Thursday, February 28, 2019

The CertTESOL: Completing the Certification in Barcelona

Not a bad place to be: Gaudi's Casa Batllo on a beautiful
spring day in Barcelona.  One block from the Oxford House.

Are you interested in traveling abroad and teaching English?  Most teaching positions will require a TESOL, or Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, Certification.  

I completed the CertTESOL in Barcelona.  Here's a summary of my experiences.  
Looking Into It

There's a lot of TESOL Certifications out there; some online, some in person.  Most last about a month and entail over 100 hours of study, but some are just a few weekend sessions.  I decided against online programs as I read some overseas schools don't recognize them.  Additionally, as I'd never taught up to that point, I wanted experience teaching in a classroom. 

Eventually I narrowed the certifications down to the CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) and CertTESOL (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).  They seemed more substantive and well-regarded than other certifications.  At this point in the game, I genuinely thought that I might have trouble finding work so needed to get the best certification out there.  My naïveté. 

The CELTA is better known than the CertTESOL.  In substance, however, they're about the same.  The CertTESOL is accredited through Trinity College in London and the CELTA through Cambridge.

I read that the certTESOL includes more instruction on teaching children, which swayed me towards it.  Although I found that it focuses almost nothing on teaching children. 

Looking back, too, I could have taken an online course.  Two teachers I met in Hong Kong received online certifications and had no trouble finding work.  So the online courses don't ix-nay you from opportunities. 

The Cathedral of Barcelona, which opened in 1298.
Located a short walk from the Oxford House, where
we studied for the CertTESOL.

And I decided to take the CertTESOL at the Oxford House in Barcelona.  Having boots on the ground would make finding work easier, I thought, versus taking it, say, in Portland or San Francisco and applying remotely.  And a city of 1.6 million would offer many jobs. 

I wanted to learn Spanish, so ideally hoped to work in in Spain.  Though I wasn't fixed on this. 

The Oxford House in Barcelona had a career advisor, which is in part why I chose them.  She was helpful in discussing work opportunities and also creating a CV. 

Looking back, again: I found teaching jobs with ridiculous ease.  The TESOL certification, combined with my previously earned diploma, made me eligible for positions all over the world.  I didn't really need to live in the area in order to find work.  


With respect to the visa, I'd read, Lauren O'Rourke's interview at the International TEFL Academy's website: “I don't have a visa. I get paid in cash by each of my families”.  Another article on the same site states:
Thousands of Americans and other foreigners teach English abroad in dozens of countries without a work visa, and only a minute percentage ever get in any trouble over it; the same goes for the schools hiring them.
I'd read many similar interviews and articles online.  Given that this “you don't need a visa” attitude came from a TEFL Academy's webpage, I gave these notions some credence, though didn't whole-heartedly endorse them. 

In any event, I decided to dive into the CertTESOL and figure out the visa part as I went along.

In retrospect, it's unbelievable that an Academy offering TEFL Certifications would condone working underground, and that an underground employee would broadcast her story so flagrantly. 

While abroad in Spain, Hong Kong, and Portugal, I heard a different story: the Oxford House discouraged working underground, as our employers might not pay us.  And to this day, I haven't met an English teacher who works underground, so I have no idea if these online stories are true.  I've met a fair number of English teachers; one or two dozen, maybe. 

So that was some disparity of information.  Goes to show you can't believe everything you read on the internet. 

The CertTESOL Course

took the CertTESOL in May at the Oxford House in Barcelona with only 6 other students! 

Had I applied in June or July, I would have studied in a PACKED course of over thirty students.  The spring session allowed for a lot of 1:1 attention, as well as WAY more teaching practice.  I taught ten classes, whereas students in a larger session taught around four. Planning and teaching a class was an involved process, so a smaller group also entailed way more work. 

I'd come across the notion that it's best to take the TESOL in summer as many positions open in August, but I question this logic. I mean, I found jobs SO EASILY I would imagine they're available year round.  But I was pretty open as to where I'd travel and the type of work I'd do.  Maybe if you're set on teaching in one place and want to find a job ASAP, you'd want to be more strategic as to when you took the course. 

Mercado de la Boqueria, Barcelona
Our rigorous TESOL schedule didn't allow for a lot of respite.
A delicious display at Mercado de la Boqueria, where
we'd escape to on weekend afternoons.  

CertTESOL Assignments

The course was difficult.  It lasted “four weeks” but for us that was really only 3.5--plus one of those days was a holiday.  The course ended on Wednesday of the fourth week; our small group didn't necessitate the last days.  I'd spend 10-12 hours at the Oxford House on weekdays, and study on the weekends as well. 

They crammed a LOT into that time.  I taught ten classes, observed ten more, attended twenty or so “input sessions” (instruction on teaching things like grammar and what not), completed a foreign language journal, created, used and evaluated original teaching materials, and researched, planned and gave a 1:1 lesson.  Here's a brief explanation of each of these components: 

Foreign Language Journal

For this project, we attended and summarized six introductory Romanian classes, a language of which we all knew nothing.  This was intended to give us window into an ESL student's experience learning English.

Teaching Classes

We worked together in pairs, each of us teaching 45 minutes of a 1.5 hour class to either A2, B2 & C1 students.  (A1 are beginners and C1 advanced English speakers.) 

