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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

You want to work in Paradise too?

There is a steady stream of people who decide, for one reason or another, to up-sticks and head for Jakarta. Some people do as I did and head for Asia and then consequently find themselves in Jakarta. Other people head for Jakarta or other parts of Indonesia specifically.

The reasons for coming vary enormously too. It could be to work for a company, such as in the oil industry. It could be a gap year, or it could be as simple as needing a change. Whatever that reason, if you want to work your way around a new country, then teaching is a great choice for many reasons.

If you choose teaching, and teaching English, it usually means learning a new skill (more about that later). It allows you to then take that skill and potentially apply it anywhere that needs an English teacher. Depending on how the experience progresses, you may find yourself diversifying into other jobs. One thing I can pretty safely guarantee though is that the experience will change your life.

So, how to begin........
Well, assuming you aren't currently a teacher then you need to get some experience to become one. Most institutions are looking for some qualification that proves you understand what is involved in teaching either EFL (English as a Foreign Language) or ESL (English as a Second Language). If they're not interested in you having any teaching qualification, worry.

Many teachers take a TEFL course, the 't' stands for teaching. This is often through a company such as  i-2-i ( who offer both online and classroom based opportunities. I'm not familiar with this as it's not the route that I took somy advice is that you really do need to check what your future employer is looking for. So don't skimp on the research. Put another way, it may seem relatively easy to do an online course, but will the qualification get you a job? Or just onto an extended course for further qualifications?

I went down a slightly different road and took a CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) with a company called International House based in Bangkok ( I really can't rate this highly enough. It was the toughest month of my life in some ways. It was also the most satisfying ( I should apologise to my ex-wife for that last sentence). What I have found since is that the Tefl courses seem fine but the CELTA is just so much more developed. I can only tell you how I felt at the time coming off the course. It was so in-depth and extremely focussed on lesson planning and delivery that I still adhere to it's formats over two years later.

So why Thailand? Well, Thailand has it's knockers (no pun intended) but International House are a reputable company and the CELTA is directly affiliated with Cambridge University so carries a prestige too. The second reason was that they offered a residential course in Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand which appealed enormously to me. I had absolutely no intention of staying and travelling in the sweatbox that is Bangkok, but Chiang Mai offered a different perspective.(The picture below is not the accommodation, rather it's the view across a serene, tranquil catfish lake, perfect for reflecting on your teaching practice or essay writing.)

This is the website for the residential course location you don't book your accommodation, it comes as a package but this site shows better angles than my photos!

There is a maximum of twelve teaching students on the CELTA course and ages and experience vary enormously. below are some of my friends from the course.

The added benefit of taking the CELTA in Thailand was that with the classroom teaching practice, I taught non English speakers and in hindsight this was immense value when starting my first job.
The students are locals from Chiang Mai and are offered a structured English course for free, as long as they don't mind being guinnea pigs for the teaching students!
(above is the computer and research room and below is one of our training classrooms at Nugent Waterside)

"I've passed my TEFL/CELTA, what's next......"

Well next up is to apply for a job but who to apply to?
For me I'd settled on China or Indonsia in the first instance. China because I'm fascinated with the culture and Indonesia because I knew next to nothing about it. Why not Thailand? Well, the CELTA course had finished in February and the fact is that the State schools don't really recruit until May/June and financially I needed to be working.
My Uncle, who has a great deal of academic experience of China was at pains to suggest I didn't go there. Before anyone hyper-ventilates, this is my blog, with my experiences. I hear many good stories of experiences teaching in China. I have never worked there so really can't comment other than to point out that my Uncle didn't consider it to be the best move I could make. So it came to pass that I took up an offer with EF English First in Jakarta.

I reccommended earlier that people should do their research carefully. I did not. I was partly so happy to get the job I'd applied for (I had also been offered a job in China) that I just kept anticipating putting the hard work into practice.
Not researching carefully enough usually, after having started the job, leads to cries of "what?" or "You want me to do what?" or "I'll be sharing a room with two goats and Grandma Probolingo?". I have been lucky. This comes from being placed in a great school with an academically excellent Director of Studies. But my advice to everyone is DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

Have a list of what you want to know:-
what ages will I be teaching
expectations of ability to follow your own interests outside work
etc etc

This way in any interview, you will be prepared as much to ask questions, as to answer them.
If you're offered the job and time allows, I'd expect the Director of Sudies who you'll be working with to contact you and offer the opportunity to speak to or email current teachers. Another chance to ask pertinent questions. This along with the research you did earlier will ensure you don't arrive and immediately think "what the ......?"
In all likelihood you'll be taking on a one year contract. That may or may not be extended depending on your performance as much as your intention and any extension depends on what you want to do next. I know teachers and DoS's who have continued into their fourth years and beyond.

Finally. This is a job of work you are taking on. If your goal, as in the words of the immortal Artist Formerly Known as Prince, is to party like it's 1999, then don't do it. Do something else. Get into party planning or wedding organising. You're going to be responsible for impressionable minds. Of course you'll have plenty of chance to let your hair down but you're not on some kind of extended holiday. Better to hear this now than when you're struggling to get a reference for your third job in three months!

Life as a teacher is hard work but there's also fun too. My school is often organising day trips or overnights to different places. Going off on your own is also fun and there's always plenty of help and support to do this.

Good luck and feel free to comment here or ask for further help. I'm happy to oblige.

Monday, June 6, 2011

In Memory of Roisin Burke

On 31st May 2011, we said goodbye to Roisin Burke.

To those of us who knew her, she was always the life and soul of wherever she was, encouraging people to see the fun side of things. I believe this is how she will want to be remembered.