Posted in Thoughts about TEFL Teaching

7 Deadly Sins of TEFL teachers: Too much TTT

A little context  – “Try before you buy”

Before becoming a TEFL teacher training, I worked at a London language schools for a few years as an ADoS (assistant Director of Studies) and later as a DoS (go on, have a guess what that means!). One of my duties was to observe the teachers and give them some feedback on their performance, praise them and point out a few areas which could be improved. I used to insist on observing potential teachers before hiring them – before you scream: “exploitation, it’s just a scam for getting teachers to give classes for free!” – they got paid for their troubles. Not a bad strategy because you’d be amazed at how many bad teachers can ace interviews and how many good ones can’t. Anyway, the reason I’m giving you this back story is to tell you that I’ve watched hundreds of teachers give classes.

Now, whether that makes me an expert on what constitutes a good class is open to debate. I do know, however, what is generally considered bad practice in the TEFL world.

THE FIRST DEADLY SIN: Too much unnecessary, irrelevant and self-obsessed TTT

Appearances can be deceiving

I interviewed a jolly chap for a job once. He seemed bright, knowledgeable, affable and listened carefully before responding to my questions. I liked him immediately. He agreed to give a demonstration class the following day and I explicitly mentioned that I wanted to see a student-centred class in which the students provided most of the speaking output. He nodded vigorously and returned the next day with a beautifully written student-centred lesson plan.

Pride comes before a fall

As I sat back to watch him teach a group of multi-national Intermediate learners, I glowed with a sense of inner pride at my unfailing instinct to spot great teachers. The jolly chap introduced himself in a jolly manner and asked each of the learners their names and nationality. So far, so good: the students instantly relaxed with him and he provided some pithy and humorous comments as each student spoke in turn. Then, it began……..

Squeal like a pig

He told them that he was (briefly) going to talk about himself. I expected a few lines about where he was from, his hobbies, his favourite food. Well, that’s what he did at first and then he started to talk about his boyfriend, his boyfriend’s awful taste in clothes, his even worse taste in music. There was more to come. His boyfriend’s countless infidelities, his disgusting habits, his poor hygiene.

As he continued, he spoke faster and faster, his voice rising and rising until it reached a pig -like squeal. When it reached that upper limit, he would sit back on his chair, catch his breath for a moment, and then continue with another anecdote about how his boyfriend picked his nose while watching TV, how flatulent he was, his inadequacies in bed.

That car crash moment

At this point I should have stopped him but there was some nightmarish quality to this situation that kept me rooted to my chair. The students sat there, eyes wide open, watching this whirling dervish as his squeals became more anguished, his gestures more grotesquely flamboyant, his eyes bulging like boiled eggs, his vocabulary more colloquial and obscure. One tiny Japanese lady looked as if she was about to throw up, so dizzy was she at watching him perform his crazed pirouettes around the room, knocking over chairs and tables, swiping poor students with his flailing limbs.

Sweet relief

And then he stopped, remembered I was in the room and announced:

“Well, I was going to teach you the rules about when to use the present perfect but it appears we have run out of time. Anyway, my little darlings, I’ve really enjoyed teaching you all and hope to see you soon. Here’s an exercise you can do for homework. Oh, if any of you would like private classes, here’s my email address.”

Before he could write his details on the board, I informed him and the students that individual lessons could be arranged through the school and ushered him out of the classroom. I remember picking up his jacket and bag before marching him downstairs to the main entrance to the school.

A little self awareness goes a long way

At the door, he blithely shook my hand and gave me what he considered to be a million-dollar smile:

“So, I assume you liked the class. When would you like me to start? Monday at 9?”

He squealed like a pig again as I pushed him out the door.

The moral of this story is:  ‘let the students do the talking. They need the practice.’

Posted in All about TEFL (Courses and Finding work)

5 things to do before starting your TEFL course

So, you’ve been accepted onto a TEFL course. How are you feeling?

  • Relaxed because you are a fluent English speaker with a good educational background.
  • Perhaps you feel a little trepidation as one of your friends took the course and said it was one of the toughest months of her life.
  • Maybe you’re worried that you’re not going to ‘cut the mustard’, ‘hack it’, ‘pass muster’.

TEFL courses are tough. We try to squeeze 5 weeks worth of input into a 4-week time period. Not our fault as it’s just the way the market has evolved. What can help is doing a bit of preparation before the course starts.

Here are 5 things you should do to prepare for a TEFL course:

In at number 5, read a book or two, some articles even, about TEFL. You’ll experience what it’s all about on your course but a little background reading won’t hurt. Remember that “to be forewarned is to be forearmed.”  The Jeremy Harmer book shown above is a great primer and includes a DVD with real-life scenes from a classroom. A cheaper and shorter alternative is from the Teach Yourself stable of guides.

