Saturday, 2 October 2010

top five things a would-be tefl teacher needs to know, now.

as the recession continues to keep enthusiastic, young graduates out of established workplaces, the ubiquitous going-to-teach-a-bit-of-english-and-travel-for-a-bit-yeah?- plan is becoming a more and more established way for young people to spend their initial years after graduating. but tefl teaching (or teaching english as a foreign language) isn’t the walk in the park some people (often found lounging on beaches in thailand) make it out to be. it takes lots of skill, excellent communication ability, and buckets of confidence. with that in mind, here i present the top five tips i would give to any wannabe tefl teachers...

1. sometimes it’s not teaching, its crowd control.
the noble art of tefl teaching often has little actual teaching involved. especially if one is planning on venturing to the far east. teaching in countries like china will often see you in classes where the number of kids reaches 55+, and you’re meant to impart wisdom on them. all of them. and on top of that, none of them will be at the same standard of english. so basically, the chances of you entering into some sort of glorious dead poets society scenario while tefl teaching is unlikely. however, chances are you will have fun, which leads into...

2. be nice.
i mean, attempt to teach or whatever, but do be nice to them, especially the little 'uns. chances are their class with you will be a once a week treat, and a break from the regular regimented school day. if you end up teaching on a summer course, please do remember that it is frickin summer, ok? think back to any language courses you may have been forcibly subjected to as a teen; it’s always the more lax, kindly teacher who created a bit of atmosphere that is remembered fondly. however, keeping this in mind, please do...

3. lesson plan.
i know! didn’t I just say have fun with them? lesson plans aren’t fun, i hear you roar. not strictly true. actually planning a lesson means you’ll never get badly stuck and may actually impart knowledge somewhere along the line. simple plans, including lots of repetition, fun role-plays and games always go down well. writing, say, sentences or grammar points on the board and having the students throw a ball or toy at the board to pick their ‘question’ is win-win; the students have to answer a question if they want to throw the ball. and yes, bizarrely, everyone enjoys throwing things. just make sure it’s a soft thing being thrown (yup, i learnt this from experience. i also learnt that when a toy gets stuck in an overhead cooling fan and eventually flies free, it flies hard. and can possibly hit you in the face).

4. don’t be hungover.
simple. they will know. you won’t be able to do your job. it isn’t fair on anyone. point made.

and finally.....

5. be (very) thick skinned.
true story: at the end of one summer school i taught at - my first, in fact - the students were required to write ‘a letter to a friend’ about their experiences abroad. one student, french, male, 16 going on 17, wrote a letter (which i corrected) where he ripped both me and my fellow tefl teacher apart. he called us ugly, fat, incompetent, stupid - everything. he knew we would read it, so it was a deliberately provocative move. i won’t pretend i had been an excellent educator that summer, but neither of us teachers deserved what we got. i had just turned 19 and trust me, it was a slap in the face. but, you know, i took it on the chin. sometimes you just have to. just stick to the points listed above, and hopefully a french boy won’t be calling you ‘the uglier and stupider of the two cows' (just an aside - way harsh, jacques).

[jessica meobh dowling]

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