English language teaching and teacher training is big business. The industry is designed to get as many customers as possible through the door. The over-subscribed courses bestow internationally recognised qualifications in four short but intensive weeks in which there is time to concentrate only on teaching methodology, a hint of grammar and a soupcon of classroom management. The teacher is largely thrown to the wolves, so to speak, and is left to work out for themselves how to handle students in a classroom environment when they actually walk into a real classroom.
During my own CELTA course what little there was about classroom management. The focus was on how to create coherent lesson plans. There were no opportunities to experience a classroom of uncooperative or unruly students. The guinea pigs we taught were all adults eager to learn English and were fully aware of our trainee status. They slavishly followed our lesson plans to the letter and did exactly what they were asked to do. This was as far from reality as it was possible to be, and instilled in us a false sense of security.
By contrast, my police training was composed of many months of training in interpersonal relationships, self-awareness, self-control, communication techniques, non-verbal communication, and voice control. My first exposure to the public was in the company of an experienced officer and with weeks of theory, role-playing and videotaped feedback under my heavily appointed belt. Only when my tutor was happy that I could cope did he authorise a solo expedition.
My first solo encounter with the general public was a safe walking beat where the most challenging thing I encountered was a request for directions to Australia. (I was so tense that I failed to see the joke and actually explained that I was new to the area and would have to look at my map)
Soon after my CELTA course I was offered a teaching job in a small school in Andalucía. Despite my years of dealing with all manner of difficult situations as a policeman, my first encounter with real students was nerve-wracking to say the least. My only preparation, besides the CELTA, was to be given copies of the course books I was going to teach. Everything else was left to me.
I spent the first few lessons trying to remember points of grammar while trying to act the part of a teacher, whatever one of those was. My idea of what a teacher was had been created from my own educational experiences and from my observations of the teacher trainers during the CELTA course. I was so far from being myself that the result was an unnatural caricature of a teacher.
It was when I suddenly realised that I had already received the perfect training for teaching that things suddenly improved. I realised that policing and teaching are not too far removed from one another, regardless of what appearances might suggest. When I began applying the training I had received in the police to my time in the classroom my teaching became more natural and both I and the students actually began to enjoy lessons.
Since then I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching. My attitude towards the job has attracted many comments and questions from colleagues eager to share my relaxed and positive attitude towards the job. It has been their interest that has prompted me to write these articles. I hope that through them I can encourage all TEFL teachers to enjoy and appreciate their teaching as much as I do.