What is TEFL teaching like? State vs Private

There is no one kind of TEFL teaching. You could have just one student, you could have a lecture hall with 400 eager students (as I did while in Egypt). There is a big divide between state school teaching and private language schools. Generalising horribly…

In State Schools:

* students are less well motivated – they are there because they have to be there.

* the main focus is often passing the exam at the end of the year rather than actually being able to speak English. I met a 19 year old French girl who, when asked a simple question in English, looked flustered. “But you learnt English at school. You studied it for five years,” I said. “Yes,” she replied. “But that was last year!”

* you will probably have between 20 and 30 students.

* discipline can be a problem. If you don’t speak the language of the students they could take great delight in calling you rude names (while smiling cherubically).

* In such an environment, you are most likely to be given a textbook, quite possibly Headway, the biggest selling EFL textbook in the world. Possibly an awful, locally-produced textbook which you have to follow as the end of year exam is based on the book.

* It is not all bad. Don’t forget that you’ll be teaching children you probably can’t afford private tuition. You, with your new-found communicative TEFL approach, can inject some life into their English class and can make some children very happy.

Private Language Schools

These vary enormously in quality and it is hard to make generalisations. Having said that…

* teaching in such schools is usually a lot more relaxed – unless the students are there to pass an exam.

* class sizes tend to be smaller, between 6 and 15.

* students often attend private schools to learn how to communicate so there is usually an emphasis on conversation rather than grammar.

* teachers are often left to teach what they want. As long as the students are happy, it is unlikely the DOS (Director of Studies) will pay any attention to the content of your lessons.

* You may be teaching rich brats who will use their mobile phones whenever they feel like it and daddy will have you thrown out of the school/country if you complain…

If you’re a new teacher, get hold of the teacher’s book and read it through carefully to see what you’re supposed to do with the book. Whether you slavishly stick to the book is entirely up to you. Experienced teachers will use a textbook as a framework and will bring in their own TEFL materials, leave out sections that they don’t like, or feel is inappropriate for the class they are teaching.

Sharon C. de Hinojosa offers some good advice for new teachers when considering which school to work in.

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