A fresh look at the TEFL scene from Phnom Penh
The breadth of knowledge necessary to learn the process of teaching together is vast. Add the almost limitless amount of content contained within the English language and you begin to realise just how ambitious an aim it is for the industry standard, 4 week intensive TEFL course to prepare newly qualified teachers for the classroom. So just what should a candidate expect from a TEFL course?
Each candidate needs to be carefully managed to ensure they have a realistic perspective on where they are on the "teaching skills" learning curve. This is important to maintain the belief that they can become competent teachers. Should the expectation be that they are the finished product after a 4 week course then the resulting disappointment aware of just how much they still have to learn can stop them in their tracks. This can mean the industry and students loose potentially good teachers.
However even when presented with the same information in course literature each candidate does come with differing amounts of understanding not only about TEFL courses but also about English as a subject. This varied knowledge manifests itself in wide ranging expectations which can lead to disappointment and lack of perspective with regard progress. There is a huge amount of information available on the internet but it takes a long time to really understand it all especially if this is the first time in education.
Trainers and course providers should endeavour to communicate this to candidates in the literature they read prior to booking and during the course. They should endeavour to support the candidate post course and be honest in their grading and recommendations. However the problem is possibly with the industry as a whole where demand for teachers far outstrips supply and so all teachers expect to be ready for full time professional work after 4 weeks intensive study. Some are but some good teachers still need more support and encouragement.
There is a huge step up from any 4 week TEFL course to full time employment which for some people is too early, too daunting and too unsupported. Some may accept this and their determination to be a teacher drives them to another training course as Rob did. This seems to me to be more realistic approach showing both maturity and perspective and I know of others who have done similarly. Other candidates search out additional experience in the voluntary sector or through part-time positions and both of these can be an equally good in making the step up to full time employment successful. Many others jump in, take a position, often in a country with high demand and finding themselves overwhelmed simply sink or swim. There is no doubt that on going professional development in a supportive environment can be the difference in whether a newly qualified teacher enjoys teaching enough to continue.
To learn to teach is a process and it is amazing how well some candidates start this process when studying for a 4 week TEFL. Some candidates thrive and excel others can take a bit longer to gain the skills. A TEFL course must manage this difference sensitively and supportively so that as many newly qualified teacher as possible give themselves the chance to the best the can be rather than measuring themselves against others. This may mean that the final qualification should recommend gaining further experience before deciding on teaching as a personal option.
There is an argument that the process is self selecting and only the fittest survive to the benefit of the quality of teaching however this runs contrary to all the theories of teaching and learning we expect teachers to adhere to. Some TEFL providers, mostly the established ones, offer very rigid courses and pass the responsibility over to candidates. This allows the best candidates on the course to be identified and they then represent the course’s quality. It takes a brave course to work with the candidates who don’t stand out during their observations. Trainers often point out what the candidates are doing wrong but how many work with each individual on the reasons behind their actions so that the candidate is encouraged in the longer term?
As in the classroom where the best students require the least teaching, so it is the same for training teachers. A TEFL course should be judged not on the quality of the best teachers it produces but on how it motivates and encourages those that need more support. How the course gives that newly qualified teacher a perspective of where they are relative to working teachers and also advice on how to bridge that gap.
So what indeed can a candidate expect from a TEFL course. They should expect to know more about what it takes to be a good teacher. They should understand that for every hour teaching at least another hour is spent preparing. They should begin to understand teaching and learning principles and to have started to apply them in real classroom situations. They should have begun to realise that support from peers and experienced professionals is essential in gaining perspective. They should have begun to realise that their teaching style will be unique to them. They should have had the opportunity to recognise things they could do better and work out a plan to put this into practise. Indeed this problem recognition and subsequent problem solving is the most important tool a newly qualified teacher can gain because however long they teach, they will constantly be using it.
This advice may be just what is needed or may be the last straw for a candidate who thought that all it takes to become an English teacher is a TEFL certificate. A TEFL certificate is the first step to becoming a teacher not the last.
About the author
Neil Evans is an English teacher living and working happily in Cambodia. He has a post graduate qualification in Education and over 10 years experience of teaching and training in various subjects including English in secondary and primary schools in the UK. He runs a TEFL course, which has trained over 200 people to date, in two different countries. He is now setting up CamTEFL
, the first Cambodian administered, not for profit, TEFL course in Phnom Penh, and is am training EFL teachers who teach in the state schools in Battambang through Teachers Across Borders.