What Graduates Say
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WHAT GRADUATES SAY

People of many different backgrounds take our course, from high school graduates to PhDs with many years of ESL teaching experience (we have trained 5 such PhDs, so far). The following are just a few of the many compliments we have received about our course from recent graduates, and you will note that each has come from quite a different background from the others:

1.    A highly successful career tax lawyer from Phoenix, Arizona, Mr. Howard N. (Buzz) Singer:

Dear James,

I want to thank and compliment you for the TEFL course I just completed at TEXT-AND-TALK. I was impressed with all aspects of it, not least of which was our excellent trainer. He is a natural-born teacher and we benefited greatly from his academic knowledge of, and practical experience with, the subject matter; his cultured background; and his gracious patience with his students, some of whom, like me, were in the slow to learn and quick to forget category. We were very fortunate to have this trainer present to ground us in your excellent materials.

I believe that we received superior training at TEXT-AND-TALK. I feel well-equipped and confident to start teaching English in Thailand. I would be pleased to recommend your school to anyone wishing to prepare himself or herself for the task of teaching Thais our difficult English language. Also, I might add, in addition to being hard work and very interesting, the course was a lot of fun!

2.    Mr Paul Scheirich from Australia:

Dear James,

Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to increase my vocational skills. TEXT-AND-TALK is a wonderful language school with marvelous teachers. Before coming to TEXT-AND-TALK, I was unable to speak in front of even small groups of people, but now I am able to do just that. TEXT-AND-TALK has given me the confidence and ability to interact with others through your school's ongoing support, which is always on offer. Before joining the TEFL for Target Learner Groups course, I had the privilege of sitting in on all 3 trainers' classes, and I found each one of the trainers highly skilled and helpful, and ready with useful advice.

Not only was the cost of the education offered quite reasonable, I found it to be very "budget friendly", when compared to some of the other teacher training institutes within Thailand.

I would like to thank my trainer for molding me into a teacher of target learner groups. I have made many friends and acquaintances through attending TEXT-AND-TALK. Also, I would like to thank the Placements Manager, Khun Natcharee, for her endless assistance in finding me employment.

I would be pleased to answer any e-mails addressed to me about the course.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Scheirich

(pscheirich@hotmail.com)

3.    Thailand "old-timer" Geoffrey Postlethwaite: 

I enjoyed this course and felt it was worth the money. I am a different person now from when I started the course. I have regained confidence and self-respect after some difficult experiences in my life. All the information in the Module books was useful, including grammar, methods of classroom control, particular difficulties for Thai students, lesson planning, etc. From the reading of the Module books and the trainer's support, I have regained my confidence, and I'm happy. I plan on continuing to use the course books throughout my teaching career. I began teaching before my training was finished, and now am teaching over 20 hours each week for TEXT-AND-TALK Academy. The trainer did an excellent job for us, and was himself a good role model as a teacher.

If you have prior teaching experience (perhaps in another country) but no formal training, you might take a "page" from the experience of the following graduate of our course, too!

Are You Certified?

Teaching became too routine. It’s as simple as that. I woke up, watched the sun rise, and shuffled notes around while drinking coffee – waiting for whatever inspirational idea to arrive before Korean adult students started knocking at my door. As a back up plan, on less creative mornings, I had stacks of old classroom material that I had developed over the years. I could easily pull out a random worksheet to incorporate into the day’s lesson. There were also a few stray grammar books that could be dug out at the last second. Later in the day, I walked a short distance to my hagwon. I allowed myself 15 minutes of prep time, which was mostly spent drinking coffee in the staff room and gabbing with Korean teachers, before children started pouring in energetically. In this case, I could simply open their textbook to the 1-2 pages assigned for that day. I had ten games that I played with them ad nauseam. There was always a steady flow of new students, so old material could be recycled endlessly. Parents loved me because their kids always had fun. My director was very pleased because I always reported to work sober and on time. Her business prospered because of my nice reputation. My salary increased, and I developed fantastic references. However, something was missing.

