For Christmas 2012, I got the 130 hour Combined TEFL from Tefl.org.uk (formerly known as TEFL England) from Santa Claus. 4 years on I can definitely say it was the best present I received since my toy kitchen in c. 1996. Here’s a rundown about my course and the endless opportunities it has afforded me since.
Before 2013 I can safely say I did not have a very good grasp of the English language. Of course, I am a native speaker and certainly a more than able writer, but if you ever tried to get me to explain the difference between wrote and written you’d have me absolutely dumbfounded. Then I had to complete a 30 hour crash course on English grammar, and boy was I in for a ride. I remember finding the Conditionals particularly mind-boggling, and word order was a puzzle I to this day cannot give an explanation for.
I, a native English speaker, had to learn English like a second language. The course put me in the shoes of my future students, enabling me to learn what they needed to know and how best to teach it to them. It also covered teaching methods and lesson plans because, as I soon realised, there was much more to teaching English than just talking at them. There was an entire theory I had to get to grips with, and my tutor on the other end wouldn’t let me pass until I was able to produce the perfect lesson plan for any subject. Modules on Business English and Telephone lessons were what I struggled most to plan for; trying to create an engaging lesson on different TIRE MATERIALS was riveting. Thankfully the dryness of them made me realise I never, ever, ever wanted to teach said classes before I had even thought about my first application, making the jobs pages a tad easier to wade through.
The highlight of the entire 130 hours had to be the 3 days spent in a classroom. It was only then that it really started to feel real. In the same room sat people from all over the world, of all different ages. Our teacher had over 15 years experience and was able to answer all of our questions about the English language and the job opportunities across the globe. She explained the difficulties students from different linguistic backgrounds would have learning English, and had us practice every icebreaker, warmer, and cooler in the book, on top of planning and delivering our own mini-lessons for everyone in the class to observe. We were given tips on everything from discipline to seating plans. The days were long, but every activity was dynamic and interactive, the perfect demonstration of what our future classes should look like. We were lead by example, and I came away feeling a confident and optimistic, ready to jet off to Peru and use my new found skills at the Picaflor House Community project later that year.
Luckily for me, the 30 hours in classroom training was the minimum required for a job offer, and I landed my first EFL position a couple of months later on my 20th birthday. Education First (EF) are an international language academy that just so happened to run a summer camp on the little ol’ Isle I call home. My first month working was intense; lessons took me as long to plan as the lessons themselves, as I tried my very best to steer clear from dull book exercises. My students came from all over the globe, and boy was it more difficult than I could ever have expected. You know that saying you pass your test, then you learn to drive? Well, I may have [almost] completed the course, but it was in those classes that I really learnt how to teach. Of course their parents lied about their real levels, and of course not all of them were old enough to be there. Trying to teach Chinese, Russian, and Norwegian students of varying levels and ages in the same classroom a challenge and a half.
BUT it was fun. Really fun. I loved being in the classroom, and I loved how I had complete freedom to be as creative as I liked with my lesson plans. The ‘Active Learning’ approach was effective and added plenty of tools to my box. It gave me a solid foundation which I have continued to build on these past 3 years. I worked for EF again the following summer then, in September 2014, moved my pale bottom to sunny Madrid. I had my TEFL certificate packed and a first class honours degree to my name, and I had no idea just how serious my course Tutor was when she told us the recession had boosted the TEFL market. Before I knew it I had demands for private classes coming at me from every angle, and practically walked into a job at a well-known academy.
Through all of this, not one person asked to actually see my certificate. The academy I worked for even said they actively didn’t require one, because they wanted their lessons to be taught in total immersion, with no spelling or grammar in sight. Nevertheless, whether they wanted proof or not, my prior experience at EF let me hit the ground running – and that I wouldn’t have had without it. Moreover, I needed it. There is no way I would have been able to start my career as confidently without it.
Throughout my first year of teaching, I taught aaaaaall kinds of lessons, to wee toddlers as young as 1 and a half to Abuelos pushing 70. I quickly learnt what I liked, what I loved, and what I was good at.The variety and freedom to have creative licence in my lessons soon led to me developing my own style and themes, which proved popular amongst my students. I gained a large network of families and recommendations, and very much enjoyed it.
BUT I didn’t enjoy all of it. Somehow I wound up working 7 day weeks and having afternoons and evenings classes messed up with my daily routine in a way I did not exactly love. The next year I made a promise to myself I’d give myself a weekend, and I’d learn to say no to extra classes. Working with families was nice n all, and they sure knew how to make you feel guilty if you no longer wanted to work for them… And don’t even get me started on the cancellations! I had to learn to be stern, and in the end was only working classes I actually looked forward to doing. Money definitely came second to job satisfaction, and although I could have charged 20 euros and up per hour, I rarely did. I may have been poorer as a result but heck, I was happier!
During my second year, I also opted for a more regular timetable. During my first year, I may have gotten a tonne of experience, but my timetable consisted of 13 hours of private classes, 15 hours of au pairing, and 11 hours working in private academies. It was madness. My income was all over the place and never consistent. So I quit the au pairing and academies, and opted to work primarily as a language assistant, supplementing my income with private classes – not relying on them.
The language assistant job was great: working in the public sector was a major contrast, in a good way. I’ve already posted about my day to day life as an Aux, but what I will add here is this: the private sector gave me room to grow and develop as a teacher, but working in the public sector taught me why the demand outside of the classroom existed. I didn’t have the same freedom in the classroom (because there was a curriculum to abide by), but my experience in delivering lessons outside of the book was definitely valuable. I also had a mountain of resources to share with my co-teacher, and was brimming with ideas on alternative methods to improve their fluency for their impending Cambridge exams. My co-teacher was forever grateful for my help, and their final grades said it all.
This experience led me to decide I wanted to take advantage of all the skills the private sector had awarded me, but in state school education – where it is really needed. So I’m off to do a similar job for the Colombian Ministry of Education, but this time I’m more likely to have free reign over classes, and will more likely be the leading teacher, rather than the assistant. It’s going to be a huge transition, and being in charge of 30+ students is going to be tough, but I’m ready for this new door to be opened what exciting opportunities await me on the other side!
As you can see from the above, the TEFL career path is jam packed full of different opportunities. From toddlers to abuelos, corporate business to arts and crafts, the beauty is in this variety. Whether you want to go to work suited and booted, or turn up in leggings ready to get covered in PVA glue, the opportunities are endless, across almost every continent on this globe.
So if you want to travel, and enjoy talking with people in your native tongue, get yourself a TEFL certificate and GO FOR IT!
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. My journey is just one of thousands, and if you have any questions about any of the companies I’ve worked for, the places I’ve lived, or the search engines I use, feel free to ask in the comments below.