Friday, 26 August 2011

TEFL no more - by Theo

Today marks something like the end of an era for me; not only was it my last day at the Clifton language school where I've been working these last two months (more on that later), but also my last day for the foreseeable future as an EFL teacher. No longer will I be teaching English as a foreign language to foreign students; from now on I'll be teaching it to native speakers.

It's been quite a journey. It was 3 years ago that Kate and I decided we wanted the amazing adventure of our honeymoon travels in Sheena to continue and that we weren't going to return to Bristol or indeed the UK. So casting around for some means of supporting ourselves while living overseas, we enrolled on a CELTA course in Barcelona. We loved it, both of us really enjoying the reality of the classroom and the challenge of meeting the learners' needs. So when I found a job in Madrid, we headed back to the UK for Christmas to fill up the van with more of our things for the move to Spain.

Things have changed dramatically since then; Sheena's long since gone to a new home, Rosie has arrived and we've moved back to Bristol - but my job as an English Teacher has stayed a constant. I've really loved it. Sure there have been days when I haven't exactly bounced into the class full of enthusiasm, but generally I've been lucky enough to have keen, motivated students willing to participate in whatever crazy activity or bizarre discussion I've concocted for them. Some have even had the decency to laugh at my jokes!

My Spanish students in Madrid were always lovely and I remember them fondly. However, my experience these past two months teaching at a language school in Clifton on their summer program is that Spanish students, along with Turkish ones, are the absolute worst at slipping into their native tongue at the earliest opportunity. It's been quite the Tower of Babel in my classes at times, with a new intake every Tuesday and students staying for anything from 2 weeks to 7 months, but at one stage I had a class with one student each from: Germany, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Taiwan and Turkey. Not much opportunity there for them to chat in languages other than English! But allow two Spanish or Turkish students to sit next to each other and they would slip into their mother tongue as soon as your back was turned. The Swiss (especially the German speaking ones) were by far and away the best at keeping to English - one pair, who were in an optional class on British Life & Culture I was running, were best friends from back home, yet when I passed them in the street one day I was amazed to hear them speaking to each other in English. That's dedication!

My main class - which also had a lot of Swiss - was also pretty good and we celebrated the last morning (all but one were also leaving that day too) by carrying out a survey of Clifton cafes (English in use), debating their relative merits and then testing our conclusions with breakfast in the Primrose Cafe - which was just as good as I remembered. They were a lovely bunch of students with a real drive to learn, and while I didn't get to know them like some of my students in Madrid (well, most had only been here for a month or less) I'll miss them.

Naturally, I don't expect to get students with quite such high levels of motivation in the next stage of my teaching career, my PGCE, which starts in 3 weeks. Hell, I'll probably be pleading for a class of Spaniards come October...

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