One-month certs: a beginning, not an end

Can a one-month certificate course really produce a quality English teacher? The answer for many of us: not exactly. Ask anyone with a few years under their belt post-CELTA, and they’ll tell you how much they’ve grown since those panicky freshman days of late-night lesson planning and “TTT” cold sweats.

Certificate providers typically frame their offerings as an initial introduction into the field. Case in point: as a new teacher in Vietnam-based CELTA course eight years ago, I asked my trainers if I could save all of the materials I’d submitted after the year-long wait period.

“You can,” they explained. “But you probably won’t want them after a year of teaching.”

And right they were! After a year post-CELTA, those early days were long behind me. I was ready for more learning, and began my M.A. TESOL soon afterward.

But this trajectory isn’t everyone’s–particularly in settings in which further study is not encouraged or rewarded. In her excellent 2012 ELT Journal article, Valerie Hobbs discusses the concerning tendency of the TESOL certificate’s ‘basic starter pack’ to be the beginning and end of teacher’s training:

“Lacking time to develop theoretical grounding in trainees, the Certificate relies on the likelihood of graduates securing a rewarding job that facilitates further professional development. However, few employers, particularly in EFL, provide the professional development novice teachers require. And it is widely acknowledged that few go on to complete a Diploma or MA, indicating that the Certificate course is treated by many as the terminal qualification in ELT.”

Hobb’s focus on the limited theoretical focus of these courses resonates with my own experience. She expresses doubts about certificate graduates’ ability to “make informed choices” and suggests that these courses’ “documented dichotomization of theory and practice” is at least partly to blame.

Hobbs shares suggestions for improving these certificates–scroll to the end of the article to see them. But if you’re a new teacher reading this and wondering how it applies to you, here’s some advice:

If you’re pre-CELTA and on the fence, it’s a worthwhile experience. Just do it knowing that it’s the beginning, not the end, of your education. Take responsibility for your continued learning. Read books and sites like this. Look for jobs with professional development support. And when you’re ready, go get that Master’s degree.

The field might accept your CELTA forever. But if you’re in this for the long haul, you owe yourself a full education.

Discussed in this post:

Hobbs, V. (2013). “‘A basic starter pack’: the TESOL Certificate as a course in survival,” in ELT,” ELT Journal67 (2). Accessed June 14, 2016 at