The problem was that my teaching style had become too mechanical and predictable. I got by; but it felt like I was one of those toy monkeys – the type that you toss in a few coins so they will clap tiny cymbals together while grinning. I was just performing between paychecks. Teaching was no longer challenging. I was stagnating. Sure, I could always shake my life up with a weekend of debauchery, an occasional fling with a sexy female expatriate, or by traveling to a different city – and, truth be told, I often tried combining all three. But, at my core, I knew that I wasn’t growing productively. As a teacher I wasn’t developing. My methodologies had become stale. I needed a new bag of tricks. I needed rejuvenation.

Then it happened: one day I was looking at naked women on the Internet while toggling around with www.ajarn.com (hey, sometimes that website downloads slowly, and you need something to look at in the meantime). Being distracted between the two, I accidentally clicked on an advertisement. You know, one of those flashing banners that always clutter Bangkok Phil’s homepage. I usually never read them because the blinding flash reminds me of a neon-lit shopping mall. But, this time it was different. This time I had already been stimulated. What downloaded before me was information about a teaching certificate program. I poured myself another glass of Scotch and started reading.

Did I really need a teaching certificate? I already have a MA degree and five years worth of oversea teaching experience. My total teaching background extends tens years long. Finding employment abroad is as easy as spotting a dreadlocked farang on Khaosan Road. Whenever I post an on-line resume offers immediately start rolling in. I had all these opportunities, yet I still hadn’t got certified. What could a teaching certificate offer me that my qualifications didn’t already provide? I was curious, so in a sick and demented way I started clicking on links to trigger teacher-training advertisements. My employment contract in Korea was coming to an end anyway. I had nothing to lose by exploring the new rejuvenating options.

The large variety of programs offering certification overwhelmed me. Unfamiliar initializations and acronyms unraveled at such a rapid rate that I became dizzy: ESL, EFL, RSA, CELTA, UCLES, ACTDEC, PELT, TESOL, TESL, TEFL. I thought I was reading a stock market report by mistake. To make matters worse, a few teacher training agencies played with their hyphens as if they had accidentally discovered a new erogenous zone: RSA-CELTA, TEFL-CELTA, TEFL-TESOL, TESOL-PELT, and so forth into infinity. Deeper prodding into the pungent folds of certification made my investigation even more confusing. There were hundreds – perhaps thousands – of franchises, sub-franchises, and licensed operators listed internationally. Even if I decided on a specific type of certificate, I would still need to narrow my choice down to a single country, then to further peel away at the layers of cities, and then to splay apart the competing agencies within that selected city. How could I possibly make the best pick?
Teacher forums on www.ajarn.com and www.eslcafe.com didn’t help matters much either, because everybody had a different opinion. Some posters claimed that CELTA was the Rolls Royce® of certificates, while other posters suggested that it was more like an unjustly expensive boot camp, and there was a bloke named Bruce who had an entirely different philosophy on the matter all together. I wanted clear facts rather than garbled street versions. Most troubling of all, there wasn’t even any consensus on what constituted a “valid” training program or a “qualified” teacher in the first place. Clearly, this decision would involve more research than two whiskies worth of time. So, I poured myself a third drink and started typing key words into search engines.
The most amazing thing of all is how young and tender this ESL industry actually is. As I explored different websites I realized that few of these programs were older than the scotch in my hand. The oldest training program for English teachers (not directly connected to a religion, military, or government agency) was originally designed by John Haycraft in the late 1960s. After a decade long incubation period, the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA) took over administration in 1977. The RSA teacher training program was well timed for Japan’s economic boom and the upcoming globalization of English, which created a powerful demand for qualified teachers. The RSA program burgeoned in this untapped market. They were as happy as hungry mice in a corn field without predators. The esteemed private school, Cambridge, finally took over certification in 1988 and eventually redesigned the program in 1996 under its new name, CELTA.

For some time, RSA/CELTA held a near monopoly over the formal training of English teachers. However, it would not take long before investors realized that English had become big business. Entrepreneurs spotted weaknesses in the RSA/CELTA program. For one, RSA/CELTA emphasized the teaching of adult students, but a huge chunk of the emerging market were younger pupils and children. The need for skilled English teachers was much greater than RSA/CELTA could keep up with alone. The demand for quality English instructors was greater than the supply. In result, a nasty strain of “cowboy” teachers easily multiplied in this vulnerable void like volleys of tiny crotch crabs (taking quick bloody bites before blazing to the next victim with a fresh paycheck). Before long entrepreneurs questioned the manner of RSA/CELTA training, and raised the valid issue of allowing a single entity to seal its near monopoly over the industry.