Teaching and observing these classes required filling out BILLIONS of forms: forms outlining the learning objective and steps for each lesson, forms observing our partner's teaching, forms recording the the instructor's teaching.  By the end we had a thick binder full of these forms.

I taught adults at A2 and B1 levels.  My classes were hard as hell to plan and to teach.  Seriously, I'd spend four hours planning a 45 minute class.  As I'd never taught before, it was HARD to get up in front of those students, too.  And in spite of all the work, the lessons really sucked.  The students paid a minimal fee for the classes, knowing we were first-time teachers.

But the process was instructive.  An experienced teacher observed our lessons and gave constructive feedback.  I learned how to structure lessons for reading, listening and grammar. 

I came see how teaching is similar to cooking, in that the more you learn about it the more you realize you have to learn.  And so that fascinated me.

Some of what we covered in the input sessions
of the CertTESOL.  

Learner Profile

For this project, we met with a student and recorded a brief conversation with him/her, as well as tested for reading, writing and listening skills.  We THOROUGHLY analyzed all of this information (over 10 pages of analysis) for grammar, vocabulary, writing, listening, reading & pronunciation strengths and weaknesses, amongst other things. 

We then wrote and gave a 1:1 lesson suited to the student's learning needs.  My student was a 19-year-old from Ecuador, and I really enjoyed teaching her; it provided interaction without the stress of standing in front of a classroom. 

Incidentally, this is the work I opted to do in Hong Kong.

Materials Lesson

For this project, we created original materials for one lesson, and wrote about its intended teaching purpose and effectiveness.  I created some simple cards for teaching imperatives (commands). 

We presented the project to one of the heads of the program.  She was an elderly woman who'd flown in from England.  She really knew her stuff.  That was stressful. 

Input Sessions

Every day we'd have about two input sessions: classes in things like how to teach grammar, reading, listening, phonetics, planing a lesson.  As well as characteristics of the English language: word stress, sentence stress. 

Assessment of Course

I was IMPRESSED with the ground we covered in a short period of time. The CertTESOL is a very well thought-out and logically structured course. 

And the experience of teaching, both to classes and a 1:1 lesson, was a huge asset as well.  They really threw us to the wolves; had us standing in front of the classroom after one week in the course. 

At the same time, we'd only dipped our toes into teaching.  I mean, 3.5 weeks: it's a crash course for wanna be teachers.  But it does give you the certification, which enables you to gain experience teaching all over the world.

The CertTESOL LACKED, big time, instruction on teaching kids.  In a 134-hour course, we received one 40-minute lesson on teaching “young learners”.  This is a stunning omission as teaching children comprises around 90% of the jobs available.

Planning a lesson for a 19-year-old and a 2-years-old is completely different, obviously.  The certTESOL didn't prepare me AT ALL, then, for teaching 1:1 lessons to little tykes in Hong Kong. 

Oxford House

The Oxford House was pretty on the ball.  Anna, the head of the program, responded immediately to any concerns we had, and checked on us regularly to see how things were going. 

Although I did get the sense that they were shuffling us through.  Which they were.  I mean, we were one of ten or so of these programs that the Oxford House has every year.  The career placement lady made a lot of errors initially, making me concerned I might be making a poor decision going with them: telling me that I needed to pay her before she ever billed me, showing up for the initial interview an hour late because she'd mis-calculated the time difference.

And before arriving in Barcelona, we corresponded almost exclusively with this lady, Fran, who we never, ever met throughout the program.  Kinda weird, that lack of continuity.  Guess she was the invisible office lady. 

Idk.  Overall it worked out. 

Here's the entire TESOL class of the Oxford House, Barcelona, May session.


The six of us enjoyed good camaraderie, going out for drinks in the evening, and for coffee and lunch during the week.  The Oxford House became our home for those 3.5 weeks, so we spent a lot of time together. 

I was surprised that of the six, only two went on to teach.  The others had vague plans to teach at some point, or wanted the certification simply for the experience.  They ranged in age from about 25 to 60. 

Differences from CELTA 

The main difference (I was told by out instructors) is that the CELTA requires simply planning a 1:1 lesson, with no teaching component.  If this is in fact true, I'm glad I took the CertTESOL as I benefited from hands-on teaching. 

Incidentally, we were actually the LAST CertTESOL course at Oxford House; they're teaching the CELTA now.  They made the change because the CELTA is better regarded. 

Other Benefits 

The CertTESOL taught me SO MUCH about the English language, 
including the twelve tenses (no, I'd never learned all of these), rules for comparative adjective, all of the phonetic sounds (did you realize there's two separate “th” sounds?), countable and uncountable nouns, knowing when to say “so much” versus “so”. 

Oh man.  The things that learned.  In this respect, I found taking the course so worthwhile.  (I still don't know how to diagram sentences, however.)

Learning how to teach these things, however....a different ballgame. 

Where Would You Like to Travel to?

It's amazing that TESOL Certification makes you eligible for jobs all over the world!  

If you're considering taking the CertTESOL, I hope this offers some clarity as to what you can expect.

Or have you taken a TESOL course?  What were your experiences?  Do tell! 

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