Jeremy Harmer. How to Teach English. Pearson Longman.

David Riddell. Teach Yourself: Teach English as a Foreign Language.

At number 4, find out what a phonemic chart is and familiarise yourself with some of the sounds and symbols in the English language. Why not go to the BBC British Council Teach English website and play around with it:

Straight on to number 3. Brush up on your grammar. Learn what a verb is, a noun, an adjective, a dangling subjunctive participle relative pronoun clause (don’t worry, I made the last one up). You don’t need to become an expert but knowing the basics will mean that you’ll hit the ground running when you start the course.

Michael Swan. Practical English Usage. Oxford University Press.

Martin Parrott. Grammar for English Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press.

Heading down the home straight now.

At number 2, ask the TEFL centre if you can come in and observe a class. If that fails, see if there are any English schools / academies close by and ask if they’ll let you sit in on a class. The most important thing is that you see a teacher and their class in action. The DVD accompanying the Harmer book will help too. You should watch demonstration classes on your course before you teach but the more exposure to the TEFL environment the better.

Finally, at number 1 with a bullet is….have a beer / red wine / coffee / tipple of your choice with some friends before the course. Let your hair down and relax. The course is intensive and you’ll probably have to do assignments and teaching preparation at weekends so partying during the course may knock you off your stride. Besides, once you start the course, you will alienate close friends and family with your endless references to eliciting, correction strategies and, most egregious of all, your constant correction and reformulation of their grammar!!

So, if you are embarking upon a TEFL course sometime soon. Do some preparation and you’ll have time and energy to enjoy it. Good luck.

Posted in All about TEFL (Courses and Finding work), Thoughts about TEFL Teaching

What is TEFL anyway?

What does TEFL stands for?

a) Tax evasion for fraudulent lawyers

b) Talking excitedly to foreign ladies

c) Teaching English as a Foreign Language

If you answered c, you have come to the right site and you probably are a TEFL teacher, a prospective TEFL teacher, or a single male TEFL teacher or prospective single male  TEFL teacher that is frantically googling `Talking excitedly to foreign ladies‘ as it sounds far more exciting!

What about TESOL, CELTA, ESL, EFL etc.?

There is many acronyms and intialisms in the world of English Language Teaching (ELT). Some of them are used in the UK whereas others are used in other English speaking countries such as the USA, Canada and Australia. For a detailed discussion of the precise meanings of these terms, I refer you to Mr Wikipedia. Quite frankly though, I wouldn’t bother, it will give you a migraine. For the purposes of this blog, I will generally refer to TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign language as opposed to teaching it to native speakers) and ELT (English language teaching).

Well, what is a TEFL course then?

Again, there is some confusion over the precise terms but they all refer to initial training courses which enable adults to become English teachers to non-native speakers. They can be done full-time (4 long and intensive weeks), part-time (over a period of between 3 and 9 months) and can be done F2F (face-to-face in a traditional classroom setting) or online (like distance learning over the Internet) or as a blended course ( a mixture of F2F and online).

What does the course consist of?

Most course combine input sessions (lessons where you learn about the English language and how to teach it), written projects (such as creating a set of classroom materials or planning a course of study for an individual student) and the dreaded Teaching Practice (where you get to practise your teaching skills on local guinea pigs  before being savagely torn apart by your tutors who observe and obsessively note down every minor mistake you make). BEWARE: 100% ONLINE COURSES DO NOT TEACH YOU HOW TO TEACH! In order to learn how to teach, you have to teach – that’s called experiential learning. I love watching movies, reading about movies and watching documentaries about movies. Does that make me the next Martin Scorsese? If you complete the course fulfilling the requirements – all the assignments, tests and your tutor thinks you can teach a class of learners without physically, mentally, emotionally or linguistically scarring them for life – then, and only then on any decent course, you will be given a certificate and let loose in the ELT world.

What can I do with a TEFL certificate?

In the words of a former trainee, an inveterate inventor of malaproprisms,: `With a TEFL certificate in my pocket, the world is my lobster!’ A cursory glance at a website such as : will reveal hundreds of English teaching jobs all around the world. We recommend that you look for work in Spain as there’s a huge demand and, crisis notwithstanding, it’s a great place to live.

Well, there we are. I hope I answered a few questions about TEFL. In future blogs, we’ll be (adopts best David Attenborough voice)  going deeper and deeper into the mysterious TEFL world. Hope you join us..