My recent lack of activity on the entire internet can be blamed by one thing: TEFL Life. A four week, hands-on, intensive course in Prague designed to get trainees ready for the real world of teaching English has taken over my life, my free time, and perhaps even my sanity. At least temporarily. As a certified graduate (certificate pending) who’s successfully made it through to the other side, I’m here to tell you all the ins and outs of life as a TEFL trainee.
First thing first: know your shit.
This course is demanding right from the start – you have to pass a series of grammar tests with perfect scores before you even step foot on campus. And keep studying that material, because there’ll be a big, comprehensive grammar exam at the end, which every student must pass with at least 80% in order to graduate. And studying is hard in between student teaching, homework assignments, and classes all day. You have to squeeze it in. My boyfriend was helping me drill tense functions over dinner. Which brings me to my next point.
TEFL can take over your life.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it can be, if you let it. My fellow students started identifying tenses to each other in everyday speech as a way of practice, which was verification that we were beginning to understand the concepts, and it was also really funny. We took these in-jokes as comfort when life got stressful. But the course also takes up most of your free time. It was hard to do basic tasks like call home, go grocery shopping, check emails, and shower consistently. Class started every morning at 9:30, but with my commute, I left home at 8:45. There was one lesson in the morning, followed by a 30 minute (coffee) break, and then another in the afternoon. Lunch was from 1 to 2 in the afternoon. After this time, there would be staff around to help with lesson planning, and student teaching was from 5 to 8. A lot of students stayed at the school for the entire time, meaning they’d be spending upwards of 12 hours there. Sometimes I wouldn’t get home until 9 or 10 at night. I had just enough time to make a quick dinner and create a brief outline of my plan for teaching the next evening, and then it would be the same thing all over again. We would get assigned our next teaching skill (reading, listening, vocabulary) after our peer observation at night, so the turnaround time to plan out and teach lessons was quite short. This was designed to help us learn to come up with new plans and be able to execute them quickly, as it’s possible that we might be asked to do a substitution with only an hour to make a plan. We taught at a new level every week – ranging from A1 to C1. Mine were, in order: C1, A2 (helloooo big jump!!), and B1. This way, we were exposed to a variety of students and levels and had experience teaching and catering to different types of students. Not all students in the B1 class were True B1 Students, for example. There was a range of experience and levels, and it was necessary to be prepared for it.
It seemed really unfair at the time, but looking back, it wasn’t so bad. Midway through the first week of teaching, I’d established a routine: go home at 1, make lunch, and formally make up my lesson plan from the scribbled notes (which became increasingly coherent as the month wore on, thankfully) I’d made the night before. Type up worksheets or make a grammar presentation, then (amazing!) take an hour-long nap. I’d leave early to get to the school so I had time to print out all my materials and have some downtime at the school before teaching began.
We also had homework assignments in between all this. A methodology presentation, write-ups of lesson plan ideas for certain grammar topics, and conduct three hour-long one-to-one lessons outside of the course with the same student. Not to mention studying for the big grammar exam. It sounds like a lot on paper, but they’ve graduate thousands of students, including myself, so it’s obviously doable. The most important thing is time management. The second most important thing is Not Panicking.
The Long Arm
This is the Big Final Step before you graduate. We didn’t know the first thing about it, so we went into it blind. There was horror music and spooky lighting, and it felt a little like cult initiation before the Task was given and everything got serious. I’ve been sworn to secrecy myself about the details, but I promise that it’ll feel like a breeze after the rest of the course. Did I feel like crying? A little bit. Did I actually cry? Nope. If you pay attention during their Dramatic Reveal, you’ll understand everything immediately. Trust me.
Lots of students were running around doing important things in between classes and teaching, myself included, and I’m still not even sure how I managed it without stopping time somehow. Those of us who are staying in the country have to start the visa process, which, as with all things Official and Bureaucratic, is hell. And expensive. People went around looking at flats, which thankfully I didn’t have to do. I went to a few job interviews and actually got hired (!), though details are still pending.
It was tough to go through this month with so much eating my time. I didn’t have much opportunity to talk to my friends or my family back home and assure them that I’m okay, though half of that is because of time zone issues. I had a pile of unopened emails at the end of the month that took a while to sift through. Trying to prioritize things like showering and eating were necessary but hard under the pile of work. But there were thirty other students going through the same thing I was, and embracing it. And laughing about it. And as a person easily prone to anxiety, that made me feel loads better. We all got along amazingly, and though I didn’t live in student housing and therefore missed out on a lot of bonding with them, I still got to know a group of stunningly varied people, and know that I have friends in other places should I need it.
We all agree that this was an invaluable experience, and though stressful, and despite being our own worst critics (we’ve all been reassured “you didn’t fail! Why would you think that?” countless times during these four weeks), we’ve learned to work through the anxiety, and having done so has made us stronger teachers and stronger people.
So, now that you have visual evidence that I graduated (and was treated to free alcohol for my trouble), a few tips for you, should you choose to accept this mission:
Panicking is useless to you. Lean on your teachers and fellow students for help. They are all there to help you. Looking at all TEFL courses, they all advertise themselves as Intense in one way or another. This is not an exaggeration. Know this and walk into it with your head held high.
Establish a Routine.
Make sure you eat. Make sure you shower. Finding little pockets of free space in your day to perfect your lesson plan or study. I promise there is time for everything to get done, as long as you do the work to find it.
Don’t skip out on the things you love.
I stopped doing yoga because I thought I didn’t have time for it, and I regret it. I think it would have been a real effective way to release the stress that had built up for me over the length of the course.
Don’t take your stress out on other people. Or yourself.
I know it’s hard to get down on yourself. I’m practically an expert in it. But dwelling on the hard stuff is doing nothing but wasting time and hurting other people. I had to convince myself that it wasn’t useful to my goals. But sometimes still went to sleep upset.
Life happens! Don’t sweat it.
On the way to the grammar test, all the trams were backed up and I had to walk the rest of the way. What was meant to be a nice leisurely tram ride to school with the opportunity to study a little more turned into a panic attack and almost running across the river to get to the exam on time.
They were very forgiving and understanding. They are forgiving and understanding about almost everything. They are nice people. It’s okay to come to them about things. Students and teachers alike. I know the students were always willing to chat with me, whether it was about my latest job interview horror story or the tiny kitten roaming around the tram car. And if I was spending all my time worrying about my next lesson, I’d never have seen that cute little kitten.
Make time to be a person.
Socialize! Sometimes you just have to go get some beer after class and unwind. Unwinding is necessary. You deserve to be a person too.
That’s all the wisdom I have to impart upon you! I would absolutely, 100% recommend this course to anyone and everyone (and I’m not getting paid to say that, I swear), even though it seems like this post was a warning against TEFL,. This course was intense, yes, and probably not for everyone. But it was challenging (which is what I was looking for, to be honest), supremely rewarding, and it was the most learning I’ve done in such a short amount of time in my life. I believe it was absolutely worth the stress. Despite being on the fence about teaching as a career path, I’m seriously considering it now, and I firmly believe it was because of the people in the course and the way it was taught that changed my mind. Please do not hesitate to come to me with questions about the course. I promise it’s not as scary as it sounds in a tiny summary like this. And if you do decide this course is for you – let them know I sent you!