15 things we wish we’d known when we trained as TEFL teachers...
1. Unless you teach English, you don’t really know what it involves - Tom
Nobody seems to get what TESOL is - it’s either seen as a middle-class playground, a way to fund a trip to Asia, or being a talking phrasebook to classes of kids in public schools. The international education industry seems only to be recognised when it suddenly isn't there (as the last 2 years have shown...). The gap left by international student travel, Brexit taking the Erasmus programme away form the UK... the absence of this industry is being felt more and more keenly around the world.
2. Second-language speakers of English generally know more about English than ‘native’ speakers - Tom
Say what you like about the ‘intuitive knowledge’ that first-language speakers of English have, the chances are that they can (mostly) use English well and explain meanings, but go any deeper into grammar or pronunciation, and without comprehensive training in TESOL, the average ‘native’ speaker has had little to no instruction in their own language. Not finger-pointing or blaming, just facing the reality of English language study for first language speakers. Compare this to a high-level second-language speaker’s knowledge of language systems and skills, and you may be surprised at the difference
3. Students always spot a hole in a teaching explanation - Tom
Thinking back to some of my teaching practice lessons on my own initial training course, I remember going in tot he classroom full of facts about the grammar I was teaching, only to be floored by a simple question from one of my A2-level students - the two questions which wrong footed me in particular started with ‘but you said…’ and a simple ‘why?’ - new teachers beware! Always research the language you are teaching!
4. Bag your chair in the staffroom - Lucyjane
Leave your jacket, bag or any other territory marking of your choice, or lose it.
5. More teaching does not lead to more learning - Tom
Yes, as with so many things, in the classroom, less is more. The more you teach, the more you talk, the less chance the students have to speak, so the less they get to try out the new language they are learning. What the TESOL world needs is less teaching and more learning.
6. Green whiteboard pens stink and erasable marker cleans permanent marker off a whiteboard - Tom
Yep - it’s a worldwide fact. Blue, black and red can be used without an issue, but green… I stopped using them years ago for fear of gassing myself with corrosive fumes. Also, a simple trick that has saved many a trainee teacher from heart attacks after using the wrong pen on the whiteboard. When the board rubber does nothing, simply write over the permanent marker with dlrywipe or erasable pen, and it should come right off.
7. Always befriend the head cleaner/janitor at the school - Lucyjane
They have the key to the stationary cupboard, the photocopy paper and they buy the biscuits for the staffroom. Say no more...
8. No lesson ever goes to plan, and that’s a good thing - Tom
Lesson plans are there for a good reason: to support you when you need it. If you only ever followed your plan, there would be no room for spontaneity or diversion, student questions or unplanned ‘lightbulb moments’. Use your plan as a guide, not as a rule.
9. It is impossible for a teacher to motivate students - Tom
A common misconception: motivation (the desire to improve in a subject) has to come from the student, in response to a pressure from within or from their life. A teacher can engage a student from class to class, making learning more likely, but can rarely provide this true motivation to succeed in the long term,; a student has to want to succeed to get better at a language, and a teacher cannot make that happen unless the student wants it to happen
10. Offer enthusiastically to take part in extra curricular activities - Lucyjane
... but suggest your own (hoola hoop!) - students can be as loud as they want, and you don't need to prepare/do anything!
11. It takes about 2 years of teaching to develop a working knowledge of grammar for the classroom - Tom
It would be great if we could attend a 4-week initial training course, and walk out of the centre on the last day with a deep understanding of English grammar and how to teach it. If only we could gain a depth of insight into the mechanics of language through books and research… However, until you have guided students through the full range of grammar points for a specific level of study, answered student questions, designed tasks and guided classes through them, a new teacher simply will not have the same depth of knowledge about the language we teach until they have applied it in practice.
12. HR departments can make or break your job - Grace
You can love your job, your students, your boss, your colleagues, it could be the best job ever, but if the HR department isn't up to par it makes the whole thing a nightmare. Bad HR means bad contracts, lack of support when moving, lack of support on arrival. If you get a 'I don't give a hoot' vibe from HR then don't even sign the contract. How they start is how they'll finish.
13. Staffrooms always stink - Grace
I'm not aware of any TEFL training course that include the basics of communal hygiene but they should. Half eaten food, half drunk cups of coffee/tea, wet umbrellas/coats, muddy boots, shoes to 'change into for class'. Yep, TEFL teachers are a bunch of stinkers, see below for why.
14. You will never have a full break and never eat your full lunch - Grace
Students asking questions after class, colleagues asking questions, photocopying in your break, having to sort out anything and everything that crops up in the limited time you have between classes. You will not have time to wash your cup or finish your lunch.
15. If you are teacher and a non-native speaker, or a native speaker with a different ethnic/cultural heritage, you will always be challenged on your worth as a TEFL teacher by someone - Grace
You can have reams of qualifications, years of experience, and literally have written the book on TEFL teaching but there will always be someone who thinks that only a blonde haired, blue-eyed, native speaker can do the job. They learn.
Tom Garside is Director of Language Point Teacher Education. Language Point delivers the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study, and the RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification with specific courses which focus on online language education or online methodology.