20. What is a TEFL course like?

I have finished the TEFL course so there may be a detectable change, hopefully improvement, in my language usage. It has been a challenging but enjoyable whistle-stop tour through our native tongue. Some of the modules even became quite addictive as one progresses through the theory and onto a multiple choice quiz at the end of each subsection with a marked assignment at specific stages and on completion of each module. Between us, we also covered all the additional optional modules including teaching: children, one-to-one, business use, large classes, with limited resources (previous experience working for a cash-strapped charity gave me an advantage on this one) and in total contrast to that, using audio-visual resources. Our comprehensive education was not entirely comprehensive as we were both ignorant of many of the basic grammatical rules of the English language; much of our previous knowledge had been gleaned from learning French and German. Despite this we had managed to obtain English language O levels.

We had trawled the internet to ascertain which course and qualification would be most suitable for our requirements. Who knew it was so extensive? We had to decide how much work we were prepared to put in and what the minimum level of qualification would be that we felt would give us sufficient opportunities. There are course for all stages up to and including teaching formally at higher education establishments in a vast number of cities worldwide. We did feel that these were aimed at those people who wanted to make this a career which wasn’t our aim at all. He had already left formal teaching once. But, as with starting anything new and interesting it wasn’t long before we were absorbed in the subject and scouring the jobs page on the company’s website. It would appear that we could almost take our pick of which country to work in once we obtain the certificate. I’m sure it isn’t quite that easy but this enticement fuelled our enthusiasm.

As part of the basic module we had to attend a 20 hour weekend taught course. The subject of study may be English but one doesn’t have to be a mathematician to work out that that would be quite a heavy couple of days! We opted for the weekend before the bank holiday so that we’d have at least one day off prior to returning to work, supposedly refreshed after the break. Fortunately this date was available at my nearest venue, approximately ½ hour away. Unfortunately no-one else seemed to want to disrupt their extended weekend so that course was cancelled due to lack of attendees and we were shunted onto one in Manchester, 1½ hours away, a few weeks later and not attached to a bank holiday. After an early start on the Saturday we drove through the city to our central venue and somewhere on a subliminal level, I noticed some temporary yellow road signs. On closer observation they revealed that the whole of the city centre would be closed to cars the following day for a 10km run!

This was not such good planning on the course organiser’s part, the route actually came past the front of our hotel classroom which did provide a distraction during our morning break on Sunday but also presented a significant logistical problem. Having considered travelling by train in the first instance, but dismissing it due to the slow and intermittent service provided early on a Sunday morning, we returned to that option. Despite a fairly late night we were up early but not so bright on Sunday morning. We had stopped in Holmfirth en route home on Saturday as all the pubs we had passed earlier in the journey had stopped serving food at 9pm but were delighted to happen upon The Soul Kitchen which provided us with delicious gluten-free burgers and locally produced cider – only 1 pint of course. The roads into Huddersfield at that time the following morning were virtually deserted but there were quite a few people milling around the area outside the station. Ignoring them we went into the foyer and bought our tickets from the machine; no desk open at that time. We checked the display board for our platform to find that all the trains had been cancelled due to work on the line, of course!

The ensemble outside were all the other train travellers waiting for their respective coaches. We approached the organiser, well, man in a high-vis jacket, to determine our course of action considering that the roads in Manchester would be closed to coaches as well presumably. He knew nothing about the 10k run and assured us that the coach would be running as normal. After debating whether to forfeit the tickets and drive anyway we decided that train replacement services may be given a priority not afforded to private cars so stuck with the bus.

Our vehicle arrived 10mins late and after a further half an hour we were still meandering through the outlying villages of the HD postcode! We’d been given strict instructions that we had to attend the full 20 hours to receive our attendance certificate which had to be obtained before we could obtain the final course certificate (fortunately the tutor had revealed that she would allow some leeway in the circumstances) We travelled up hill and down dale, literally, which in a coach that size was testament to the skills of the driver, however, his navigation was not up to the same standard as we arrived at what looked like a builder’s yard in Stalybridge and certainly no evidence of eager passengers. After a tour of the town/village, which proved harder to negotiate than the country lanes, we arrived at the station. No-one, not one single person, embarked or alighted there and we were already at the time when we should have arrived at Manchester Piccadilly. The M62 would have been so much quicker and considerably less nausea-inducing; beware Stalybridge, use it or lose it! The only redeeming feature was that we were able to get through to the station as the run route didn’t pass that way; I only wish I had known the city better. We ran to the hotel where the barriers were beginning to be erected but access was still available to the car park we had used the previous day and all evidence had been removed by the time we exited at 7pm – aargh!

Our journey home was not much smoother as we joined, what seemed like, hundreds of rugby league fans who had enjoyed the ‘magic’ weekend and were all returning on the same 3 carriages we were! But anyway, the course itself proved very interesting and our tutor extremely knowledgeable and experienced. She managed to teach us some basic Welsh in 10 mins flat without uttering any English to illustrate how you do not need to be able to speak their language to teach a new one to foreign speakers. Fortunately it was all spoken word, nothing written, but don’t ask me the correct word for ‘milk’. I couldn’t even get my tongue round it at the time let alone now.

I have always felt somewhat detached from a subject when undertaking distance or on-line learning so find it useful to have opportunities to meet fellow students. Although on this occasion we were studying together, we were encountering the same problems, which can be reassuring in itself, but we still felt a little isolated as there was no dedicated personal tutor support, just a generic helpdesk.

It proved quite revealing to become familiar with the stories of the cross-section of people who comprised our class; the introductions included our purpose and motivation for commencing this course along with the usual minimum data set. There was a predominance of younger people, either immediately post school or university, some who wanted to travel but others who felt they might want to make a career in teaching. We were not alone in the over 50 bracket which was encouraging and whilst we were all from very diverse backgrounds and in some ways aiming for a variety of different outcomes we did coalesce over a desire to jump ship from our current situation (enforced by redundancy in one instance, widowed in another) in order to explore and expand our horizons prior to decrepitude, physical and/or mental.

We would like to think that we are reasonably young at heart still. This was endorsed at my niece’s recent wedding when they found that if they divided their guests into young and old they were 2 oldies too many for the table arrangements. We were considered to be the youngest in spirit, though not in chronology, and afforded the pleasure of sitting with their friends and had a great time managing, yet again to be in the final group to concede defeat and retire to the boudoir. Having 3 young men as offspring between ages of 18-21 has kept us in touch, to an extent, with ‘youf culture’ even if we don’t fully understand it. It is exciting to think that we will maintain that contact with this age group and therefore social developments from the periphery but also reassuring to see that we will not be too conspicuous in our anomaly. We seem to be accepted by them without judgement and can even surprise some but what we have actually done with our lives to date. Not too shabby for quinquagenarian Saga-ites.

June 2014

2 Responses to 20. What is a TEFL course like?

  1. Ian says:

    Teaching definitely makes you more aware of your language. But it’s kind of ironic as after you live abroad you realize that you sometimes have to simplify your language to make it more understandable to people who don’t speak English as their first language on the street.

    So on one hand it makes you more aware and on another your English can actually regress as you are surrounded and influenced by people who don’t speak English as a first language.

    That’s true about the online courses. I guess that’s one of the benefits of an n-class course. You can meet other people, but a good online course can still train you to be an effective teacher.

    I did that, but I never heard from anyone I met in that again.

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