Ian McNamara

The be all and end all

padding out your resume

"Hmmm, after 5 years of market gardening it's time for a career change, I just can't seem to raise a smile at carrots shaped like the dangly bits of the male anatomy anymore. I need a change of direction."

A month later after taking an intensive 4 week course :

" Done it, tomorrow I start work as a Chef at a 5* hotel in Bangkok. Of course, I've never really thought about cooking as a job before - but I do eat well everyday so I guess that qualifies me in some way - and gives me a head start over the applicants from The Sudan and North Korea. I know what I like and I'm sure that the customers in ‘La Normadie' will agree with my selections. I know it will be difficult at times but who cares - I borrowed my mum's ‘Best of Delia Smith' before heading over here."

Not going to happen is it?

" Done it, tomorrow I start work as an English teacher at one of the better language schools in Bangkok. Of course, I never really thought about teaching as a job before - but I use English all day everyday so I guess that qualifies me in some way - and gives me a head start over the applicants from The Philippines and Burma. I know how to speak properly and how to form correct sentences and I'm sure my students will learn quickly from me. I know it will be difficult at times but who cares - I borrowed ‘Murphy's Grammar ‘ from the library before I came over here."

Although I'm not a betting man (I'll give you good odds on being able to find anyone who contradicts that) I believe that there is a better than evens chance of the second scenario occurring well before either hell freezes over or a member of the government admits to actively pursuing populist policies.

The majority of teachers who work here do have some form of TEFL certificate. When it comes to getting jobs at the majority of schools, universities etc the interviewer is more concerned with the applicant possessing a document that says the magic words ‘Teach', ‘English', 'Foreign', ‘Language' and possibly ‘Speakers' - in fancy cursive writing somewhere on it. How, where and what was involved in the obtaining of the piece of paper is often ignored.

The reason for this is that the school or college concerned has to satisfy themselves that the applicant has the requisite number of pieces of paper in order to begin the long slog towards laying your hands on the teacher's Holy Grail, hereafter referred to as a ‘Work Permit'.

This scenario, repeated on a worldwide basis, leads to a variety of TEFL courses being available to teachers who want to enter a classroom for the first time armed with something more than a smile, a photocopied textbook from the early eighties and witticisms about local culture to see him through.

Pop quiz: " What have Brighton, UK & San Francisco, USA got in common?" Anyone leaping up and down, gesticulating wildy and screaming " Ooh, ooh, I know . . .they're the gay capitals of the repective nations" is correct, and obviously out of the closet, but unfortunately is letting their mind wander from the fact that this is an educational column for all the family.

The correct answer is that they're thought of as the TEFL / ESL *capitals of the respective nations. ( * Except by yet another pedantic reader who will, I'm sure, email me with statistics issued by the Department of Knowledge that prove me wrong. "So you lose Ha! " ) The main difference being in the names of the schools - S.F.'s tend to go for global emphasis as far as names go - New World, Transworld, Oneworld etc and those in Brighton go for established tradition - St. Thomas', King's College, The Olde Worlde Scholastic Academy of Achievement etc.

Thought for the day - Is the patron saint of English teachers St Francis of ECC ?

The majority of professional TEFL'ers see a 4 week course as the minimum standard required before teachers are let loose on unsuspecting students. All fine and dandy, but it really depends on what the teachers do for 4 weeks. Some study grammar, some practice teaching their peers (If you reckon it's the same as teaching real students then you'll also believe that human flesh tastes like pork - not because you've ever tried it but because someone in the pub told you. (N.B. Those in the know will tell you human flesh tastes more like panda. )

So what we are suffering from is ‘Neville Chamberlain syndrome' - too many teachers getting off the plane at Don Muang kissing the tarmac and proclaiming they have come here to single handedly solve the woes of Thai students - simply because in their hand they have a piece of paper that will guarantee learning in our time.

Damn, just as I was about to explain the failings of the entire teacher training system and then unleash my manifesto for change I've come to the end of the column - maybe next week . . . . but I'd bet my house on it being ‘same time, next life' (as the your boss tells you when you ask when you're going to get paid. )


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