The day had come, the Trinity College CertTESOL course was about to start, and I, Melanie from Perth in Australia, was in the bathroom getting ready for the first day of training of how to teach English.
I was born in Perth 25 years ago, and I haven´t travelled a lot. I´ve only been to New Zealand on holiday with my parents.
I have always wanted to see the world, and before university, I thought about living in the UK for a while. Then I fell in love with this guy from here, and plans changed. I began my university studies in tourism and ended up with a Master’s in hotel planning and administration.
Well, the love affair ended, and I went back to my old dream. I spent a lot of time online, looking for jobs in hotels in England, but they were all about receptions and cleaning, and I didn´t want that.
While looking aimlessly around for a while, I discovered this web page about teaching English while discovering new continents/countries and different cultures. A new idea was born, and the more I thought about it, the more realistic it became.
My big question was, how do you do that? I mean, how do you teach somebody a language, and how do you get hold of these jobs?
I found this school called EBC in Madrid. They would give me a four-week training course in teaching English as a foreign language, including teaching practice classes and the Trinity College CertTESOL certificate.
I contacted EBC spoke to a very helpful and knowledgeable lady (who turned out to be the Director of the school, the Boss lady!), and she answered all my questions. I was hooked.
I completed the application entry procedures, paid, sorted out my visa and tickets, and set off to Europe.
Europe! How exciting! In my imagination, I recalled pictures from school materials about Athens, and the antique culture, Rome and the Vatican, gorgeous Paris with the Eifel tower, London and the Tower of London, and so on.
However, I was going to start in Madrid, Spain, where I could enjoy the good weather, lovely architecture, cheap food, happy people, plenty of bars and restaurants, and a lot of the arts.
With shaky nerves and butterflies in my stomach, I took the underground up to EBC and found the street and the office.
I didn´t feel very brave when I opened the door, but I was met by a young guy in the reception, smiling at me and wishing me welcome. I entered the classroom and found seven other people and a tall, skinny guy who was the trainer.
“Oh god”, I thought, “I hope they are nice and friendly people and that the trainer is patient with me.”
It took some time before we all settled, and the trainer wished us welcome, went through the materials we had been given and gave us an overview of all the work we had to do. I think we all realised soon that we wouldn´t get this certificate for free. The trainer pointed out several times that there was a lot to do, a lot of report writing, and when he said that we were going to teach our first genuine, 60 minutes classes the same week, in four days, most of us sighed a nervous sigh.
When the first day was over, we all felt quite overwhelmed, and I started to ask myself if I had done the right thing. How could I get through all of this in only four weeks? Besides the confusion, I remember the first day was the Norwegian class the trainer gave.
How stupid you feel when you are trying the best you can, but you still can´t get it right, and how many ways there are to make words and expressions understandable to language learners.
The trainer said it was customary to feel confused and overwhelmed initially, but he was right that most things would make sense during the second and third weeks.
On the second day of the course, we started to plan our teaching practice classes. We taught our practice classes every Thursday and Friday afternoon with real non-English speaking students. I will never forget how nervous I was. I just wanted to lie down and weep when I entered the classroom. What especially made me nervous was the grammar teaching. I realised that I wasn´t alone on this issue. Most of the others were also blank on the English grammar. I remember I taught the present continuous for a beginner class, and I messed up one of the examples a bit, but the trainer thought I had done a good job, anyway.
My peers were great people, and we became good friends, having a lot of fun both on the course and at the weekends. I am sharing a flat with two of the other course students, and we hang out together in our free time.
The others were four Americans, two Brits, one Dutch girl and a guy from Sweden. All of them were very eager to get to know each other, have a great time together, find a job and start earning some money afterwards.
Not all of them were going to stay in Madrid. Some Americans and the Brits thought about going to Valencia or Malaga (on the Mediterranean coast), one of the Brits was heading towards Korea, and the two from The Netherlands and Sweden were planning to go to South America. It was not a problem for EBC to help us find jobs in all these different places. My flatmates and I had decided to stay in Madrid, at least the first half-year, to see what was in store for us. I would attend a Spanish course here, and I also felt intrigued by the city. Since we were working so hard, both at school and finishing everything at home, we didn´t have much time to go out and discover the city. Well, at the weekends, we would typically go to some of the thousands of bars and terraces you find here.
I must say that I learnt a lot during this course. I had no idea that teaching could be so tricky and that there is so much work before (and after) each class, and I am thrilled I didn´t just come here to start teaching right away. Some of my peers thought this was ONLY going to be a fun-filled 4-week course! They didn´t take it too seriously initially, but they learnt their lesson – so to say.
We had to write reports from our teaching practice classes. We had to make a needs analysis of one student and determine what they would have to be taught; we had to analyse and discuss the materials used in our classes. All these became relatively easy towards the end of the course, and now that I have started to work, I realise how useful most of these things are.
I learnt most from the teaching practice classes, observing classes at different levels given by experienced teachers, observing the peers´ lessons, and I will never forget the four Norwegian classes. And I am delighted that the trainer sat next to us and helped us prepare the grammar to teach in our practice classes.
During the last week of the course, we mainly worked with three things; to get all our reports done, prepare for the language test, and interview with the external moderator from Trinity. For those of us who had worked hard from the start, this wasn´t any problem.
I must admit that I never thought it would be fun to teach. It is gratifying to see that the students are improving that they understand what you are teaching. People here are friendly and outgoing, and they never give us (the teachers) a hard time. They like to speak and are willing to participate.
I have learnt a lot about my mother tongue. I had no idea that it could be so hard to explain some of the concepts in English. I learnt to see my “own” language with foreign eyes, which was both daunting and exciting at the same time.
In addition, I appreciate that we spent so much time together, most of the classroom activities were done in groups or pairs, and I learned a lot from my peers. Another consequence of this is that it didn’t take long to get to know the other students and we had a lot of fun.
At the end of the course, we had something called a “Job Workshop”, where we discussed important things regarding going for job interviews and getting jobs. We discussed what questions we might be asked and how to answer them professionally. We also discussed what questions we should ask and not ask. We also talked about working as teachers in general, different types of classes and students, and how to deal with problems that might occur.
On the last day, when everything was completed, we were all Trinity College certified teachers. To celebrate, we went downtown for drinks and tapas. We were also told to be contactable from Monday morning on when the first phone calls for job interviews would come.
And they really did come!