Why I took a TEFL program
This is my first blog, and to start out I thought I'd tell you a little about my Teaching English as a Foreign Language experience. In 2010, I decided I had had enough of trying to crack the teaching system in Canada, So I decided I wanted to travel abroad to teach English, where the demand for teachers was as great as it is now. I figured that since I had a Bachelor of Education degree and some teaching experience in Canada, that teaching English would be no problem.
After talking to some friends, who had taught abroad, I decided to pursue a job in South Korea. There are a number of teacher recruitment agencies on the Internet, so it really wasn't challenging for me to find a good job in Korea. The job I chose was was teaching English to elementary students after school in a private academy in Gwangju. Each day I would teach English from 2pm - 9pm to students ranging from age 6 - 13 for a good salary, while having a accommodations paid for (and my flight to and from Korea). Sounds good right?
The one thing I discovered early on, is that I had no clue had to teach English. I thought that since I had spoken English my whole life and written and read at a university level, that teaching this language would be easy, but I sure was wrong. Immediately I was asked to teach advanced grammar topics such as the Present Perfect Continuous, Adverb Clauses, and Reported Speech, and had no clue what any of these were. I was asked to help people improve their English listening and speaking skills; something I had no training to help with. I found myself having to study grammar textbooks every night just to be able to teach the next morning. It also didn't help that my students were more familiar and had more grammar expertise than I did. In class, I would find myself questioning my own knowledge and being asked tough questions by students, who were quickly realizing that I didn't know the grammar myself. One thing any teacher can tell you is that students quickly pick up on when the teacher doesn't know the right answers, and the results are often miserable.
Which brings me to the next challenge, teaching in Korea (or any other country really) is much different than Canada...And the methodology for teaching English is much different than any other subject. The students, the school system, the expectations on teachers were all totally different in Korea. The ways that I managed my classes in Canada completely went out the window, when faced with teaching students with very little English ability. I really struggled in my first year in Korea to control my classes, and often felt miserable when I left work each day. In fact I considered quitting and leaving many times, just because I wasn't ready to teach English.
My first year was not all bad though. Gradually I fell in love with the culture, the food, the excitement of doing and trying new things. I was also lucky to meet some of the best people and become part of a very unique and special foreigner community in Gwangju. Even though I was struggling to teach that whole year, I decided I wanted to come back for another year...but I was determined to better qualified.
Following my first year in Korea, I returned to Canada and enrolled in an intensive TEFL program. I can't describe how useful this course was. My bachelor of education taught me a lot about education, but my TEFL program was so practical and gave me the tools and expertise to teach English in a foreign country. Sure there was a theory/pedagogy section to the TEFL program, but the focus on ESL teaching methodology, combined with in-class micro-teaching really helped me to grow. We were taught how to properly introduce new materials to our students in a way that stuck with them. At the same time I was able to meet a great group of people taking the course with me, that also traveled to teach, and we often share our travel stories together these days.
I don't think I really fully appreciated this TEFL course until I went back to Korea to teach for years two and three. It was like night and day when I taught. First of all, I had the confidence to stand up in front of any class and teach any subject, which was most important. I was now equipped with ways to teach my students and had no problem controlling a room or 20 Korean students. The most rewarding aspect of my new teaching expertise though, was actually being able to help my students improve their English. There is nothing like seeing someone go from little English proficiency to being able to speak at very high level, and know you played a big role in their English development. To me, this made all my teacher training, including my TEFL program, worth it.
After teaching in Korea for 3 years, I came back to Canada and taught ESL for three more years in a college in Vancouver. After that, I proceeded to become the Academic Manager for that same college, before moving on to a new position at a university in the same field of education. Teaching English in Korea and getting a TEFL certificate, really changed my life and provided me with an exciting career. You can easily tell that I am pro-TEFL and strongly recommend taking a course if you plan to teach abroad. It isn't impossible to go abroad to teach without a TEFL / TESL qualification, but having one will make the experience so much better....oh yeah, one more thing: having a TEFL/TESL qualification can also help you get a better paying job at a more reputable school as well. Just another benefit of becoming a qualified English teacher.
So, there you have it. My first TEFL blog. I really hope my experience helps you in making your own teaching abroad decisions. Next post will I give you some of my tips for teaching abroad that can hopefully help out new TEFL teachers.