Vim and Vigor Vince bounced into the staffroom and extended me a firm handshake. I had seen many newcomers during my tenure, but none so enthusiastic, so eager, so excited to get into the classroom. His spring-toed step reminded me of a gymnast starting the floor exercise. He popped in and out of his chair filling out files, grabbing resources, checking the schedule, a pen behind his ear, one in the pocket, advice flowing out like lava from a long awaited volcanic eruption. In short, he was an annoying shit. Within one week I had received one transfer request, a few grumblings from the staff, several instructor complaints, and a handful of negative feedback from the students all due to one Very Vociferous Vince. And yet for all that, VVV taught well-planned, thorough lessons that made most of the senior teachers’ lessons seem like nothing more than fruitless babble (maybe because they were). I had the pleasure of observing him on several occasions, and can attest to his ability in the classroom. In fact, the student complaints were mostly based around an overabundance of handouts that he distributed furiously throughout the lessons. Students left the class with small swaths of razed forest whose purpose remained enigmatic. “Oh, just review it at home,” he would declare exasperated that he had not been able to convey the full nuance of conditionals one to three in the space of forty minutes. Excellent teaching skill, little interpersonal skill, arrogant, able to alienate whole staffrooms in a single contradictory phrase, overconfident, under admired, more materials than a small library. Where from did all the above traits stem? The answer is a four letter word…CELTA.
Our boy Verbally Vapid Vince was hot off a month in Bangkok where he had done the course. We knew this because he mentioned it during every ten minute interval. “In the CELTA course, they said that…”, “When I was doing the CELTA course, I found out that…” “If you do a CELTA course, you’ll learn that…” Say, Verily Vexing Vince does CELTA stand for Cocky English Language Teacher Assaulted? ‘Cause it will in a minute. Not that he hadn’t, in some way, benefited from the course, as I mentioned he was far ahead of the game for a beginning teacher, yet the negative feedback kept-a-coming. He was overambitious and the students felt more intimidated by his lessons plans and uneasy in his frenetic presence. Evidently, in his CELTA course someone neglected to impress upon him the importance of student teacher rapport, although they certainly did inculcate him with a respect for the photocopy machine (I wonder how many of these DELTA drill instructors have seen the inside of a real classroom since they joined the Parris Island of ESL). Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that these courses do a world of good in getting people up to speed on the basics of English language instruction, but nothing can substitute for hours spent in the classroom learning by doing. What are you rattling on about, dear boy? - Well, this is my long winded lead in to world of TEFL certificates.
For the layman, TEFL stands for Teaching English For Living in a Foreign Country and Having a lot of Fun while Drinking all Night and Talking to Foreigners during the Day and Calling it a Cultural Experience before Going Back to your Home Country and Getting a Real Job, except that’s too long for an acronym, so they just shorten it to TEFL. There’s also another certificate, which is basically the same, Teaching English So Living in a Foreign Country isn’t So Fraught with Visa Runs, again a bit too long for an advertiseable acronym, so they just parse it down to TESL. These little certificates can be had for as little as 1000baht on Khao San road, or as much as 1,500 dollars at a CELTA school (CELTA is admittedly the most reputable of the bunch. A CELTA instructor certificate is known as DELTA). You can do them online, or on the beach. They can prepare you well for teaching abroad, or for marrying a foreign broad (that’s without a doubt the cheesiest joke I’ve ever made, which is why I leave it here for posterity). Basically, there is no regulatory body, no real accreditation of these certificates, or schools that hand them out, for the most part. Sure, some advertised in LOS will be recognized by the Thai Ministry of Education, but what does that mean exactly? A thick, unmarked envelope left discretely on someone’s desk, me thinks.
What’s the point of my rant? None, I’ve completely lost my train of…ah, yes, recently I’ve been doing one of these little buggers myself. Why? Because the above mentioned MOE is quite keen on them, necessary for Visas and Working Papers and the like. Now, yours truly works six, seven day weeks in the Land of the Rising Yen, so that I will be able to buy my own Amphur when I come to Thailand, but that doesn’t leave me much time to mess about with conjugating verbs and talking about meta-functions with the sadistic, photocopy-loving, special forces DELTA bunch – plus there’s no such course offered in Japan because certification ain’t so big over here (at least not offered regularly in the Tokyo area that advertises online), which in and of itself is a bit of an interesting comment on the ESL situation in Jworld - in short, not enough cowboys to necessitate strict regulations from the cavalry. Interesting comment number two on the Japan situation is that it is all but impossible to find even an on site TEFL course in the Tokyo area. There are numerous reasons for this, but I think the biggest are expense of living, even temporarily, in Tokyo, and the fact that most schools in Japan have recruiting offices overseas, so the local talent pool, as it were, is relatively unimportant. In any case, I’m doing a bit of a course online. Granted an onsite course would be better for the observation and feedback, but with thousand of teaching hours, hundreds of training hours and dozens of observed hours with feedback, all while I was being paid, in so far as my confidence goes I guess I feel a bit like Voluminous Verbiage Vince (tired of the VVV thing yet? Too bad! It’s the only device I got this month).
To conclude my meandering diatribe, I think the point is this. For those of us coming to Thailand, vacillating about venturing a certificate won’t turn us into Verbosely Valiant Vince. It’s all in the doing. Bite the bullet. Do the certificate. But don’t make the same mistake that Vehemently Vacuous Vince made. Listen to those with experience, learn what they know and realize that teaching is a learning experience. All the sharp lesson plans, memorized grammar rules, and information gap exercises won’t get you far in the classroom (or the staffroom) if you don’t have the basic interpersonal skills to connect with those around you, students and coworkers alike. The classroom is not a campaign and ESL teachers are not legionnaires. Leave Veni, Vidi, Vici to Vince and value your students as individuals and not simply vessels into which you can vector your verbal knowledge.
(The author pledges to his readers and promises his publisher that he will never again pursue alliteration as a prosaic piece of comedy. Thank you for your patient and persistent patronage of his page.