Completo… terminado… finito.
After eight weeks of blood, sweat and tears in TEFL school, I emerge from the appropriately named Plaza de la Misericordia a fully qualified TEFL teacher on Saturday evening.
We all do; twelve just men and true (and women, of course) brains fully charged with lesson plans, learner profile, teaching methodologies and of course… wait for it… drum roll… the practical application of phonology in the world of the Language Learner. Ok, that one is still for me a bit of a blank page… we’d be grateful if you’d fill it in as you go along, Lord Blackadder.
Most of all, we leave with an unbridled enthusiasm to teach the world to talk (remember the advert)?
And after twenty years of ‘back of a fag packet’ lesson planning on the games field, I can now fully appreciate that — at least in the language classroom — he who fails to prepare must prepare to fail.
Now before you say ‘my dog could have passed that course,’ let me tell
you, Pedro el perro, I’m sorry… no, you couldn’t.
You see, to be awarded a TEFL certificate there is an attendance requirement of one hundred and thirty hours. You have to teach — yes, teach actual live language learners — for a minimum of seven hours, in addition to carrying out a formal needs assessment for an individual learner, teach him a 1-1 lesson, and plan a scheme of work to cater for his identified needs for a further five sessions.
Then there’s the coursework; at a modest assessment I would say I spent around twenty-five to thirty hours a week on this. That’s a minimum of two hundred hours, folks, which brings the time commitment to a ballpark figure of around three hundred and thirty hours.
Add the travel time to this — an additional forty-eight hours — and the gaining of this certificate has absorbed almost three hundred and eighty hours of my rapidly diminishing life expectancy.
So that averages out at around forty-seven and a half hours per week. Okay, I realize that in the ‘real world’ workplace — which I deserted a couple of decades ago — a forty-eight hour week may well be commonplace.
But for many, a forty-eight hour week involves plenty of YouTube
breaks, paying your electricity bill, doing your online weekly shop, pissing around on Twitbook, perving at the boss’ PA’s arse over the coffee machine, researching your holiday, and — for those who ‘work from home’ — the odd bit of displacement therapy derived by dipping into Pornhub. Nope, at TEFL school there wasn’t time for any such frivolity.
It was nose to the grindstone with deadlines coming as thick and fast as Teresa May’s U turns.
And then, amigos, there’s the intensity.
Okay, there are some horrific and disturbing tales about certain TEFL courses.
It is possible to take a course over a weekend that will give you a piece of paper to brandish before a prospective employer. You can also do a TEFL course online; one which does not give you any actual teaching experience. But just try to get a job from a reputable school or employer with either of these ‘certificates’. Re-write the following sentence: ‘Paper on the written worth it’s not.’
Malaga’s TEFL in Spain Course Director Charles Marshall estimates that the learning outcomes of the course sit somewhere between Bachelor and Masters’ degree level. An equivalent level would be the second to third year of a decent Bachelors’ degree — and we’re not talking American Studies or Film Studies here; we’re talking a course within which there is a serious academic and research methods requirement.
And how many university students even do three hundred and eighty hours in one academic year, for the love of Jove?
Just for argument’s sake let’s say the university academic year contains thirty weeks (yes, that’s a bit of an overestimation I know). Knock off Freshers’ Week, three ‘Reading Weeks (here please refer back to the bit about ‘working at home’) knock off a couple of weeks for exams and re-sits; that takes us down to twenty-four weeks which equates to around sixteen hours per week. And how many students can honestly put their hands to maintaining that workload?
And before you say it, back in the day, this level of intensity would have been a total no-no for me. Beer to be drank and rugby to be played.
So actually, our TEFL course is, in reality, the equivalent of one year at university.
Now get this: there are people who actually take the course in four weeks! If I tell you I try to use as few as one exclamation point per one hundred thousand words when I write, this gives you some insight as to how preposterous this challenge actually is.
So, what did I get out of it?
To start with, a gilt-edged Trinity accredited qualification that is recognised worldwide — in other words, it’s a passport to work where I want and when I want to.
And then the standard of teaching was excellent and I met some truly terrific people.
This might sound a bit dewy-eyed, [adjective: having eyes that are moist with tears (used typically to indicate that a person is nostalgic, naive, or sentimental] particularly as I’m writing this as I sip my third caña at Pepe’s Chiringuito sitting beneath a cloudless sky with my paella about to arrive, but there was no one on the course — staff or trainees — who I wouldn’t go out of my way for. Big style.
We had a laugh, supported each other and, as Billy Joel sang, took the bad times with the good.
We celebrated each other’s successes and empathized with each other’s failures; to be frank, I have never been on a course where people bonded so well. Now we all know there’s usually one dickhead who everyone unites against; sometimes this actually isn’t a bad thing, as the collective angst of the group can work towards using this dynamic in a positive way for the non-dickheads. But not so at TEFL school. No dickheads.
Mates, or friends (that’s one for you Muttley, if you’re reading this) a TEFL friend is for life, not just for Christmas.
And just to prove this, amigos, Alexandra and I hosted an end of course party to celebrate, which all but two trainees and most of the staff attended.
But that’s a story for another day. What happens in Marbella stays in Marbella, but I’ll share a few photos and some video footage with you.
Got to go… paella’s arrived.
Hasta luego, chicos!