The Importance of Real Classroom Experience
Recently I was in the UniTEFL offices and watching Susan get stressed out about setting up schools for the trainees to do their classroom pracs. Poor girl, these Thai schools cancel at the last minute, citing tests, or change dates, it can be a nightmare to arrange and maintain half a dozen different schools for the benefit of the course trainees to get some experience
So, why does she do it? Because it’s so integral to the training of a new English teacher.Although all 120-hour TEFL courses should have at least 6 classroom pracs, not all of them go to the trouble to do it properly. It’s not surprising, since it is a great deal of effort and many schools simply see it as disruptive and don’t agree to allow trainee teachers in.
The result is; a lot of TEFL courses end up bringing kids (or adults) in or, surprisingly, just getting the trainees to practise on each other. This really isn’t cutting the mustard. Sure you can demonstrate your ability to stand up in front of people and reel off your prepped lesson but try then facing 50 excited kids when you’re called in for a ‘teaching trial interview’.
Having been involved with hiring for a school, I’ve seen quite a few rookie teachers show up with zero experience and simply fall to pieces in a ‘trial teach’, they have their prepped lesson but it’s not suitable and they simply can’t ‘click’ with the kids. It’s daunting facing 50 students, with a language and cultural barrier.
If you are going to be teaching for the very first time, then the classroom experience is one of the key elements of your TEFL training which will help you land that crucial first job. We’ve turned away some really nice, enthusiastic, people because they failed the teaching test, even with an otherwise impressive CV.
Why then don’t all the TEFL courses make a point of putting you into real classrooms. Well, one reason is that it’s a costly hassle to arrange, especially if you are a ‘beachside’ course with limited schools in the area. Literally, it takes a full time job to keep these school practicals organised. A TEFL course provider will need quite a few on rotation since schools don’t want too many rookie teachers showing up too often. Ultimately a lot of course providers simply opt to bring in the same group of ‘free English classes’ students each time, but they become ‘used’ to the trainee teachers so the experience isn’t so realistic.
Many TEFLers end up taking jobs initially in Thailand if trained here, and it really helps if you’ve had some experience with the Thai education system, a typical school, the expectations etc. You get to meet the head teacher, learn a bit about how to please them and, crucially, get coached in presentation – which is 50% of the interview in the minds of many Thai recruiters.
My advice: ask questions of your chosen TEFL course, to ensure that you will come away from your training with some experience teaching in a real school. Look at pictures of local schools on their website for clues. These should be lessons monitored by observers with feedback. Some courses offer internships, which are also useful to help newbie teachers get some vital experience before hitting the job seeking world. The confidence gained from 6-8 hours in a classroom makes the world of difference when you’re called upon to come in for a ‘teaching trial interview’.