By Allison Bodine
My first experience abroad was a life changing one. I had spent the summer interning in Paris, France with a nonprofit. While there, I was able to meet a couple that ran an after-school program that used art to teach children English. They lived in a medieval town located about an hour outside the city. I stepped off the train and began the long walk on the side of the country road. When their little town came into view, instantly fell in love. Cobblestone streets, flower pouring over walls, a chateau on a hill- I felt like I stepped into a fairytale. I found my way to their school, and through our shared love of art, I was invited to help during their class. It was my first time being exposed to the use of English as tool to help people. Whether it was the magic of the town, the creativity of the lessons, or the joy (and frustration!) of working with the children, the opportunity to serve others in a way that I never knew existed captured my imagination.
At the end of the summer, I returned home ready to continue studying for my degree in psychology. My love for travel had grown and a love for learning about other cultures remained. My junior year, I studied abroad in Ireland; my senior year, I began working for my college’s international education office, advising students who wished to study abroad and writing articles for their newsletter. Teaching was never something that I saw myself pursuing, however as my graduation date drew closer, I became less certain that I knew what my next step would be. I had assumed I would enter graduate school, but I was overwhelmed by the variations of degrees and universities. What was apparent to me was that I loved what I was doing in the office, and I that was ready for a new adventure. I maintained my connections with the people I met in France, and at their recommendation, began looking at something called “TEFL.”
Two years later, I am still waiting for my adventure abroad. I have since gotten married, moved to a new state, began volunteering as an ESL tutor at a local library, and am now finishing my Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. It’s been an adventure in its own right! While it has taken a different form than I anticipated, becoming TEFL certified was absolutely the right decision for me. If you are on the fence, I hope this will help you decide!
Build on Strengths
What immediately comes to mind when reflecting on my TEFL training is what I learned about being a teacher. CIEE’s course equipped me with a new set of teaching skills. I learned about how to engage students in the material, lesson planning, assessments, and communication. The instructor was so helpful and the conversations with my classmates revealed dreams of what teaching could be. All in all, I discovered I loved teaching!
Perhaps more surprising were the ways that this particular training played on my strengths and interests. I began studying psychology because I loved working with people. I enjoyed coming alongside them and working with them to solve the puzzle they are struggling with. It’s the reason counseling has been a good fit for me, and the reason I love TEFL. Each class, and each student for that matter, will be unique in their needs. Age, level of English, personalities, and the reason for studying will all differ. As I first discovered in France, it is also a great exercise in creativity. Art, music, games, and so much more can be used to not only “solve” these puzzles, but to make lessons memorable (for student and teacher!). I tutored a 7-year-old boy who was struggling to read in school and an adult woman who was nervous making doctor’s appointments for her sons. They had very different needs, different abilities, and different expectations. Helping them reach their specified goals and watching them work to improve their English, and as a result their confidence, was such a rewarding experience!
Expand Cultural Awareness
Cultural competency will be a phrase you hear thrown around a lot. Understanding your own world view, the cultural differences that are out there, and learning to appreciate where they might be at odds are important skills for an English language teacher. While I already had an interest in cultures, the time spent exploring my attitudes deeper was so valuable. Are people all the same? Are they entirely different? The lessons I learned through TEFL have helped me work as a counselor with a more diverse body of clients. I feel comfortable with asking questions and learning more about the person in front of me; I can use the information that I learn to work with them in a way that they find helpful, not just a way I hope is helpful. As a teacher, counselor, and just a member of a community, I will inevitably meet people who do not share my worldview. A curious and positive attitude will give me a clearer picture of what their needs are, help me develop tools that are more culturally aware, and challenge my own perceptions so that I can continue to grow.
Finally, a TEFL certification opens doors. For many, this is what drew us to TEFL in the first place. I am no exception. Even now, I know where I would like to go and am developing a plan to get there. The opportunity to experience living and working abroad is incredible. As I learned from past trips, you see sites and meet people that you might have never had the chance to. English is a global language and the current demand for English teachers allows native speakers to travel almost anywhere they could imagine.
While it is true that it could take you far, it is equally capable of opening doors to dig in deeper to your local community. I have been able to teach through word of mouth and at my local library. The immigrant populations in my area range from Mexican to Chinese to Moroccan. Just as I met amazing people abroad who have shown me glimpses into their life, I have met just as diverse a community within my own city.
Unlike what my first experience may have suggested, it is not a fairytale. It is real life. Students won’t study, people will be angry with you, you won’t always know what to do, you might even get a case of culture shock! However, you will also learn to think outside the box, how to serve people regardless of who they are, and collect a thousand stories for all your trouble. Whether your adventure takes you thousands of miles away or 10 minutes down the street, a well-used TEFL knowledge expands your world.