Welcome back fellow traveller. In this entry I’ll be touching on my experience with the self-paced TEFL course.

Out with the old and in with the new:

December is a very special time of year in many cultures, including mine, where we say goodbye to our past selves and embrace the promise of a new year. When I look back on all the creative ways in which the Self-Paced Course helped me put my skills to the test, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment wash over me. I managed to discover new talents that are sure to aid me in my teaching career. It’s almost fitting that as 2021 is coming to an end I am also nearing the end of my TESOL course.

My experience of the TEFL course-

University is a magical place where restless souls gather around cheap coffee and nearly missed deadlines. By the time I had signed up for the TEFL course I was knee deep into my master’s thesis. Despite feeling completely burnt out from the stress of putting together a research paper, I didn’t have much trouble understanding the lessons in the TEFL course. The early lessons started strong and were very informative without being boring. I learned about different approaches to presenting information, learning cycles, and planning lessons.

It was also reassuring to know that any time I got stuck I could reach out to Georgie. One time I was having trouble putting together a lesson plan which required retooling to fit different age groups and proficiency levels. The content of my lesson plan had to be aimed at kindergartners. Somehow, I managed to make it way too difficult to follow and had trouble understanding where I went wrong. Thankfully, Georgie was there to inform me that for kindergarteners I should center my lessons around songs, pictures, and games to capture their attention. I’d been focused on helping adults for so long I forgot how important play is in the kindergarten years. Georgie helped me arrive at creative solutions. I consider this shift towards a more dynamic form of problem solving invaluable as it allowed me to progress by finding the solutions myself, not being handed them on a plate. I’ll touch on this more in a later paragraph.

Going at your own pace.

The course itself had a lot of variety. In one lesson you would learn about ESL activities that both kids and adults can enjoy. The next would teach you how to find ESL resources from which you can create lesson plans. The course goes as far as teaching you about classroom safety so that you can minimize accidents from occurring. These safety rules can save you from the embarrassment of having to explain to the school why the projector has mysteriously stopped working. Furthermore, the course was surprisingly flexible. I managed to make it fit my lifestyle by keeping a conscious list of tasks I wanted to complete each week. Working on tasks in smaller chunks made the work more manageable for me. Gone was that overbearing feeling of having to meet strict deadlines.

Creative Solutions

There are some things you can only learn through doing. I believe teaching is one of those things in which you are simultaneously juggling time, attention spans, and results. This, along with all the individual learning types can feel very overwhelming if you’re not necessarily sure what you’re doing. Maybe I’m making this sound more complicated than it needs to be. Teaching is just like being a DJ in a club, it’s up to the DJ to understand the crowd and manage their engagement. A teacher’s lesson plan is essentially a playlist, but it also requires improvisation to keep the party from getting stale. From props, to games, to videos, to magazines, and more. There are so many creative approaches to teaching. One learning activity could involve role playing celebrities or a game of musical chairs. If you know which activities bring out the best in your students, you’re setting them up for success.

It’s easy to become complacent and try to present similar looking lesson plans, this is however discouraged as it becomes detrimental to classes in the long term. The assignment criteria keep you on your toes and push you to be creative in your approach to teaching. The curriculum wants to ensure that the teachers understand that learning should be fun and engaging. One of my favorite tasks was creating a presentation video in which I had to demonstrate how to provide feedback to students. For this video I grabbed funny clips and wrote my own little skit. I learned how to do comedic timing while doing video editing. It’s moments like these that really stood out to me.

Theoretical knowledge

The TEFL course also covers a lot of the science involved in teaching and learning. It really helps to understand the various learning types and teaching styles so that you can tailor the experience to the specific needs of the class. The way in which you present yourself, and the way you respond to your students is critical. There is no one size fits all model, and instead you are given the tools and theories to navigate through all the possible variations. A great teacher is someone who can adapt and improvise to bring out the best in their students.

Aside from the teaching skills, the course also informs prospective teachers of the trials and tribulations of moving to a foreign country. Culture shock is something that can be easily overlooked if you follow influencers on social media, but the reality of it is that once the honeymoon phase is over, reality quickly sets in. Learning how to manage and overcome the stress of culture shock is one of the most important lessons this course offers as it will be an invaluable skillset to help you with your new career. Having personally lived overseas, it’s easy to fall into bad habits and feel homesick. Learning to build a new support system and how to navigate your new surroundings goes a long way in making your stay more comfortable.

What did I learn about myself?

For me the real value of this course was the way it helped me challenge myself. There are some very creative tasks that require some out of the box thinking. Very early on, the course instructs you to do a simple video introduction of yourself. “Easy enough” I thought to myself. I’m used to giving presentations and I’m comfortable speaking in front of large crowds. I figured I’d go into it like any other Zoom call, hit record and I’d be done in five minutes. I set up my webcam, hit record, and was for the next few hours. It was a nightmare.

It’s a very different experience having to talk to a camera lens alone in a room. It’s a very uncomfortable thing to become accustomed to, in the same manner that comedy feels awkward and stilted when the comedian doesn’t have an audience to bounce off. I think it took me two whole days to finally finish that introduction video. I started paying attention to a lot of things which I had not previously; the way I was dressed, my background, the lighting in the room. I had to completely rethink my approach. By the third or fourth video assignment I had a structured approach to filming, I had a script, I learned to pay attention to my body language, I learned to smile more, and I learned to be more organized. All these skills are transferable into the classroom. The script became the lesson plan, props became lesson materials, and body language became an integral part of providing feedback.

Initially all these tasks seem so unrelated, but when it all comes together it feels truly satisfying. I wasn’t just making videos and completing tests, instead I learned how to present information in creative ways. I think it’s super cool that I now know how to create informative content, I can put together engaging lessons, and I can do this both online and in person. Knowing this I feel confident and excited that I can put together great lessons when abroad.

How ready do I feel?

With the bulk of the lessons behind me, all that’s left is for me to complete my practical observation. Do I feel ready to teach in front of a class already? No, I honestly don’t. However, I do feel ready for the next step where I will learn by participating in the field. Some things don’t entirely click for me unless I am actively participating in them. All the other supplementary skills I’ve acquired will serve as the foundation upon which I will build my personal teaching style. I feel very confident in tackling the next phase and look forward to learning from those who know their way around a classroom. It might take a few tries before I feel comfortable in the role of an ESL teacher, but that’s all part of the learning process.

Thanks to Georgie and Teacher’s Friend

As the year comes to an end and we celebrate with family and friends, I breathe a sigh of relief as I have managed to get through a challenging year while sticking firmly to my goals. I feel immensely proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish with the help of this course and the wonderful people at Teacher’s Friend. In my next blog entry, I’ll be focusing on the expectations I have for my chosen country, Cambodia, and what I hope to gain from the experience. See you soon!

Written by Jose Mossel for Teacher’s Friend.