'Lessons Taught and Lessons Learnt': Reflections on my First Year as a TEFL Teacher
by Gabi Bonner
I mentioned above that in teaching you never really stop learning. I believe this is especially true if you seek out opportunities for professional development and not feel like you can't present at a conference or do action research until you're experienced. Doing these things is what gives you the experience. Through action research I managed to get to the bottom of a motivation problem faced by a particularly difficult class of mine, and I even conducted some 'crazy' experiments like teaching a lesson in which I was completely silent! Presenting at my first conference and giving teacher development workshops was scary at first (I had to apologise to my poor sister, who was visiting me at the time, for stressing out at her on the morning of the conference!) But it really is so rewarding. Teachers love the chance to get together and try out activities and discuss their problems and issues, and I found such a warm and friendly reception and atmosphere. Give it a go; you'll be pleasantly surprised :-) If you regularly present at conferences and make yourself 'known' there's a good chance you'll get approached by Cambridge or Oxford University Press and asked to represent them at conferences. It's worth it for the money and you get to meet some cool people, although you have to fit it in around your regular teaching schedule.
So, what does a career in TEFL look like? Well, if you fall in love with teaching and are in it for the long haul, then there are several options. Whichever path you decide to take, you'll need to teach for at least two years before you can do the DELTA (the diploma course for hard-core people who don't mind spending a year of their life as a hermit). Then most people do one of three things (sometimes followed by the fourth thing):
a) Continue regular teaching and get paid heaps more and maybe become a Senior Teacher (which will probably involve carrying out observations of teachers and some extra responsibilities).
b) Become a DOS (Director of Studies) or an ADOS (Assistant Director of Studies). Beware: this will probably involve timetabling and taking last-minute subs!
c) Move into Teacher Training (like teaching CELTA and DELTA and TKT). This will probably involve some regular teaching too.
d) (Not for the faint-hearted) Then if you're super hard-core you might consider writing a course book or opening your own language school.
I think one of the other main attractions of a career in TEFL is the opportunity to live abroad and experience different countries and cultures. Once you've got CELTA and a bit of experience, the world truly is your oyster. And when you're considering moving on to greener (or maybe less green!) pastures, chances are there'll be someone at your school who's lived in the country you're considering applying to or who knows someone who has, so you can always find out about what life is like there. I guess one of the downsides of the profession is that it is so transient. People come and go, friends leave. But the upside is that you're always meeting new people, hearing great stories, and this way you can build up a network of colleagues and friends in all sorts of places; great for holidays! A word of caution though: It's easy to live in a little 'TEFL bubble' and only hang out with English speakers and make no effort to meet the locals and learn their lingo. At the end of the day it's your choice, but personally I think it's a great feeling being able to order in a restaurant (something other than beer!) or ask for directions in my host country's (notoriously difficult!) language.
If you're still not convinced that TEFL teaching is the best job in the world, think about all the fascinating people you get to meet and talk to, think about the random and crazy topics you get to discuss, think about how wonderful it feels to help people work towards and achieve their goals, think about the opportunities to live abroad and experience another culture and language, think about the continuous learning and sense of progress and improvement, think about the surprises and the quirks and the challenges and the rewards (not the monkeys or other presents, but the sense of achievement that you get :-) I'm convinced, anyway, and am in it for the long haul.
Gabi Bonner has been teaching at Akcent International House in Prague since completing her CELTA there in 2006. She has an MA in Applied Linguistics from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, and her current research interests lie in motivation in Second Language Acquisition, methodology and using songs and music in the EFL classroom.
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