The ESL industry exploded into thriving businesses in the 1990s. There was a heavy demand for English teachers in Korea, Taiwan, and other Asian countries. Fresh markets also emerged in former Eastern Bloc countries after the fall of communism. New certificate producing language programs turned to already established educational institutes, such as universities and education ministries, to receive proper accreditation – creating the TEFL and TESOL. By the end of the 1990s, Thailand already had two major TEFL issuing organizations. Text-and-Talk began as a language school in 1991 and later received its accreditation from Thailand’s Ministry of Education. In 1998, TEFL International was established as a Trinity TESOL certificate course (but, its accreditation is no longer through Trinity today). The origins of the first TEFL certificate, in itself, is difficult to track down since there isn’t a single entity that moderates over all certificate distribution. There are so many branches in the TEFL family tree that you might never return if you set out to count them. Like mushrooms, new corporate names in the ESL industry continued to sprout out of nowhere to issue TEFL/TESOL certificate, to hire graduates, or to provide both: Bridge-Linguatec, Intensity-Callan, Global, English First.

The ESL industry has subdivided and morphed into many different shapes since the 1990s. The rapidly mutating ESL industry reminds me of that old horror flick, The Blob, in which a giant discombobulated mass squeezes through the projectionist’s room in a movie theater, and like a glistening plate of gooey Playdough®, the shapeless being from outer space eats the screaming viewers alive. Alright, I admit, perhaps that was a bit of an exaggeration, but my point is that this ESL business has gotten so big and powerful in a short period of time that a simple choice is overwhelming.
All I wanted to do was get certified. All I needed was to improve my teaching skills, learn creative ideas, and get new feedback from experienced colleagues. I craved only to lubricate my mundane teaching life, so that I could thrust forward into new directions. Now, I had accidentally entered Pandora’s other box, and she evidently wasn’t happy about it. My simple routine life was complicated once again. I had confusing choices and disordered plans. Somehow I thrived in the chaos that followed. I had new goals and a sense of direction. Maybe I should of just toggled back to reading porn.

****
My decision to finally get certified came down to one thing: teacher development. I really couldn’t give a rat’s ass about grades, degrees, or gold stars in the corner of my papers. I wasn’t just smearing frosty pink icing on my resume. Certification was part of an ongoing process. It wouldn’t end with graduation. I have reached the age where I must admit that I have fallen into teaching as my profession. I never planned on it. Teaching was something I did for income while hunting for a real job. Teaching just sort of happened. I got a MA degree in an unmarketable field and, after learning that dumpster diving wasn’t my cup of tea, I was forced into reassessing my options. I could either be a low-paid social worker in urban America or I could travel to exotic countries by teaching English. It was an easy choice. As a instructor I adopted the “learn as you go” method and for a short period of time it worked. Over the years, however, I became more aware of my limitations as a teacher. But, luckily, I had also learned that I was doing a few things right.

My strengths are that I am a very student-centered, flexible, creative, and approachable teacher. I can adapt to any student regardless of age, ethnic background, or level of English. Give me a dirt floor and a plastic ball and I could invent a lesson on the spur of the moment. However, this is not enough. My teaching skills were limited because I never deeply studied phonics, lesson planning, or grammar. I did not understand how the mechanics of English worked, therefore how could I explain grammatical rules to students? I could drive the car, but not maintain its engine. Sure, I knew how to use reference books to introduce material into the classroom, but I could have done it much better.
When I finished my contract in Korea I flew to Thailand to take a closer look at 3-4 certification programs. Internet advertisements were so overwhelmingly numerous that I couldn’t pick one. I was reluctant to shell out $1,000 to an agency that I had only seen on-line. I wanted to see a program in action before I started signing expensive business contracts. I cautiously created the following five criteria:

1) Location: The place must be enticing enough to live there for 4-8 weeks.
2) Price: The program must be fairly priced, in an affordable place to study.
3) Accreditation: The school must have formal rights to issue valid certificates.
4) Trainer Credentials: The teacher must have an advanced degree and extensive experience with the ESL industry – including actual classroom time with students from the chosen target group.
5) Content: The class material must develop my weakest points as a teacher, and allow observed teaching practice sessions while I test it out. This ESL material must include phonics, grammar, lesson planning, and new methodology.

