Why Troubleshooting TEFL is the Most Difficult and Most Mind-Expanding?
Troubleshooting TEFL is the most interesting, culturally challenging, and socially difficult there is. It is as much a cultural and social exercise in communicating with and managing people, as it is an intellectual exercise in simply conveying language skills to academic students enrolled in an institution of learning. Furthermore, it is more complex and varied due to age differences, cultural diversity, and discrepancies in the motivation of students enrolling in TEFL classes. A teacher who teaches her/ his native language to native speakers of the same language, in her/ his native country will have it significantly easier when troubleshooting problem situations because such a teacher will know what’s going on in those students’ minds. Such a teacher will not grow socially or culturally. An image that could describe this situation is an airline pilot who flies solely between London and Dublin in July on Saturday afternoons for 30 years because he used this route as a child growing up to visit relatives in both cities. What will this pilot know about geography, climate, or aviation troubleshooting at the end of his/ her career? Little.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Thomas M. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
The Level of Understanding
The aforementioned native teacher who teaches other native speakers will already understand local humor, culture, mentality, the public educational system, sensitive social topics, and a general social understanding of how to interact with others and what is acceptable to say and do and what isn’t. He or she will understand, i.e., what disciplining means and what kind of discipline is tolerated by the local student population. Simultaneously, the students in such a class will be of identical age, almost identical geographic origin, have very similar upbringing and households, and are all taking language classes for purely academic purposes because it has been mandated by the school board and education department officials. This situation makes troubleshooting a language class all the easier for the teacher, all the while she/ he will learn no new skills in the way of culture or society.
On the other hand, TEFL can mean a native English speaker standing in front of immigrants from a variety of different countries and language backgrounds wanting to integrate into their new home country. It can mean a native English speaker immigrating to a country where English isn’t spoken and teaching English to children and youths for academic purposes, business, or government employees for commercial, legal, or financial purposes, there.
TEFL can also mean a native English speaker teaching retired adults in any given non-English-speaking country who want to learn tourism vocabulary in preparation for a personal holiday trip. Such a teacher has to adapt to a great variety of mentalities and ways of thinking due to the various cultural backgrounds and pre-existing language skills of the enrolled students. If a TEFL teacher initiates a moral debate about dog shelters, dogs’ rights and society’s responsibilities to care for street dogs to practice animal vocabulary i.e. in a mixed class of Swedes and Islamic Arabs, the Swedes will happily answer and participate and defend dogs as sensitive and intelligent creatures who are man’s best friend, while the Arabic students will look bored because dogs are dirty, unintelligent and perhaps even dangerous animals to them, and have no place in a human household and thus won’t feel motivated to participate in said debate.
How does a TEFL teacher handle this situation of conflicting cultural opinions and all this in an L2 language where expression is limited and challenging for the students to begin with. It’s not easy, because the teacher would have to walk the extra mile to motivate all students to participate equally, solely for practicing English vocabulary. Similarly, grouping loud, self-confident, and emotionally expressive Italian female students together with introverted, quiet Japanese female students who were raised in a mentality of restraining and “unemotionality”, into one class will put pressure on the TEFL teacher. He/ she would have to make both groups interested and motivated to learn and participate in the class, which requires her/ him to see into the minds of these differing ladies and make them all feel comfortable. An image that could describe this situation is a diplomat who travels the world and has to bring different countries with different economic and political interests together to the same table to achieve a common goal.
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In conclusion, it can be argued that TEFL teachers have to work harder, be more sensitive socially and culturally and “place themselves into many more shoes” to be able to motivate a greater variety of different students to successfully learn English, than an L1 teacher who teaches his mother tongue to native learners of that same language. Simultaneously, the TEFL teacher will broaden his/ her horizon significantly throughout their teaching career and grow in their social skills and cultural understanding of the world.
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