I never thought I’d be a teacher. Ever. As an auxiliar, I’m technically not supposed to plan lessons or be left alone with a class. But I realized I didn’t even know what a lesson plan looked like. So, I decided to do the online Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) Certification.
Now, 1.5 months and hours of homework later, I know a lot about teaching theory and methods. I’ve memorized the best seating arrangements for the classroom and I have a renewed hatred for the parts of speech. And, bonus: Having a TEFL certification allows you to charge more for private English lessons. That means more €€€ (and trips to Zara) for me.
Here’s a quick list of my top TEFL-inspired life lessons.
1. English is hard.
Maybe you’ve spoken English your entire life. Maybe you even majored in English. But guess what? English is hard.
Memorizing the six main Spanish verb conjugations was no picnic, let me tell you, but at least there was some kind of pattern. English, on the other hand, has 12 verb tenses and more than 200 irregular verbs. Do you remember what a past partiple is? No? Neither did I. But I do now, gracias a TEFL.
2. ESL students deserve a lot
The students in my TEFL observation classes are incredible. Many of them are refugees from countries like Sudan and Rwanda, or immigrants from Vietnam, Burma, and Guatemala. Some work extremely long hours — one man does 10-hour days at a factory in Perry, a town about 40 miles away — and have large families to care for, but they still make it to ESL class twice a week. They pour their energy into learning the complicated verb tenses, confusing pronouns, and hard-to-spell words that are so different from what they’re used to.
For these students, learning English is a daunting task that requires enormous amounts of time and money, which is why I get so frustrated when I hear things like, “If you don’t want to learn English, you shouldn’t be in this country.” Guess what? People do want to learn English. Visit an ESL class. Picture yourself working a 10-hour day in a factory. Then think about driving 40 miles just to spend two hours learning a new language. These people are extremely dedicated, and we should all appreciate that.
There’s no denying English is important and necessary for succeeding here. Life becomes so much easier when you speak the language of the country you live in — I know that from experience. But it’s impossible to understand the obstacles people go through just to get to ESL class, never mind the work they do to learn our complex language.
So, go hug an ESL student today. They deserve it.
3. British English ≠ American English.
“Colour?” “Realised?” “Travelled?” Naw. This is Amurrca, the land of speed and convenience. We’ve nixed those unnecessary letters. We put a “z” where it sounds like a “z.” We want to spell like we want our food: fast.
Look, England, I love you. Your word for “popsicles” is “ice lollies,” and there is literally nothing more adorable than that. I understand why British English is so widely taught: Proximity makes a big difference, and the UK is much closer to more countries than we are. For example, my Spanish teachers always skimmed over the Spain vocab and conjugations, favoring the Mexican and South American content. They explained their decision with an authoritative “You’ll never use vosotros unless you go to Spain! Don’t bother learning it!” (Ahem. I still had to learn it when I got off the plane in Madrid. Trial by fire!)
One student in my observation class last week kept getting confused when the teacher told him to put a period at the end of his sentences. He didn’t know what “period” meant until she drew it on the board. A look of relief crossed his face and he said, “Oh! You mean full stop!” The teacher stopped and explained that it was different in America, but it’s hard for them to understand why. And sometimes it’s hard for me to understand, too.
4. Spanish ≠ Castellano.
The native Spanish-speakers in my classes are from places like Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, so I knew they use the more formal usted pronoun and conjugation. But what I said came out in castellano, or Castillian Spanish: “Como estáis? De donde sois vosotros?” I realized my mistake immediately and tried again with a not-so-confident, “Ehmmm no, I mean, de donde son ustedes? Les gusta aprender inglés? ” I got some confused stares for my vosotros ways and lisp-y accent, but luckily they didn’t think I was being rude.
5. Always go to class hungry.
…Because your observation class students will bring you snacks. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I work from 8-4:45 p.m., then have ESL observation from 5-8 p.m. I usually try to eat some meager cubicle meal before I go, but it’s not necessary. I’m always showered with food, specifically caramels, cheese puffs, bubble gum, peaches, and grapes. And you can’t take just one. Oh, no. You will take a handful, otherwise doom.
6. You’re marriage material.
I just received my first-ever marriage proposal. Swoon. Tariq, a sixty-something from Iraq, is the class clown of the Level 1 group. He teases everyone, especially Narges, his Iranian tablemate. Once, during a break, he turned to me and said, “I like you. You are nice. I have a son, he’s very lonely. My wife and I, we don’t know when he’ll find a wife!” He paused. I’d already guessed what was coming next.
“Hey are you married? Boyfriend? You should meet my son! He’s very nice! Meet my son!”
I told him I’m only 22; I don’t want to get married yet. Mariam, who’s also Iraqi, overheard and agreed with a nod. “No, do not get married! You’re too young!” This quickly dissolved into a rapid conversation in Arabic, which I’m assuming involved Tariq telling Mariam to side with him. At that moment, the teacher (bless her) turned on a Michael Jackson song and passed out the lyrics so everyone could follow along. It turns out marriage proposals don’t stand a chance against the King of Pop. Thank you, King of Pop.