We all have those experiences that alter our perception of a certain aspect of life. I had one at sixteen years old. I was an exchange student in France and was trying my hardest to learn the language.
It was a challenge, especially since I had virtually no background in the language when I arrived. I was constantly surrounded by the language. It was ever-present at the homes of my host families, at the school where everything was taught in French, and even around my fellow exchange students. It might come as no surprise that I was eagerly awaiting the English classes at school. While my peers were learning English, I might be able to not only communicate with them but also act as a resource for their learning. It would be a break from the constant language barrier; a wave of relief as I might finally understand what everyone was saying. It was less than a month into my time there that I learned the reality: the English teacher was awful.
There are teachers in the world who are absolutely wonderful. They will be a resource for the students and encourage them in their pursuits. Not only that, but these teachers can have the potential to change a student’s mind about a subject. I, myself, have had several of these amazing teachers. Unfortunately, this teacher was not one of them. The first day of class, I was told that I was not allowed to do the assignments. This was not much of a concern for me. Less work was welcomed, especially as I was trying to learn a language. It was later in that first class that I got a glimpse of what the rest of the year would hold. The teacher had asked a question, and several students raised their hands to answer. One of those who had not was chosen to answer the question. The student made a pronunciation mistake. Rather than correct them and try and help the student learn from their mistake, as well as have it be a teachable moment about pronunciation, the teacher mimicked the student’s error. It was done in a voice that one might hear from children teasing each other in a playground.
There were many other occasions throughout the year, much like this one. To give you an idea of the incidents: making fun of students who did not know the answer to a question, not allowing me to speak English in class (with the exception of the single time the speakers would not work for an audio clip), not allowing me to answer any question from my peers from spelling to grammar, as well as getting angry at the students for not wanting to speak in class. Now, even at sixteen years old, I could recognize a toxic learning environment. They were scared of getting an answer wrong due to a potential for ridicule. They did not want to speak for fear of being mocked. These students were the same ones who were actively engaged in their Spanish class, and the same ones that would practice their English with me occasionally between classes. They were intimidated by the language or learning materials, but the teacher. It was disheartening to think that my peers would always have that experience to draw from when thinking about English.
As I got older and the time came for me to start making decisions about the path my life would take, I kept thinking about that terrible teacher. I wondered how in the world were those classes productive, and whether her teaching style could have been altered to make the classroom less intimidating. I knew without a doubt that something could, and should, have been done about that classroom. My peers should have been just as engaged in the English class as they were in Spanish. While on a study abroad at with my university (also with CIEE, located in Dublin, Ireland), I found the TEFL program with CIEE. It had been something I had been considering for a few years, but the TEFL certification with my university would add a minimum of a year to my schooling and cost several thousand dollars. As a university student, I had to make sure that the TEFL certification didn’t interfere with my degree. I wanted to graduate on time, and was not thrilled about the idea of spending that much money. So, when I found this program, I registered. It was not only affordable, but I already trusted CIEE. The flexibility of the course was a huge bonus as I became certified my final term at university.
This world would be a horrible place if all students had a negative learning experience to draw from. They would not want to learn a language or even speak a language they had learned. No one should ever have that experience. I became TEFL certified to do my best to ensure that students learning a language have a positive experience. The classroom should be a safe place, and every single person will make several mistakes when learning a language. Mistakes help people learn. With the TEFL certification, I can help students have that safe space to make mistakes and to grow in their learning.
Another bonus to getting TEFL certified? My time abroad has given me the travel bug. And the fact that this certification allows so many opportunities to not only travel, but to also make money to support your adventures? It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Now, if I ever want to spend a year or three travelling to all of the places on my bucket list, I have the ability to do so because I can work while I travel.