Learning To Teach English

Once we had casually agreed that we wanted to move to the other side of the world, the first step was to earn a qualification that would get me hired. As Abi is already an English teacher, we suspected that she’d be okay once we started applying for jobs, however my CV needed a bit more work.

It can be quite hard getting your head around the countless teaching qualifications out there, the acronyms behind them, and deciding which acronym is best for you. I started by checking Dave’s ESL Café for job advertisements. This gave me an idea of what I was likely to need. After a bit of searching,it became clear that everybody was after a TEFL qualification.

Surprisingly, these courses have little public information on the internet. Thanks for nothing, Google. The material, the methods you will learn, and the level of dedication needed were all unknown to me until I’d already signed up to a course. There are plenty of somewhat skewed “reviews” on the websites that try to sell you their course, but their entertainment value outweighs how insightful they are. I particularly enjoyed this one:

I want some of what he’s had

In the end I found myself on TEFL.org.uk, thanks to them being the top result when typing “TEFL” into any search engine. I had a go at their taster session; spectacularly failed. That said, with the questions being irrelevant and marketing based, along with how daft I was feeling at the time, it probably wasn’t to be.

I’ll never become a teacher at this rate!

“This is probably the best it’s going to get”, I thought, so I opted for the 120 hour course. I took advantage of an offer to get the course £100 cheaper than the original price. There’s always an offer on their website, it’s a bit like a never-ending DFS furniture sale. I was still pretty content though, and was excited to crack on.

My course was broken down into a combined two days of classroom logic (20 hours over a weekend), and 100 hours of online work.

Let’s start with the classroom logic. Easily the most valuable part of the course by far (in my opinion). I woke up at 7:30am on the morning of the course with an air of disappointment, as my whole weekend was to be taken up by more work, albeit different work. Luckily, the function room where the course was due to be held was just about walking distance from home, so I set off.

I met my four course-mates upon arrival, each with a story to tell. Everybody had signed up to the course with different intentions. From long distance relationships with visa complications, to being completely multi-lingual and aspiring to change career paths, a multitude of reasons. One fellow student wanted to move to Hanoi. We stole her idea.

Our tutor was absolutely fantastic. Steve was a quirky, unorthodox bloke who never bothered ironing his shirts. Now settled as a punter, rowing tourists through the rivers in Cambridge, UK, he has previously taught English all over the world. Steve has found exactly what he has wanted to do for a living, and he’s gone and done it. And to be fair, he’s pretty bloody good at it. He spent an hour of the course teaching German as a second language to us. By the end of it, we were fluently directing each other to the local supermarket in the target language.

We worked through Saturday and Sunday in between cups of coffee and heated debates about the EU. I genuinely have no complaints over the weekend, other than it ran over time by 45 minutes. Most of the praise I have is because of Steve.

Next up was the online element, which was split into three parts:

  • Grammar – pretty self-explanatory, grammar based quizzes to enforce the rules of both written and spoken language. This section was fine. Completely fine. That’s probably the most you’ll get out of me. It’s pretty obvious that if you want to be an English teacher, your grammar will need to be on point. No complaints from me here.
  • Methodology – based around planning and teaching lessons effectively. This is the part I probably enjoyed the least, as TEFL commands you to teach in a specific way. The assignments ensure that we write lesson plans that represent the TEFL way as much as possible. I guess that I didn’t expect the online element of the course to be as prescriptive as it appeared to be. Maybe studying on an evening whilst sat next to somebody who has taught English for 4 years didn’t help.
  • Video – watching other teachers through [very old] video as an opportunity to see the use of the two previous elements of the online course in action.

I had a feeling that I was unlikely to actually learn much from the content I was signing up for, but at least I’d be able to tick the “I have a qualification in teaching English” box when it comes to applying for a job abroad. In parts, this has been true, but I genuinely do feel more prepared to teach in Hanoi having completed the course, so it definitely did the job. As someone who is a complete novice to the world of teaching, there was some interesting insight on teaching methodology.

All in all, I have left the experience of gaining a TEFL qualification with, more than anything, a sense of relief that it’s done. Would I recommend it to friends and family? Well, I’ll probably be able to answer that question once I’m in Hanoi. The one piece of advice I’d give is to take the whole experience with a pinch of salt. Plough through, join Facebook support groups for when you’re stuck on a particular module (but don’t plagiarise), and appreciate the insight it provides.