TEFL Crash Course

I’d made the decision. Enough was enough. Time for a change, time to turn my wander lust into reality at last. Time for Mexico! I’d done my homework, sussed out where I wanted to be, how I was going to get there and when I was leaving. It was easy for me really. I’d met a Mexican girl previously, and was moving into her flat. Which obviously solved quite a few things in one stroke.

All that I needed to do was find a course provider that suited my needs. I didn’t need help with airport collection or accommodation. I just needed a course that was quick, cheap and got me work asap!

There aren’t that many options in Mexico City, although there are plenty of others elsewhere in the country. The one that caught my eye was actually the first one I found. A two week course, just over $1,000, job placement upon completion and plenty of happy posts about them on the web. Been around for a while…how could I go wrong? Happy to report I didn’t! So Teachers Latin America it was, with a last-ish minute booking I got myself a place in a course stating mid June 2005. They can provide accommodation by the way, although not something I needed.

Maybe you’ve wondered what’s involved in a TEFL course? I had. I was still wondering as I turned up on Day 1! I had visited them once upon arrival in the City to have a chat and all seemed well. They have a set up within an English School in a shopping mall of all places, but it was clean, modern and well equipped.

The business is run by a Canadian/Mexican couple, he, the Canadian, taking the TEFL wannabes through the course, and she then finding them jobs. Perfectly pleasant and friendly they were too, relaxed and happy to help out. He, in case you are wondering, is a chap called Guy, with the utterly unpronounceable surname of Courchesne. Which incidentally, and to his immense pride, when typed into Google, fills the first page with his various forum posts and blogs!

I had one fellow studentette with me on my course, a Nevada girl – fresh from Uni, if I remember rightly. Nice enough chick, although she did have a slightly poorly look about her for much of the time. The cause of which she revealed towards the end of the course when she asked if I’d had non stop ‘tummy’ troubles too…! I hadn’t. It took another year for the infamous Montezuma and his dreaded revenge to catch up with me.

So the course started. I was given a pretty hefty wad of learning material, binder and first session in the class. Really all a TEFL course involves is a background on why people learn English, what they need it for, methods of teaching and a refresher of what grammar is. What grammar is….doesn’t sound a problem, right? Hmmmm…..

If you speak English, you probably, dare I say certainly, know how to use ‘grammar’. Whether you know why you use it in the way you do, how it should be used correctly, and how it works is another matter entirely. And unless you’ve just come out of university with a related degree, then chances are that most of the jargon is going to go right in one ear and out the other year. At first. What the hell are non defining relative clauses, passive voice, past perfect continuous tense etc anyway?!

I’m going to be honest. You are unlikely to learn all you need to know about grammar in a 50 week course, let alone a two week course. What I did learn, and what is important, are the basics. I have been learning grammar alongside my students ever since, and will continue to learn grammar for years to come I suspect. Sometimes a few hours in advance Sometimes, subtly, as I teach it! When I have been lazy and not done the lesson preparation. But the introduction and reference material given to me during that first lesson proved invaluable, especially in the early days.

The other important part of the course was of course, learning to teach! During the first week this involved me and Nevada girl being the student in the morning, then watching real teachers in the afternoon/evening, to see how it’s done. Or sometimes how it isn’t done! The benefit of Guy having his school situated inside another school is having a continuous stream of Mexican students to watch and practice on. the teachers there are all Mexicans, not native English speakers. To be honest, they were teaching lower level students and didn’t really need to be native speakers. At the same time, I did appreciate why there is demand for native speakers. Their knowledge of English grammar was far superior to mine, but at the end of the day I have a huge advantage. It is my tongue and I don’t make the same, basic mistakes in pronunciation and use of phrases that a non native makes. They needed me! I felt much better!

Week two was similar to week one, but this time we were taking classes instead of just watching them. Yes, there is a little apprehension when you stand up for the first time, but it’s not so bad! And believe me, I had the worst class possible. Just two students and both so low level they could not understand a word I said! I was beginning to get a bit despondent, but more students arrived, they understood ‘Hello’, ‘How are you?’ and I was off! An hour or two a day for the whole week, just teaching. Trust me, that practice made my first day of real teaching in my first job so, so much easier!

The course ended with two rewards. I took my exam and passed. Easily. It isn’t terribly difficult. To be honest, if you had the brain power to make it from your country, across into Mexico and through the course, you shouldn’t have a problem.

The other reward was actually much more satisfying. That first lesson I had with the two students who didn’t understand a word I said? One of them, a very young chap, turned up every day, and concentrated so hard, and right at the end of my final lesson put on a huge grin and announced that he understood me!

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