I went shopping for the Rolls Royce® first – the CELTA. However, I was discouraged rather quickly from enrolling. The program seemed too rigid, and I wasn’t entirely convinced that they offered any cutting edge methodology that justified my paying an extra $250. CELTA admission required submitting in advance a variety of writing samples, lesson plans, and grammar tests (depending on franchise). I didn’t have the time or patience for this pre-testing. CELTA training programs are haunted with stories about imposed quotas to fail students or sadistic trainers publicly berating trainees to the point of nervous breakdown. I wasn’t sure I wanted to chance it. The CELTA trainers in Thailand seemed skilled and attentive, and I have no doubt that they provide a decent education. At the same time, I realized that in the practical world of English teaching I would need to teach children every now and then. CELTA placed its emphasis only on adult education. CELTA didn’t offer training that would apply to a diversity of student age groups and educational levels. Therefore, I was reluctant to invest my money in their course. I continued looking.

I explored the PELT certificate next. This program combines one week worth of intensive classroom training with a 4-8 week internship. The idea is to train teachers by allowing them maximum face time with students. The agency even offered to hook me up with a rural school for economically disadvantaged children – an opportunity that deeply appealed to my sense of philanthropy. I liked the idea of the PELT in theory. The paid internship catered to my tight budget and the extensive student contact could be vastly rewarding. However, I had to ask myself the overriding question: will this program develop my desired teaching skills? The answer was, no. What I needed to improve was my ability to explain grammar clearly, to illustrate phonics, and to experiment with lesson planning. The skeleton of the PELT course was comprised of only one thin week of lecture (enhanced by the weakest vitamin supplements of DVD and CD-Rom). Although the internship might be great for somebody with no teaching background, for me, personally, it offered little nourishment. The certificate I craved needed to present new material to me with live demonstrations, allow me to practice these new techniques in front of more experienced staff, and then to produce it actively in a class full of foreign language students. My lengthy search continued.

I decided to scope out TEFL certificates. The main problem was that TEFL agencies saturated Thailand like seasonal flooding during the monsoon. A quick glimpse of the Ajarn homepage revealed two main umbrella organizations: TEFL International and TEFL Text-and-Talk. Internationally, there were so many TEFL certificate-producing agencies, franchises, and licensed operators that I didn’t know where to begin. The origins of the TEFL certificate can be elusive. You have to peel away at layers of interconnected agencies to find the original source of accreditation, and at times this process feels like your spinning around an endless vortex without a solid foundation to grab onto for balance. Would a TEFL certificate one day become an over-franchised, mass-produced, generic product like a standard hamburger at a typical fast food chain? TEFL programs are so numerous that I wondered if the certificate might be endangered of becoming watered down and meaningless. Still, I had to explore this opportunity. I was running out of time and had to make a decision quick.

I started with the Text-and-Talk office in Bangkok. They had a variety of branches throughout Thailand. I figured I’d see what they offered at their main branch, then narrow down my search from there. I immediately felt attracted to the casual and friendly manner that greeted me.They offered a comprehensive TEFL certificate program – internationally recognized – that included components such as phonics, grammar, lesson planning, methodology, and six observed teaching practices (allowing me to develop on my weaker points). As a bonus they offered a free course on the Thai language. I was attracted to this program because it trained teachers to work with both adults and children who are learning English as a foreign language. More importantly, this TEFL program was much more affordable than most others that I had researched. Before I left the main office I had decided to go with Text-and-Talk.

