The most nerve-wracking part of any TEFL certification has to be standing up in front of a class to teach, otherwise known as the practicum. For many aspiring teachers this will be their first taste of actual teaching, and while it might be intimidating it can also be incredibly rewarding.
Do I have to do a practicum?
The practical side of teaching is best learned by being face-to-face with real life students where your communication skills, patience and creativity will be put to the test.All accredited TEFL certifications include at least 20 hours of teaching practice and observation. While you might choose not to get TEFL-certified before you search for a job, general wisdom for professional ESL teachers is that, yes, you should do a practicum.
And for good reasons.
While the theoretical aspects of any TEFL certification will definitely enrich your teaching practice, the practical side of teaching is best learned by doing– being face-to-face with real life students where your communication skills, patience and creativity will be put to the test. If this sounds a little intimidating… you’re right! These aren’t always easy skills to acquire. You are sure to learn from your mistakes as you evolve as a teacher.
And this is another great reason to do a practicum, since you’ll take your first steps in the classroom in a supportive environment, with students and other teachers who are invested in your improvement. Their feedback will help you get a whole lot better at your job in a short space of time.
One last benefit of the practicum is something that can’t be underestimated in a people-facing job: confidence. When you’re searching for jobs after your certification course the practicum will provide you with examples to talk about in your interviews, the knowledge of how your lesson plan will actually pan out in the classroom, and a little extra self-belief for your first day on the job.
What does teaching practice actually entail?
Most TEFL certification courses define teaching practice (or the practicum) as three activities:
- Observation: Watching other teachers give lessons
- Tutoring: Giving lessons to individual students
- Teaching: Giving lessons to groups of students
On an accredited TEFL course your certification should include at least six hours of teaching or tutoring (the other 14 hours can be observation) and all of your teaching practice must take place in an English language classroom with students who are not native speakers. The process includes preparation (such as lesson planning) and a post-lesson discussion, whether you are giving feedback as an observer or assessing your own lesson.
Depending on the course you choose, teaching practice can be done online or in person, and before, during or after your course.
How do I choose what kind of TEFL practicum I should do?
Choosing between doing a practicum online or in person will depend on your budget, availability and future teaching plans.
Signing up for a face-to-face TEFL course, although more expensive than an online course, will probably mean that your practicum will also be face-to-face and built into a timetable organised for you. This option can be great for people who want to get their TEFL certification done as soon as possible and who have the time and budget to block out a few weeks of time for studying.
A more flexible option is signing up for online TEFL certification. Studying online normally means you can go at your own pace, fitting study in around other activities. It is often cheaper than learning in person. As far as the practicum is concerned, online TEFL certifications may provide you with online classes to observe and teach, or request that you organise your own practicum with private students, local schools or online schools that have volunteer opportunities. In this case you may have to provide video evidence of the classes you have taught, or written records from the schools where you volunteered.
For a best-of-all-worlds mix, another option combines the flexibility of doing the theory side of your certification online with the real-world support of a practicum in a language school. Whether you choose to study online or in person, it is worth getting some in-person teaching experience, in front of a class, during your practicum. The face-to-face classroom is often more formal and more challenging than tutoring or teaching online, so take advantage of your practicum to get practice in a supportive environment with as much feedback as possible.
How can I get the most out of my practicum?
A lot of teaching comes with experience, but there are a few ways you can get ahead of the game before your first class begins.
Planning and organisation is every beginner teacher’s secret weapon, and the sooner you get into the habit of both, the better. Get to grips with lesson planning and don’t forget your classroom materials: leave time for photocopying (and make extra copies); practice in advance using any tech, such as interactive whiteboards and classroom computers; have some stock responses prepared so you don’t panic if a student asks you a question you don’t know the answer to. You can even plan what you’re going to write on the board. The better prepared you are, the more professional you’ll look and feel.
Get comfortable with failure
Learning to teach often means getting it wrong, on the spot, in front of a crowd. You’ll probably learn the most when things don’t go to plan.Teaching involves public speaking, people management, and having your own knowledge put on the spot– all things which don’t come naturally to most people. On top of this is the feedback you’ll be getting from others observing your lessons, some of which is sure to crush your pride a little. But try not to get demotivated: learning a whole new skill set isn’t easy, and realistically you’ll probably learn the most when things don’t go to plan. So the sooner you accept that learning to teach often means getting it wrong, on the spot, in front of a crowd, the better.
Think creatively and critically
The practicum is a great time to reflect on what kind of teacher you want to be and what you think works well in the classroom. Whether it’s observing other teachers or getting feedback on your own lessons, you’ll be surrounded by new teaching methods and styles and immersed in discussions about how they work in practice. Don’t be afraid to try new things while you’re surrounded by peers you can rely on for honest and helpful feedback. And get in the habit of reflecting not only on others’ lessons, but also on your own. This is a technique you’ll carry with you throughout your teaching career.
The practicum might be the scariest part of TEFL certification for many teachers, but it’s also the most memorable and fun. You’ll share your nerves with a group of other first-time teachers. You’ll get to meet students from different countries and different backgrounds. You’ll plan to the detail, still have to think on your feet, and be amazed at how much you can progress in just a few hours. And you’ll come out of the other side with a whole new skill set that might just take you around the world.