Friday, February 22, 2013

The TEFL Experience

We have both been away from a structured educational system for many, many years.  Starting formal classes Monday morning was a mixed bag of emotions: some excitement, tempered by some apprehension and a lot of curiosity.  Being naturally early risers, we had plenty of time to kill.  We discovered that the one coffee shop that we were aware of near the school did not open its doors ‘til after the owner dropped his daughter off at school, sometime between nine and nine thirty, too late for a quick cup before class.  We were stuck with Nescafe.

On day one of the TEFL course we were given course books with detailed narrative about the requirements and expectations, essentially a book length syllabus.  If you are in a university program this course is worth 6 hours of graduate level credit.  Can you imagine 6 hours of graduate level classes, homework, projects and exams, plus student teaching in just 4 weeks?  The schedule was grueling to say the least, and by the end of the first day we knew it was going to be a challenge.

Our schedule essentially went from nine in the morning until 9 in the evening with one coffee break and two meal breaks.  Each individual had different times for teaching and class prep but if you were not teaching in the evening you would be evaluating the other students or prepping for your next class, so there really was almost no “down time”.  We had four instructors and they all made it clear that they were there to teach but that we had to do the work and be very self-directed, there would be no hand holding on this course!  Furthermore, you could not expect to pass just because you had paid a lot of money to be there.  You either passed based solely upon your own merit, or you didn’t.

The first week started out with a full schedule of classes during the day and with our evenings spent practicing our evaluation techniques while our instructors taught English classes to native Spanish speaking students.   Our DOS (Dorector of Studies) Dylan had many years of experience and is one of the best teachers we have had the pleasure of observing. The TEFL program is designed to put you in front of students, teaching, as soon as possible and to have you teach at each of five levels of classes offered from Beginners to Upper Intermediate.   Each class had two “trainee” teachers assigned, one for the first hour and one for the second.  The lessons were dovetailed to fit together and the two teachers were expected to work on the lesson prep together.  Because they put you in front of students so quickly, at times you will not yet have had all the classes that you need in order to know how to prepare a particular lesson or the classroom management tools you will use as a teacher, but ready or not, you teach.

The instructors are aware of this and so in your first teaching prep they are much more involved and give lots of assistance and advice, then they purposefully give less and less assistance with each subsequent lesson.  During the day when we were not teaching or prepping to teach, our days were filled with classes on teaching methodology, linguistics, phonology, classroom management, student assessment and a myriad of other related topics.  We were expected to complete three individual term projects simultaneously as well. 

The first project was a Foreign Language Journal.  During that first week we had three classes in the Hungarian language taught by a professor who never used a single word of English.  We had to evaluate how he taught and how we learned.  Evaluation sheets and a project paper were due the second week of class.  Our second project was to create at least two sets of materials for classes that we taught that could be scaled up or down depending on the level of the class being taught and used to illustrate at least two different possible lesson points.  The materials themselves and the papers written about each set describing the lesson points and scalebility were due in week three. 

The most difficult project was referred to as the ISP or Individual Student Project.  This consisted of securing a student from one of the classes and setting three outside of class times to meet with them.  We were required to find or design testing materials to test their reading, writing, listening and speaking skill sets; evaluate the results of each test and identify problem areas that could be facilitated with a private lesson.  We then had to design the lesson plan and all materials to be used, teach the lesson as a one-on-one tutoring session and write up an evaluation of the entire process, including a critique of our student’s performance and our own in all areas and suggest a future study program for the student.  The expectation was that this project would require around sixty pages to complete including all materials used, and would be turned in no later than the beginning of week four.

Needless to say, the very first weekend of the course was the only one we had any significant time away from homework and projects.  We took a day and went to visit the Alhambra, the most visited historic site in Spain, because we could not imagine being in Granada and not being able to see it.  So much for thinking that we could get to know the city!  The course was extremely demanding and our time was very focused on completing projects, teaching classes, and preparing for the final exams in Phonology, Grammar and Teaching Methodology. 

Many nights were spent with several students gathered in the salon or around the dining table as we worked on our projects, prepared for class or studied for exams.  This program should really be taught in a five week course and the instructors all agreed that four weeks is just too short a time to be able to accomplish everything required.  The issue is: people can find a way to take four weeks to do an international course but the threshold stops at that point; they just can’t sell a five week course, so they work with what they have. 

The fourth and final week began with exams and ended with course evaluations and reviews of our work with grades on Thursday.  There was time scheduled for a chance to retake of any test that was not passed on the original try.  Fortunately for us, we both passed them the first time through so it gave us a small window of time to see a bit more of the city for a couple of hours.

We spent Thursday night with our entire group going to dinner and a Flamenco show.  It was a wonderful evening in the Albaizyn at the restaurant Zoraya, and we all ended up at Hannigans of course.  There was good food, good Flamenco, lots of drinking and great company.

Friday morning there were scheduled a few follow up sessions and then a graduation ceremony with homemade Paella and Sangria.  We decided to skip the ceremony in order to take advantage of our last chance to visit the Nazrid Palaces at the Alhambra.  This was a justified trade-off in our opinion (sorry fellow trainees!). 

Friday evening we picked up our diplomas, had our “room check” to be sure that we were leaving our room in the same condition that we found it in, and then went out with all our fellow students to catch a few final drinks together.    We had lived, worked, studied and played with these people for a month and we knew we were going to miss all of them. 

Dylan has since written a great e-book, A Short Guide to TEFL if you are really interested in understanding the TEFL world. (Shameless plug for a good friend!)

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