I don’t often think back to the teaching course I took in Seville in 2003. When I do think back on it, I remember being just one of around thirty fledgling TEFL teachers from diverse backgrounds trying to cram several months’ training into four short weeks. I also wonder how many TEFL teachers the various training courses produce each year. Globally, I imagine there must be thousands of new TEFL teachers created each month. It’s a big, profitable business, English teaching.
My Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) was the key to securing a teaching job. The certificate landed me the first job I applied for, but I had no real idea of what it was to be a teacher. I likened myself to a driver who has done four weeks of theory but has never sat in a car. I realised that learning to teach and learning to drive were things you learnt best by doing. I just hoped that my students would not see though me.
Once in the classroom, I began to learn how to speak according to the ability of my students. I began to slow down my rate of speech. I began to understand that students often don’t understand and need to be told things over and over again. And I began to realise that being a teacher presented numerous challenges that could be overcome by putting into practice valuable lessons I had learned in the past.
I’m lucky that I taught in a small school which is part of a big organisation with many schools in Seville and which employs over fifty TEFL teachers. This gave me the chance to meet and to speak to a huge number of teachers over the years. I reached the conclusion that most TEFL teachers fall into few general types.
One type of TEFL teacher is the recent graduate. This teacher is looking for something interesting to put on their CVs so that they can get themselves a “proper” job when they go back home. Teaching English also gives them a fun time in a foreign country.
Another type is the nomad. The nomadic TEFL teacher enjoys the freedom the job gives them to for regular travel to new countries, while another type of teacher sees TEFL as a stepping stone to other opportunities.
The most enduring category is made up of teachers who see teaching English as a foreign language as a rewarding career. Most of these teachers will stay in the same school for many years. They often marry into the local community and enjoy a similar lifestyle to that they might have enjoyed in their own country.
Some TEFL teachers are teaching to escape something in their past. They see TEFL as a road to a new beginning. Few if any background checks are made into prospective teachers. I don’t think anyone has verified my work history to date. This makes TEFL a great way to escape from debt, marriage, business failure, and even crime, and to hide away until the past inevitably catches up.
Another type enters the classroom looking for a change of career. These often come into teaching late in life, after previously treading any number of unsatisfying career paths.
Some TEFL teachers come to teaching because they love the English language. These teachers see an opportunity to immerse themselves in the language.
Myself, I fall into the latter two categories. In 2003, after twelve years in the police force, I travelled to Spain hoping for a career more in keeping with the great passions of my life: the English language and writing. TEFL seemed to offer everything I wanted, and I have not been disappointed. I’m also a wordaholic, an English junkie through and through. I love the sound, the rhythm and the music of English and I learn something new about the language every day through my teaching.
Teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) is for me the most rewarding profession that I can imagine myself doing. Spending my days speaking the language that is as natural to me as breathing and getting paid for it seems like a dream come true. I spend my days playing, laughing and learning with students of all ages. For me it is a situation that is both fascinating and enlivening. So when the comments of fellow teachers suggest that they are having a difficult time of things and are finding their classes stressful and exhausting, I ask myself what is it that makes my experience of teaching so different to that of theirs.
Whatever brings teachers to TEFL one thing unites almost all of them – a lack of preparation for or experience in dealing with students in a classroom environment.