The Teacher Trainer – the Key to your Skill Development

In the first two parts of this series, we looked at the Where, What and How of picking your in-classroom Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) training course.  Another important question is Who – who is going to to be your primary instructor during the program?

At some schools, there will be only one main teacher for each batch of trainees and other experienced teachers may help with the Observed Teaching Practice (OTP). At other schools, trainees will rotate through several teachers who will each guide you through different components of the program.

Both of these methods work well, however before you give your hard-earned cash to an in-classroom TEFL Certification program, you would do well to find out the answers to the helpful questions below.

Before we get to the questions though, I can guess some of my readers are asking “Why bother to interrogate the instructor(s)?”

Well, once upon a time, one of my freshly graduated teacher-trainee students was hired to provide teacher training at a competing school. Even though this person had never really been a teacher, he was now lecturing and guiding certification candidates.

So, to make sure that your instructor is the real deal, email, IM or call your teacher trainer with these questions:

1. What are your qualifications [higher education, types and levels of certification, etc]?

Even though TEFL Certification and CELTA courses are suitable for high school graduates with no tertiary education, if you can study under a trainer who has a relevant degree, you can guess that he or she will be much more likely to truly understand and be passionate about how teaching and learning work.

In my book, it’s best if a teacher trainer has a MATESOL (yep, that’s a master’s degree in TEFL) or at least a master’s in education plus higher TEFL certification like the PGCE, DELTA, etc.

2. How many years of teaching experience do you have? How many countries have you taught in? Do you have other related experience?

An ideal trainer will have more than 5-6 years’ experience living abroad (if in more than one country, so much the better). It’s preferable if they have experience with more than one age group (kids and adults) and with more than one kind of institution.

The reason this is important is because if they have the right breadth of experience they’ll be able to understand the problems you might encounter in your own career and be able to guide you more efficiently as you embark on your TEFL career.

3. What kinds of students have you taught, and in what kinds of schools or institutions? What about tutoring?

This question is important because you’ll benefit if you can find a trainer who has worked in the same setting that you’re interested in—want to work in a Kindergarten in Asia? Well, if your trainer only taught university students in Europe, they may not be able to guide you as much as you hope. (college or university vs. public school and/or language school vs. corporate classroom training)

4. Do you enjoy teaching? Why or why not?

This might seem like a throw-away question, but unfortunately there exist teacher-trainers who only use their job as an excuse to live abroad. If you take a course from someone who doesn’t have a passion for teaching, you’re risking taking on their own bad attitude when you begin working. Instead, find someone who can inspire you and teach you how to teach with enjoyment. Starting your TEFL career should be a positive life change, not another excuse to complain.

5. What do you enjoy about teaching?

Don’t just take their first answer at face value. With this follow-up question, you’ll be able to listen carefully and divine whether they truly enjoy teaching or not.

TED’s Tips™ #1: I feel strongly that your teacher-trainer should 1) have at least 5-6 years’ experience 2) have that experience divided over two or more countries 3) have it in two or three different settings (language school, public school,corporate, university, tutoring, etc.) 4) have experience with both adults and children 5) have advanced formal education—ideally a master’s degree.

Of course, you want the best, but in my experience such trainers are not common and you need to look a bit to find them.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Be a comparison shopper. Look past slick marketing, whiz-bang websites and mumbo-jumbo curriculum to find the absolute BEST teacher-trainer you can get. At the end of the day, that teacher-trainer is your best tool for making yourself into a great teacher.  You are going to spend a lot of money for that course, be sure you get the maximum value for it.

TED’s Tips™ #3:  Perhaps only my bias, but the teacher trainer is the most important consideration of all the factors.   A good teacher can overcome bad curriculum and bad materials, but good materials can not overcome a lousy teacher trainer.  Get a good teacher, get a good start.

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In-Classroom TEFL Courses – Which one is Right for You?

Most TEFL training schools will let you spend a day in the classroom to help you decide if you want to take their course – or not.

Sorting out a good in-classroom course requires a bit of research and we start that process here.

Even though there is no agreed-upon standard in the world for what you learn in a TEFL Certification course, many nations have formed their own requirements that such schools must meet.

The government certification process of a TEFL Certification school can range in intensity to a just-for-show rubber-stamp review to a complex and detailed checklist of course content and trainer qualifications.

To help you narrow down which in-classroom TEFL Certification course is right for you, here’s a handy list of questions I think all TEFL course participants should ask schools before they sign up (or pay!) for a program:

1. Where does the school’s license come from?  Is it issued by the national Ministry of Education, by a local education department or simply by a city business licensing agency?

Clearly, this can give you an idea as to how arduous the evaluation process is.

2. How many hours of in-class instruction will the course include? Most TEFL Training schools world-wide offer 100 or more, so you might be able to call this an “international standard.”

3. Will the course cover grammar? If so, what exactly will you practice or learn?

You want a TEFL Training course that not only reviews the proper structures with the trainees (most of us need a brush-up when we’re starting out) but also explains and illustrates how to teach, correct and explain grammar to your students.

Of course, most native speakers will be able to intuit correct (and incorrect) grammar when they hear it, however they might not be able to explain clearly and simply to students why a sentence is right or not.

4. Will you learn teaching methodology in the course?

This is critical. A good TEFL Training course must include methodology.

5. How many hours of observed teaching practice (OTP) will the course include?

Most programs around the world offer a minimum of 6-8 hours—another informal “international standard.”

6. When you do OTP, who will observe and evaluate you?

It’s best for you to get your OTP feedback from teachers who have some experience under their belts—ideally five years’ worth or more. At some schools, you’ll find student teachers evaluating each other, which – while helpful – is not optimal.

7. Who will your OTP students be?

It’s best to teach “real” students so you get a feel for the true experience of Teaching English as a Foreign Language. You’ll find some schools just have mock students (your student-teacher peers, for example) for OTP.

8. For what common learner difficulties will you be trained (for that country/area)?

As I like to tell new TEFLers, the best reason for taking your TEFL training course in the country in which you wish to teach is that you’ll learn what errors and problems are typical of that country’s students. This gives you a leg up when you get to your first job. However, your TEFL course should also teach you how to anticipate and correct common problems from all over the globe, not only your destination country. What if you want to move one day?

9. Will your OTP students be the same for all of your sessions?

There are pros and cons to having the same students for all of your OTP sessions. If you have different students each time, then you’ll get to experience an assortment of student problems and levels, while if you teach the same students over a number of classes, then you’ll experience and understand how to plan and organize sequential lessons so your students continue improving.

10. How old will your students be?

If you can get a chance to experience teaching both adults and children, or at least a variety of ages, you’ll come out better for it. However, in practice, not all training schools can offer you this.

(The next question is a follow-up to number 10:)

11. If you’re specifically interested in teaching one age group (i.e., kids or adults) after you obtain your certificate, will you be able to teach them during the OTP? If this isn’t the case normally, would they be able to arrange it for you?

12. Does the listed cost of the course include books and materials?

It’s best to know this before you go, as books and materials are not cheap. Many schools only require that you bring your own board markers or other stationery-type materials, while others will give you some suggestions as to books or other learning tools that would be useful, but not mandatory, for your course.

TED’s Tips™ #1: If you don’t know the answers to these questions, don’t sign up for the course, and certainly don’t pay for it! These questions are simple, and should be easily answered. If a school can’t or won’t answer them, then buyer beware!

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you live near the school, ask if you can go to the course and sit in for a day for that fly-on-the-wall experience. However, be forewarned that not every day of your TEFL course will be full of fireworks and excitement, some days will be spent poring over lesson plans and doing other time-consuming but necessary work.

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