My Teaching Experience in Japan
I have been teaching English in Japan for 8 months now, acquiring the job solely with the qualifications of being a native speaker and having a bachelor’s degree. After 6 months of teaching with these credentials and the two weeks of initial training provided by my employers, I felt I owed it to myself and my students to complete a TEFL and receive a sounder understanding of EFL/ESL pedagogy. In this essay, I will elaborate on the benefits of the TEFL course as they apply to my own teaching experience and professional development by first providing background on my experience before the course, the practical applications of the course in my current position, and finally by addressing how the course will be of further use in my future teaching endeavors.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Rebecca E. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
English Conversation School
My current position is at an English conversation school where I teach a wide variety of learners basic conversational, business, leisure, and academic English. The ages of my students range from young learners aged preschool to high school, and adults just over 18 years old to seniors. With the large age range comes a large range of learner levels as well, from beginner and elementary to some who are upper-intermediate and advanced. Most days I work with smaller classes that have a maximum of 10 students, and one day I teach solely private lessons. All courses use a coursebook written by the company that for the most part address both receptive and productive skills but leave only some room for variation or teacher interpretation of course procedures. Without a sound education or teaching experience, I can honestly say the first months of this dynamic schedule was challenging. With that being said, despite not being confident in my teaching abilities, I was able to quickly build a good rapport with students within these months.
This is mainly due to possessing important personality traits that teachers should possess according to Unit 1, such as being kind, have a love for teaching, and be lively and entertaining. It also helped that most of the course were an existing group of students that were already comfortable with each other and had become accustomed to having a new teacher at the beginning of the year, who for the most part, possessed the same qualifications. Once I became comfortable taking on the various roles of a teacher and got to know students' interests and needs better, I decided it was time to get TEFL certified.
I believe it was beneficial to start the course 6 months into my teaching experience instead of before it began, as I was able to visualize how different approaches and activities will work in a classroom setting instead of trying to imagine how a real student may react. Along with this benefit, I could apply for the course pragmatically. Throughout the course, I realized some of my weaknesses and was able to see some improvement in reducing teacher talk time, classroom management, and keeping a good pace while holding student interest. Upon reflection, I realized I was talking far too much during lessons, thus taking valuable practice time away from the students. It was my instinct to explain words verbally, sometimes using more unknown words and adding to the overall confusion and longer speech.
Now, I resort to more visual aids and elicitation from the students as much as possible. I will gesture, mime, or draw pictures on the board and have the students discover the language for themselves. I also have the students rely on each other more for assistance and correction, while still being there for reference, I have become more comfortable being a facilitator rather than just a controller. For classroom management, I am limited due to the size of the room and furniture, however, I try to make use of as much varied pair and group work as possible. For one adult course, the coursebook has a lot of activities with the teacher involved, but instead alter it to be pair discussions, sometimes introducing new topics that match the student’s interests, and then monitor and ask for feedback after. Following this train of thought, I have also worked on the pace of classroom activities for both adults and young learners. In both cases, I found interests are held better by gauging when it is appropriate to cut or extend activities. Especially for young learners, a varied pace and smoother transitions have helped reduce the need for discipline.
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While there are various components of the course that are practical in my current teaching position, there are many other aspects that will be beneficial for my continued professional development and future teaching experiences. As previously mentioned, I do not currently plan lessons or materials for the course, however, I have been able to see different aspects of ESA within the lesson. With the course and my experience, I have been able to create both a straightforward and patchwork ESA sample lesson plans. It is not my goal to obtain a position where I can further practice this skill. As of now I only have experience teaching in a monolingual environment, experiences both the advantages of students having cultural camaraderie and similar interests, as well as the disadvantages of them easily resorting to their native language for communication. If I teach in another country, monolingual or multilingual, this TEFL has supplemented my teaching experience with grammar rules, the phonetic alphabet, and cultural sensitivity that have improved my confidence and abilities as a teacher, as well as provide me with many transferable skills and approaches to teaching EFL/ESL.
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