three years ago

TEFL Certificate Course

In the winter of 2009 I did a TEFL certificate course. It was my very first foray into professional development. I had been working at a new job for three or four months and I was beginning to feel as if I was going no where. I had been working in Korea for eight years. In spite of all my experience, I couldn’t go forward. Because of all my experience, I couldn’t go back. I needed a new spark. So when the course opened up and it was nearby, affordable, and manageable in the time I had, I jumped in.

The coursebook was a bound collection of articles that had been written for the Asian EFL Journal and edited by Dr. Paul Robertson. It included twelve articles with a mix of practical and theoretical topics, ranging from “Picture description as a very useful learning tool” to “The critical age hypothesis” and back again. There was a mix of action research and methodology. It was, I guess, authentic. None of the articles had been written for the book or with a course in TEFL in mind. From my perspective as a student, that made it rather disjointed and it was anyone’s guess what we were supposed to get out of it. We were just told to read it, especially focusing on the articles about Task-based Teaching and action research. No one told us why. As someone who had never had any ELT theory or methodology before, I found the articles interesting, but not really connected to my teaching. Then again, as an untrained teacher, I decided that was probably my own fault.

That book was my bible. I read it cover to cover. Looking back over the paper I wrote for the class (action research on motivation – yes, they let me write that), I realize that I hadn’t really learned anything. I had swallowed a bunch of stuff without question and used it to back up my perceptions in the classroom, reinterpreting it so that it would fit. I gave them what I thought they wanted to read. The fact of the matter was, my descriptions of what went on in my classroom didn’t fit the references I’d used for it. It was probably one of the worst papers I have ever written. My assessment of the course, by the time I’d somehow passed with flying colors and gotten my certificate, was that it was somewhat useful, but I’d keep doing things my way because my way was working.

Sarcastic margin notes

Last week I was looking back through this book again, trying to find something to help me answer a question for my current TESOL course. I realized that I recognized some of the names of the writers – David Nunan and Rod Ellis, among others –  and now I know quite a lot more about the theory behind their methodology. However, at the time I didn’t challenge or question anything I was assigned to read.

I used to write notes in the margins of the articles. I found some rather sarcastic ones:

“Students might rebel, but at least they’ll have fun.” (on putting the ‘fun’ back in learning – I guess I’ve always been a bit curmudgeony!)

“Assembly-line English.. This should be a comic strip.” (on the description of a teaching style I recognized as my own)

and “Native speakers don’t want EFL learners to be fluent? What?” (on proscription of profanities or slang for non-native speakers). 

There was also vocabulary that was totally unfamiliar, like anything with “meta-” in it (“meta-cognitive awareness” took ages to figure out and I’m still not sure).

And now?

My current assessment of the course is that I could have gotten so much more out of it. I wish I had been challenged to actually interact with the course materials. I wish it had been longer and more in-depth. I wish someone had told me that action research is pointless if you are using a lesson you wouldn’t normally do in your classroom just for the purpose of the research. And I wish someone had told me, just once, that it’s all about the students’ learning, not my teaching.

Still I’m grateful for the course because it put me on the path of professional development and introduced me to other people who have a similar interest. It got me here, where I can really learn, just in time.

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  • Ava Fruin  On October 2, 2012 at 3:38 am

    Wow, I couldn’t agree more! I could have gotten so much more out of my TESOL certificate course had I slowled down a little and tried to truly connect with the material and consider its usefulness in an actual classroom environment. Really makes me feel grateful for being in a place today where I can learn, apply, and reflect on what I do and read. Progress! Great post 🙂

    • livinglearning  On October 2, 2012 at 9:41 am

      Thanks, Ava! I guess one thing I learned is that professional development, like all education, must meet the students where we are rather than where we *should be. Glad you found what you need in your new situation!

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