One Year On – How I Became a Teacher

There are many website and blogs giving lots of advice on all the different ways you can become an EFL teacher. I’m not going to try to replicate the wealth of information already out there, but rather, give my own experience.
There are so many acronyms in TEFL that I didn’t know where to begin. Fortunately, my flatmate for two years was a TEFL teacher, so he gave me the insider knowledge. To get a good job I needed to get a qualification, either the Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) accredited by the University of Cambridge, or the Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CertTESOL) accredited by Trinity College London. Doing either is much of a muchness, but apparently the CELTA is a little more practical than the CertTESOL which is more theoretical, so I chose the CELTA. I also had to pick a school where to study and gain the qualification.

I knew nothing about the reputations of individual schools in the TEFL industry, so I once again relied on the wisdom of my flatmate. He said to do it either at the school he worked at, or at an International House school. I wanted to get out of the UK and needed a clean break, and I thought doing the CELTA in the place where I wanted to eventually find a job would be a good idea. I checked the IH websites, and found that IH Barcelona offered a CELTA every month.

To get on the course I had to fill in the application form, which meant learning some English grammar for the first time since I was at school 10 years ago, and pass an interview so the tutors could asses my commitment to the course and so my likelihood of completing what is a very intensive month of training. I was accepted onto the course, so told my boss at the Department of Health my leaving date and booked a train ticket from London to Barcelona.

I arrived in Barcelona late in the evening and went to the apartment organised by IH. I was staying with a Spanish teacher from IH, and the apartment overlooked the Parc de Joan Miro, next to Place Espanya.

The course tutors aren’t kidding when they say it’s intensive. Five days a week in the classroom, with hours of homework every night and assignments to write at the weekends. They also had us teaching on the first day. In hindsight it was “only” 20 minutes, but with no experience at all 20 minutes seemed like an eternity. I am glad they did that on the first day though, to get the initial fear of standing at the head of classroom out of the system as early as possible meant by the second day we were all relaxed.

There were 12 people on the course, and the first day consisted of getting to know each other through six different activities. We were then split into two groups of six for our teaching practice groups. Six activities, six people in a group. The tutors said they hoped we were paying attention, as our 20 minute “lessons” were going to be those activities so the students we were practising on could get to know each other.

Overall the course was really good, and when I’m planning lessons I still think to myself “what would Rosa or Andrea (the course tutors) do”.

After the course came the task of finding a job. We were told that by chance there was one job available at IH. Me and Ed, another trainee, both applied. I went in search of IH’s DoS and, finding her office empty, left my CV and covering letter on her desk. Ed found Andrea and dragged her to the DoS’s office to give an instant recommendation. Ed got the job.

I quickly realised that Ed basically got the last teaching job in Barcelona for that academic year, and I broadened my search. After a week I had three job offers in Spain, Russia and China.

The job in Spain was from a school that contacted me after seeing my CV online. The job offer came after a phone conversation in which nary a question was asked of me. The school was very small, just two classrooms, and most of the phone “interview” consisted of the owner telling me how it’s a really nice town of around 10,000 people, and it’s only half an hour on the bus to the big local city of 70,000 people, and that’s only two hours from Benidorm. It all just sounded a bit small for me. In my first job I want to have proper support and I wasn’t convinced a two-teacher school could adequately provide that.

The job in Russia was for a large school in Moscow. The interview was conducted by an American and actually had proper interview questions. There was also a section in the interview for grammar questions. I must have done ok because I received the job offer. But, on researching the school online, I found a lot of negative comments from ex-teachers.

The job in China was recommended to me by another EFL teacher friend who had worked there. He said I should email the DoS. I did, and then I had another phone interview. This one with proper interview questions, but without a grammar section. I got offered the job and, not being able to find anything negative about the school online, I accepted the offer and started applying for visas and doing everything that needs to be done to move to a different country for at least a year.

It seems in TEFL that the less attractive the place to work is, the lower the pay but the higher the benefits. For my job in Xi’an, as a first year teacher I’m paid ¥6,000 a month, but the school also organises and pays for my apartment, and also the return airfare to my home airport.

They don’t, however, take into account the fact that where my parents live, the closest thing I have to a “home” and where I was living for six weeks preparing to go to China, is in the middle of nowhere and it costs a lot on public transport to get anywhere useful. My train from Carlisle to London was £100, but the flight from London to Xi’an was only £500, and the return ticket to Manchester to apply for my visa was about £60.

As I would come to learn, it’s the little oversights in detail such as this that cause such frustration in the job.

More to follow next week when I’ll write about where I’m teaching, and what it’s like being a teacher.

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