I was reluctant to enroll at the Bangkok main branch, however, because of its location by a highway underpass near the airport. The TEFL course took six-weeks, and I lacked the patience to endure congested traffic and air pollution for this long. Having recently survived a cold Korean winter, in a crowded city, I needed a change of pace. I wanted to, at least, take this course at a desirable location – such as a hot tropical beach loaded with palm trees. I imagined strolling on a sandy beach at sunset after a busy day of study, or snorkeling while waves crashed ashore. My requisite as to location presented no problem. Text-and-Talk had franchises in Hua Hin, Phuket, and a branch in Pattaya. They also had a licensed school in Ko Samui under the title of TEFLworld (the only TEFL program on Ko Samui with valid accreditations).

I narrowed my choice down to these four locations, but I still needed to pick one. My final decision would be the qualification of the person actually in charge of training. While working at a teacher training college in Hungary, I learned that a degree in this field doesn’t always mean that somebody can teach it well. It is not unusual for a trainer to be a recent graduate or a novice to the actual classroom. Some teachers just lack the social skills to actively involve students in the learning process. I respect professionalism, but a stuffy grammarian can be quite boring to experience over a six week period. I can still recall a 10th grade English teacher that habitually forbid his students to speak in class, while routinely graphing sentence trees on a chalkboard without ever providing context. His methods were mechanical and very teacher-centered. He recycled the same lessons every year. Maybe he wondered why he never connected with students one day, and found new ways to develop as a teacher. I will never know, but I was certain that I didn’t want to pay for a repeat performance. I wanted to make the right choice in advance.

In an amazing streak of luck the trainer in one beach location was somebody that I had worked with before. He was a teacher I could learn from. We both taught at the Rajabhat (university) in Ayutthaya, and he first moved to Thailand over 15 years ago to participate in the first wave of English teachers. He learned to speak and write Thai fluently, married a local woman, and raised two very cute and talkative little girls. I knew he was well qualified: He has an MA degree in Applied Linguistics, he has worked for the Ministry of Education in Thailand, and he has been involved with teacher training for eight years. Likewise, he was the faculty member at Rajabhat Ayutthaya who other teachers went to with questions. He taught all the grammar and phonic classes. My friend knew sound and syntax like my tongue knew my alveolar ridge and the back of my teeth.

I lost track of him when I left Thailand three years ago. In fact, I lost touch with nearly all of my former colleagues. It was my former students that continued to correspond with me. They told me rumors that he found a nice job on Phuket. One of my last memories of him was our visit to a rural jungle food restaurant where we ate cobra, crocodile, and other mysterious forms of meat (I’ll e-mail this story to anyone interested). I still remember how courageously he lifted a glass of dark-green cobra blood to his lips. It was mixed with Mekong whiskey and the snake’s gall bladder, which floated against the rim like a bobbing balloon. He gulped the vile concoction down as fearlessly as any Thai man. I followed suit, chugging the cobra blood in one swallow after popping its gall bladder with a toothpick. The horrid taste gave me a real curious buzz that I won’t soon forget. You remember sharing an activity like that with someone. You have to trust those whom you share cobra with. This man could teach me about students in Thailand. He had the solid academic background, he was well-connected locally, and he wasn’t a stuffy executive in a three piece suit. The deal was cinched. I made my decision to take my course at his location.
****
There, I had the powerful feeling that I was a part of something that was growing. The training took place at the recently opened Panyadee elementary school, which follows the British National Curriculum and is officially accredited by the Ministry of Education (allowing it to formally issue internationally recognized certificates with registered numbering). Panyadee is a bilingual school that provides education to children from Thailand, France, Demark, Belgium, and Germany. Its campus is located in a mountainous coconut grove near the beach. Each day something new was added to the quiet landscape – the planting of grass, the construction of a patio, the creation of a shady awning, and the installment of more air conditioning. There are long-term plans to build a swimming pool, a secondary school, and housing for teachers and trainees. The school is growing one step at a time.

When I first arrived at Panyadee, where the course trainer also serves as the headmaster, a group of children were planting seeds in a garden. The teacher was delivering an active, hands-on, TPR session on the stages of plant growth. The children formed a circle as he explained germination to them – then the kids helped with watering. The lecture was appropriate since the school itself was in that stage. Likewise, this TEFL certificate program was just beginning. The teaching staff all graduated from his previous TEFL courses (with other agencies). He selected the cream of the crop to get the school started. Faculty continued developing into stronger teachers, while the children polished English skills. I knew I made the right choice for me. I felt the opportunity for personal growth, so I jumped right in.

