Reasons to Obtain a TEFL Certificate Even if You Have Teaching Experience
I am an experienced teacher, so why should I complete a TEFL course? A personal reflection on my experience, and how it has benefited and informed my teaching practice.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Melanie W. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
I didn’t sign up for this course by choice. I was forced to do it by my employer. After many years of teaching experience and a recent job change, I began the course with a sense of dread and couldn’t wait to get it finished. I had worked hard for my Master of Arts in Teaching. I had put in many years teaching across age groups and the globe. I was an experienced teacher, so it was unreasonable that I should have to take a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) course.
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So it was to my genuine surprise as I started the course and worked my way through the course material that I realized that a TEFL course could be an effective tool in helping me to reflect upon my current teaching practice and to could help inform and refine it. By the end of the course, I was inspired and invigorated to put things I had learned into practice.
First Teaching Experience
Being a teacher of English as a foreign language was not my intent as I began my teaching career. After graduating from University in the United States, I began teaching in a private elementary school also in the United States. It was a highly rewarding experience, and most of my teaching was informed by instincts. Although I felt that I was an effective teacher, I wanted a more grounded theoretical foundation for my teaching practice, so I went back to school to pursue a master’s degree in elementary education. After graduation, I traveled abroad and met my husband in Turkey. We decided to live in Turkey and start our life together.
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As a foreigner with limited Turkish language skills and few solid social connections, I decided to try teaching English in Turkey as a way to form connections and make a life for myself. I ended up teaching in a bilingual preschool, where I made connections with colleagues, students, and their families. My teaching, yet again, was informed mostly by instincts, as I tried to forge a practice based on my previous teaching experience of native English speakers, my graduate studies, and the needs of my native Turkish-speaking preschool students. Overall, it was a success. My students and I learned side by side. They learned English as I learned how to teach them.
After almost a decade of teaching in the same bilingual preschool, I changed jobs and moved to a different preschool that fell under different governmental regulations, one of which was to complete a TEFL course. I was frustrated that I had to jump through what seemed like a bureaucratic hoop. Surely there would be nothing I could learn in the process.
But as I unenthusiastically began to work my way through the first few units, I could see that I would benefit. Because of my lack of formal education as a teacher of English as a foreign language, I lacked an understanding of the precise definitions of language levels and had no awareness of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Although the course materials offer only a brief introduction, I was able to expand my knowledge by doing additional reading. This information now allows me to accurately describe the language levels of my students based upon specific, universally agreed upon descriptors of proficiency.
Another area of the course that has been of great benefit is the review of theories, methods, and techniques. Most importantly, it prompted me to review and evaluate my current teaching practices. The Engage, Study and Activate method put forth by Jeremy Harmer piqued my interest. I have always used techniques to engage my students, as they have been mostly of preschool and primary school age, and I have focused much of my teaching practice on the study phase, placing a lot of importance on accuracy.
What I have not been doing, or not doing as well as I should, is giving much importance to the activate phase. I now can see the importance of making time in my daily lessons to encourage students to be creative with language, to engage with it on an authentic level, and to create time to focus on fluency. I just completed my first week of the new school year, and I have been careful in my planning to include this phase. I look forward to including creative activate phase activities into each of my daily lessons and to how it may benefit my students in terms of creativity, fun, and fluency.
Related to the idea of the importance of the activate phase in lesson planning, is the balance of teacher talking time (TTT) and student talking time (STT). Previous to taking the TEFL course, I hadn’t given much thought to how much time I was talking and to how much time my students were. I believed that the more I talked the better, as I was creating a rich language environment. While lots of exposure to native language is vital, it’s also important that the students be given regular, adequate time to speak in a variety of activities for a variety of purposes and teaching objectives. Although I provided limited controlled speaking activities, I did not plan for enough guided or creative speaking activities. Again, as in the case of inadequate activate phase activities, I was not planning for or promoting enough creativity, fluency, or engagement with the language. I will do so as I move forward.
Knowing when, where, and what to correct may seem like the finer points of teaching English as a foreign language, but this portion of the course struck a chord with me. As I reflected upon when, where, and what I corrected, I realized that I was correcting too often and not always at the most effective and most appropriate points in the lessons or activities. Because my teaching practice has tended to focus more on accuracy than fluency, I have learned through the course that it might be impeding creativity, fluency, and authentic engagement with the language. Moving forward, I will try to limit or target my corrections to the current points I am teaching, regularly repeated mistakes or mistakes that might prevent understanding. One specific technique that I will adopt is the “say again” technique, which prompts students to self-correct with a simple yet effective verbal cue.
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And lastly, formal evaluation and testing of language proficiency was an area in which I was woefully uninformed. Through the course, I learned more about the specific external exams my students will face in their academic and work-life futures. Although this does not directly inform my teaching of preschool students, it does help me to better understand the assessment tools they are certain to encounter in the future.
One of the greatest lessons of the TEFL course was a reminder that we should never stop learning – teachers and students alike are lifelong learners. Although I considered myself an experienced, well-educated teacher, this course created time and space for self-reflection and an evaluation of my current general teaching practice, as well as specific, targeted, practical information to better inform my practice of teaching English as a foreign language.
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