Like many people in a similar situation to myself, I have been teaching english
as a second language for many years with little or no practical qualifications or background in this field. Armed with just a university degree
in any discipline, it has been possible to live and work abroad as an educator at a time when unemployment figures have been steadily rising in many parts of the world. In the country where I have been teaching for five years, South Korea, there is a lot of debate about the role of native speaking english teacher
s, and it is a topic I have thought a lot about. My recent experience in taking a tefl course
has given me some new perspectives on this situation.
I originally chose to come to Korea because my first preference, japan
, had more rigorous standards in place for potential teacher
s. When I left New Zealand in 2007, all that was needed to secure a position at a private language institute, or ‘hagwon’ as they are known here, was my degree
. This seemed amazing to me, and I found it hard to understand why a country was so willing to place the education of its children
in such relaxed conditions. Upon arrival here I quickly learnt that this was largely due to an insatiable demand for english
: there are literally tens of thousands of english
hagwons, and the vast majority of them employ at least one english teacher
It also became apparent to me that these loose employment standards had several obvious deficiencies. Many teacher
s were only here to party or travel, and actual teaching was of little priority at all. Koreans recognised this, and as such foreigners were looked upon with great suspicion. In the last few years it has become compulsory for applicants for a working visa to submit criminal background checks and other forms of documentation: unfortunately suspicion amongst the local community has only slightly abated.
Another major deficiency was that because of the lack of governmental oversight of private institutions many teacher
s were treated poorly by employers. Wages went unpaid, contractual obligations went unfulfilled, and because so many of the ‘teacher
s’ were unqualified, there were few alternative options open to them. A combination of these factors led me to move into the public education system.
I have worked for three years now at public schools, and have learnt a lot. Much of it has been about classroom management, and some has been about effective ways to teach english
. This is all well and good, but it has required a considerable amount of trial and error; time that could have been much better spent in efficient teaching. Some background training could have made this process a good deal speedier.
I have also made many observations regarding the teaching of english
in Korea, and I have become very frustrated with its almost mindless pursuit of grammar, reading, and writing, at the expense of real conversational exchanges. The major university entrance exam that all students prepare for has no spoken english
component at all. The vast majority of adult Koreans who have graduated through the educational system, including my fellow english teacher
s, have little or no practical speaking ability. Therefore, my classes have often felt meaningless to myself, fellow teacher
s, students, and, sadly, society as a whole. Why expend money on unqualified native teacher
s whose lessons fall completely outside of the syllabus? I would have liked to tackle more than just functional english
in my lessons, but felt like I was unable to do so due to my lack of educational training.
So when my province brought in a new requirement that all foreign teacher
s had to have completed some form of tefl
, I was one of the few teacher
s who rejoiced. I felt like this was the final step I needed to gain full confidence in my abilities; for example, no longer would I have to fob off students who asked me about precise grammatical matters. Even just a few units into the course I found myself delivering more cogent explanations of all manner of content. I quickly became more methodical in my planning, and more understanding of my students’ needs and how to meet them.
I feel like I will be able to garner more respect from my students and my colleagues, and as the certification
becomes compulsory throughout Korea in conjunction with a five year plan to introduce speaking components into national testing, this will be beneficial to the educational system as a whole, not just individual teacher
s and classrooms.
Certainly, a tefl certificate
increases both my wages and my employment opportunities, which is nice. But I feel that the most important reason to do a tefl course
is for your own state of mind. It won’t solve every problem you will face as a teacher
, but you will be far better off for the experience. Your confidence to take on aspects of the language that were previously intimidating will grow, your classes will improve, and as a natural result of this, so will your satisfaction with the job. For Korea, more qualified teacher
s will be of huge benefit to everyone involved with the education system. In short, a tefl certificate
is a major boon to the teacher
, the learner, and the society as a whole.