The program itself is hard work. There is a great deal of preparation involved. We started off light by reading some of the modules required by the course. We discussed the characteristics of our favorite teachers and delivered presentations to get acquainted with the use of the whiteboard. Then the hard-core English material kicked in: phonemes, diphthongs, syllable stress, word classes, sentence trees, sentence moods, lexical sets, fricative soundings, places of articulation, Total Physical Response pedagogy, and the use of pitch and epenthesis in Thai pronunciation. Language acquisition is a incredibly complicated process. I felt like I was dissecting a butterfly in science class. We peeled away layers of English to peek at what functioned underneath. We broke out the microscopes and watched verb tenses wriggle and squirm beneath our lens. And then we put this new understanding to use with lesson planning.

The next stage was to travel near the Airport for our first teaching practices. This field trip was the first entry into the world of live classroom English for some trainees. It was how they lost their teaching virginity. Fifty Bangkok Air employees studied at this language seminar, whom we broke into two smaller groups. The employees needed to develop practical English skills to communicate with tourists. This teaching style involved the audio-linguistic approach combined with communicative language teaching techniques. We practiced a specific pattern of dialogues, drills, and interactive exercises. Students worked in groups and pairs. We wanted them to get comfortable with basic airport-oriented conversations.

The seminar was a nice piece of networking, really. The main facilitator, Scott Michael Smith, had taught with both the trainer and me in Ayutthaya. Scott was developing as a teacher by getting a MA in tourism at Assumption University. To my surprise, Scott still taught at the same Rajabhat and was now living in my former home beside the Chao Phraya River. I lost touch with him like I did with the trainer, but accidentally stumbled onto Scott while exploring river canals in a long-tail boat. I had just returned from Indonesia during Songkhran. Scott happened to have a nice supply of wine, so he invited me to visit him for a gourmet dinner. I explained my plans to earn a TEFL certificate under my friend’s training. As luck had it, Scott was already scheduled to facilitate a seminar for Bangkok Air at the same time. We seized the opportunity to work together once again. Scott’s most positive trait as a teacher is his sense of motivation, and he brought this creative energy to our TEFL course.

Our networking led to a four-way winning strategy: Bangkok Air had better trained workers, employees developed marketable job skills, teacher-trainees delivered their first lesson plans, and my friend found a possible resource for future TEFL courses. Bangkok Air was very pleased with the outcome of the seminar. They invited us to produce training manuals and design textbooks for future English seminars. Bangkok Air – with Scott’s coaxing – rewarded us with an exquisite gourmet dinner of tiger prawns, snow fish, and tender steak in a curry sauce (drinks included). While digesting this beach-side meal I realized why I really love Thailand. In Thailand, I have a sense of opportunity and raw potential. I can find new projects to work on, get published, or expand my range of teaching. It is amazing that I could simply drop back into Thailand, stumble into former colleagues, and get immediately turned onto new opportunities.

In contrast, this spirit is lacking in Korea. There isn’t much room for promotion at a hagwon job. The long-term rewards in Korea seem to be limited to higher salaries or university jobs. Korea’s expatriate community isn’t as tightly networked because most teachers depart after only one year. It is difficult to discover new outlets for your creative energy. In Thailand expatriates help each other out. Teachers network to produce seminars, hand over private lessons, or find each other better jobs. In Thailand I always have that sense of possibility.

The next stage of teaching practices took place directly at Panyadee school. These children have advanced speaking skills, but need more practice with writing and spelling. Future TEFLworld courses will also include a government school for impoverished children, who have had little access to native speakers. The course trainer helped trainees develop child-appropriate lesson plans. Teaching children is a style in its own. Children have short attention spans and an unlimited supply of energy. You have to keep them active with a lot of communicative activity. There needs to be a great deal of visual stimulus and physical response. If a lesson isn’t planned right the class may implode, and a room full of bored sugar-ingesting children is never a pretty sight. I already had a solid background with teaching children, so I was very comfortable with them. However, it was an eye-opener for new trainees. They got swarmed. Children fought over props, grassed out their mates, and fought for the teacher’s attention. But, by the next lesson, the rookies could adjust their teaching style for children. They were figuring out the teaching process.

