice and the feedback.

But the planning… oh, the planning. As the course progresses and you learn more from feedback and tutorials and classes and assignments, you’re expected to produce more and more detailed lesson plans for each class that you teach. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that I spent about 12 hours in total planning today’s class. Hence the exhausted weeping last night! You basically have to write a complete linguistic analysis of whatever grammar point or topic you’re teaching, complete with references, diagrams, anticipated problems and solutions, tables, methods, lesson stages, aims, materials, pronunciation clarification… the list goes on. It’s like a lengthy, end-of-term school assignment, but twice a week. On top of that, there are 4 actual assignments to be done and handed in throughout the course. Never mind the mornings being full of teaching practice, observing classes, feedback sessions and one-on-one tutorials, and then teacher training classes after lunch until 6pm. I staggered weakly into the final class today and promptly walked straight into a desk. Too tired to even say “ouch”, I just slid helplessly into the nearest chair, and was caught and steadied by Jake, who looked blankly at me. Is it morning or afternoon? he asked with the air of a slightly unstable person, his eyes bloodshot and glazed. Marta, on the other side of me, waved a piece of paper in the air. Hayley, this your is… I mean… thissssss your… oh, dear god, I can’t even… just… and just quietly gave up and put her poor tired head down on the desk.

Coffee is our best friend right now.

Apparently, though, I may soon have to lose even that reassuring lifeline. I’m with a new tutor now for my next few classes (it’s to ensure that assessment is fair, and also to give us feedback from another teacher’s perspective), and his style is a bit different from the one I’ve been with until now. A bit more of an encourager, but also surprisingly critical of the one thing that the previous tutor consistently listed as my main strength.

You have a lovely, friendly, effusive manner, said G sincerely after every lesson I taught, trying to soften the blow of the barrage of faults he’d just written all over the board. You know how to engage the students and form bonds with them. You’ve got a very energetic presence, and you keep their attention from start to finish. Keep it up!

Listen, great lesson, great planning, great activities, great classroom management and all that, but you really need to calm the hell down, said P after my lesson today. Seriously, smoke a joint or something before you come in. Have you got any valium? I actually thought you were going to break into song and perhaps treat us all to a brief tap dance routine at one point there.

I could only laugh. As did my 5 classmates. One of them pointed out that I’m the one who doesn’t even have to place an order at the cafe, since a large mug of strong black coffee just materialises in the time it takes for me to walk from the door to the counter. This needs to stop, said P, horrified. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s like… like Tigger crossed with the Road Runner crossed with a group of sugar-high kids at a birthday party. Seriously. No more coffee.

Hmm. I highly doubt that that’s going to happen, especially as it took another 3 coffees after that just to get me to the end of the day.

So, as you can see, it’s quite the rollercoaster ride of experiences and emotions here in Praha! I have taken tonight off, simply to go to the supermarket, and treat myself to my first dinner in nearly a week, and go for a nice long walk, and lie down on my bed, and write, and rest, and watch a bit of Karl Pilkington (my comedic obsession of the last few months), and go to sleep while it’s still today. There comes a point where your brain just starts giving off sparks and threatening to shut down if you don’t give it some rest and humour and sleep.

Tomorrow, it’s back to the grindstone… and the coffee is non-negotiable. Just in case you were wondering.

[Names have been changed, as always.]

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