TEFL Course Teaching Practice: What’s It Like?
Like most teachers with a TEFL certificate, I have the experience of one type of course – the one I took, the CELTA – as opposed to several. What follows is my experience, as reading the experiences of a TEFL trainee would have been useful to me when making decisions about a course. Obviously different courses will not be exactly the same, and while the CELTA is fairly similar wherever you go, different individuals as trainees and trainers mean different experiences. If you have had a different experience, or have written about your experience, let me know in a comment.
Preparing lessons was very time-consuming. This was partly just because teaching was new to me: I had to think about what to do, the best way to do it, the instructions I would give, materials I would use and so on. I also made an effort to make sure that if my 30-minute lesson was a skills lesson with a reading exercise, I incorporated what had been covered in the instruction part of the course. The other reason it took time was the requirement of making a detailed lesson plan.
Some people really hate this.
I did find it tedious, but also useful because it trained me to think about things like – is the interaction during my lesson always just between the teacher and one student, or is it between students themselves too? Why am I doing this activity? How long will this activity take? When I finished, I could judge whether my estimation was close or far off. I don’t believe these detailed lesson plans were required to imply that you should always make such a detailed plan as you go on teaching. Being pressed to focus on these things in a detailed lesson plan, though, gets new teachers in the habit of thinking about them.
I sometimes prepared for a couple of hours for a 30 minute lesson (other teachers too, not just me), not because that is the right amount of time to spend, but because things take longer when you have no experience with them. There is also more pressure when you know that, in addition to the students, your classmates and trainer will be watching you and then commenting on – and the trainer, grading – your performance. For me, it was high stress enough that I’d be doing the lesson in front of 10 students, and it didn’t add on that much more worry that five classmates and a trainer would watch too. However, I think this was harder for the teachers who already had experience.
In my course, there were two trainers and twelve trainees, split between two groups of six. We took turns teaching both a pre-intermediate and an upper-intermediate group. My palms were sweating on the first day – and we did actually start working with students right away – but we started out with small increments and built up to an hour or so.
The trainers were available to help during the preparation, and obviously instruction was part of the course, but they almost never interrupted at all during the teaching practice. This made it a little harder, but it duplicated the situation you are in when you start teaching on your own well: in most cases, there is not any other teacher there in the room to help. Just you.
The students tended to be people who were motivated to learn and there on their own initiative. The class was nearly free, and they knew they would be taught by trainees. In one of my groups, there was a small personality clash between two male students in their 60’s. Both were retired, one was very sharp, the other was out of touch in general and not up to speed with English either. Most students were irritated with the slower guy and didn’t want the whole class slowed down to cater to him, but other than that, the students were fine.
After the lesson came the much-dreaded teacher training feedback.