The most valuable tool for training, perhaps, is the use of teaching practices. Trainees delivered lessons to both adults and children while a certified professional observed them and provided feedback afterwards. The school there provided us with six practice sessions each. However, there were many opportunities to do extra lessons if one was inclined. I delivered a total of ten observed teaching practices. It was the feedback from these sessions that set me in the direction of self-improvement. I learned how to redirect my energy and was able to experiment with new methods. The TEFL course was also a great way for future teachers to learn if they prefer adults or children as students. The rookies got exposure to English and established an initial foundation to build upon. I was able to take it one step further with more advanced material. Everybody was able to improve on their skills, and tap into their individual teaching style, no matter what level they came into at the start of the course.

The six week program moves very quickly. Before you know it the class is over. In the sixth week we took the final exams and finished. Official certificates were handed out and our prideful celebration began. We fired up a barbeque at school on our last day (no, cobra and crocodile were not on the menu). We drank Thai beer and reminisced (students were on holiday). Our different levels of teaching experience turned into a bonus. I became a mentor, which is also a type of teacher, and the rookies reminded me of my early classroom experiences. I even learned from watching them at times. There was a type of bond that formed along the way. We had shared the lengthy process of getting certified together. The trainer pointed them in the direction of their first teaching job, and one was even offered work at Rajabhat Ayutthaya. A new teaching network had formed. Who knows what will become of it? The smoke rose from the grill and beer flowed freely. I couldn’t help but get a sappy sense of accomplishment. We did it. We graduated. We got certified.

As beer multiplied my head resonated with inner singing. I held a spanking new TEFL certificate in my hand. It had official accreditations from the Ministry of Education, and a registered number for future verification. The TEFL certificate would be listed on my resume directly above my MA degree. After all these years I had finally done it. However, I reminded myself of my original questions: Did I really need this teaching certificate? Did it add any value that my previous qualification didn’t already offer? A smile lifted to both corners of my face. I had learned many surprising things about my teaching style. Even subtle details could be helpful later. For example, the trainer pointed out that I favor the right side of the room. Another observer noted how I cluttered the whiteboard with too much information. I also received great feedback about lesson planning. The days of scrawling a brief outline on a notepad were over. I had specific strategies to produce in class. I could custom-design lessons for specific language levels. More importantly, I got my spark back. I tapped into new resources of energy. I had become rejuvenated.

The overriding issue, however, was none of the above outcomes. The most important litmus test, the one that would finally prove the value of this TEFL course, were the following questions: Did my weakest skills improve significantly? Did I develop as a teacher? The answer to both questions is unequivocally, YES. Not only did I learn more about phonics, but I also created fantastic lesson plans based on sounds – and I tested this new material in an actual class. I developed a curiosity for grammar and understood why Asian language learners have such problems with it. I experimented with new methodologies and learned dozens of new classroom activities. I had a new bag of tricks. I had a tremendous sense of accomplishment. One small thing was still missing, however. But, it was something that I could easily fix.

I cracked open a new flask of scotch and raced toward the closed school. There was one act that would confirm the fruits of academic labor. In seconds, I stood in the middle of the children’s garden. Their seeds had sprouted. Some of the plants had already grown to the point of harvesting vegetables. I roamed the garden until I found a shady patch of green beans. They climbed up tiny strings to create water falls of green. Like a strand of syntax the garden started from a basic foundation, and spread into more complicated forms. I harvested English words and phonemes, much like the produce of this garden. Both were tended to with great care and understanding. Both could be shared. I had a taste for English. I picked a few beans and promptly ate them. They tasted like opportunity.

So, are you Certified?
Well, baby, you know I am!

Ken May
soulhouse69@yahoo.com

NOTE: To read the comments of a recent graduate who also gives a week-by-week account of his experiences in our course, click here: CommentsbyTrainees.

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