The words on the back of my new CELTA certificate were awfully comforting:
“They [those with a standard pass] will continue to need guidance to help them develop and broaden their range of skills as teachers in post”.
Madrid, 2011. With those words still ringing in my ears, I went for my first meeting with my new director of studies. Armed with a shiny new notebook and pen, I was ready to embark on my teaching career.
The meeting went something like this:
D.O.S. “Hi, David. These are your new classes. The resources are there behind you. Any questions?”.
Not quite the level of ‘guidance’ I had expected. For the 67% of CELTA graduates who get the PASS grade, the first teaching position can be a steep learning curve, especially when they haven't had any previous teaching experience. I imagine even the 20% and 5% who receive the PASS B and PASS A grades respectively have a few wobbles in the beginning.
What I've learnt from teaching
Even though the training gives you a decent grounding, newly qualified teachers have to learn fast. Of course you can get help. You can ask for advice from management, swap tips with your colleagues or research using the plethora of online and published resources. In the end though, teaching comes down to you as an individual, forces you to be independent and have confidence in your own abilities.
Having come to teaching from human resources and holding regular training sessions, I felt reasonably confident leading a group of people and being in the classroom environment. Teaching English represented a different challenge to that – grading language, classroom management and course programming all came into play. With varied attendance, obscure grammar points and other difficulties, teaching has taught me to think on my feet and be dynamic.
Something I've also learned is how to plan meticulously, but quickly. In my first teaching job, I was a figure of fun - Mr 'constantly-in-the-teacher's room' planning every class to CELTA standards, while my colleagues were out enjoying tapas and cañas or sunning themselves in Madrid's Retiro park. Obviously, no-one can spend that much time on planning forever, so I quickly learned to balance planning carefully with an increasing workload.
Types of teacher
In my opinion, ESL teachers can be broadly divided into 3 categories:
- those who are only teaching in order to live abroad
- those who started teaching to move abroad, but have gone on to make a career in TEFL
- those who have always wanted to be teachers, either abroad or in their own country
I place myself firmly in category 2. For the teachers in that category, the transferable skills gained can be vital if one chooses to leave the teaching profession. Whilst TEFL doesn’t present too many obvious alternative careers, you only have to dig beneath the surface to find a range of skills.
As I mentioned above, I didn’t come into teaching with a long-term career planned. Teaching for me was much more a way to get out of my home country, to experience a new culture and fulfil my childhood ambition of learning a new language. My travels (admittedly less extensive than most of my colleagues) have taken me from Madrid to Berlin via Manchester. I’ve taught young and old learners, Business English, General English and exam classes. The best part of the job for me is meeting an endless stream of fascinating people with different abilities, interests and language needs. To use a cliché, ‘no two days are the same’. Not many people will become rich as English teachers, but the variation in workplace and day-to-day life is something valuable that many other jobs can’t offer.
That said, as someone who never planned to teach for more than 2 years, I will come to the crossroads in the future – do I carry on teaching or look for a change in career? Whichever path I follow, I will have learned some great things – improvisation skills, two languages and most importantly, not to set much store by the text on the back of certificates.
Please visit Teaching English in Berlin to read more from David: