What to expect in your first years of teaching at a private language center

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People take TESOL training courses for many different reasons: as a way of earning while they travel, as a career change, or a flexible option to supplement other work.

Towards the end of their time on the course, however, another question comes to their minds: what will it actually be like once the course is over and I’m out there in the world teaching for real?

Even if you know where you want to travel, you may not know what is in store for you in your first year on the job.

This article will look at some common teaching settings and what they mean for new teachers. A range of types of positions are open to recent course graduates in the field of TESOL, but what are the different types of teaching environment like to work in?

Franchise schools

Typically, a newly graduated TESOL teacher will apply to a private language center overseas, often a franchise school overseen by a large education provider.

Working for a large company has benefits and drawbacks: firstly, most franchise schools follow a system that is standardized across the regional network of centers.

A group of teachers from a school in one city can meet up with teachers from elsewhere in a region and expect to be able to talk about the same course structures, class types, and experiences.

Even the materials given to teachers to use in class are often centrally controlled, giving continuity to the ‘brand’ of teaching that the company puts forward.

This is a good thing in some ways, as this system provides the support that you need early in your career. You can work to the school’s curriculum and not worry too much about how you are organizing what you teach in the long term. This will allow you to develop your own style of delivery with the materials you are given.

A second benefit to a standardized, curriculum-based approach is that as you gain experience, and find what works (and doesn’t work) for you and your students, you will develop a more critical eye towards the resources that are provided by the school.

At this point, you may find yourself looking farther afield for activities and materials to supplement what you are given, an excellent way of building your teaching resource bank, and trying out different ways of achieving the objectives proscribed by the school.

Teaching young learners

Franchise schools, being local centers for language education, often focus on teaching young learners. This is a huge market in cities around the world, where parents want to give their kids extra English practice in addition to what they get at school.

Teaching young learners (YL) classes can be exhausting, and often involves weekend work, with one or two weekdays taken as a ‘weekend’ to make up time off. However, if you do some research into methods and techniques which work with Very Young Learners (VYLs), young learners and teens, you will make our job a lot easier for yourself.

Many teachers have to resort to crowd control and letting kids have fun in their classes, which is fine, but looking at ways of engaging young minds, integrating play into learning, and focusing on fun projects with more educational value pays off when it comes time for assessment.

Teaching Young Learners
Photo credit to Kuanish Reymbaev on Unsplash

Doing a good job not only helps with your standing in the school but also helps to give the parents what they want. Parents are the people who pay for their kids’ classes, so of course, they want value for money. Ensuring that your young students enjoy their classes is important, but if they don’t perform well in any assessment organized by the school, then you will have the parents to deal with, which can be a very awkward situation.

From my own experience in two or three such schools, a typical timetable is made up of approximately 60% YL classes, mostly held on weekends, and other types of classes worked into the week at different times. I found myself teaching 7-8 hours of YL classes on Saturday and the same on Sunday, with a Monday-Tuesday ‘weekend’ (badly needed) before starting the week again on a Wednesday with other types of class.

Small group adult classes

Another familiar teaching setting in franchise schools is small groups of adult learners, often delivered after work, or in-company to develop English skills for business.

Small group sizes of four to five make it possible for you to increase the amount of focus given to each student, which helps significantly with their progress. However, this does mean that the focus is more on you to deal with individual issues as the class goes on, so this can be a demanding setting to teach.

Teaching Adult Learners
Photo credit to Javier Trueba on Unsplash

Classes held in the evening, after the students have been at work all day can also entail motivation issues. Many people may not want to keep thinking hard and working after a 9-5 day. So it’s vital to find ways of motivating small groups like this with engaging activities and lots of spoken practice to bring energy to the class.

Another benefit of small groups is that you can get to know the individuals in your class much more deeply, and teach to their individual interests and needs more easily, which is also essential for engagement and relevance to them as people.

Business classes

Another major market for language centers comes in the form of relationships with companies who either send their staff to the school for work-related language lessons or ask for a teacher to teach in-company.

Teaching Business Group
Photo credit to Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

This can seem daunting at first, as Business English is a more specific purpose for learning. However, you can use the same methods that you learned in your training course, just with the topic focus being business-related rather than general.

Find out exactly what your students need to do in English in their jobs and think about speaking, listening, reading, and writing skills which they need in their positions. If they are using English in the workplace, this is an ideal form of practice for them, so this enables you to set homework that you know they will do (after all, it’s part of their job!).

There are a lot of very effective business English courses and textbooks out there, which don’t require too much adaptation from what we do as language teachers anyway, so don’t be afraid of getting into this specific area of TESOL.

Again from my own experience, about 30% of my first year or two was spent teaching small groups, either in the school or in a company in the local area.

One-to-one teaching

Many schools have clients who opt for individual lessons rather than joining a group. One-to-one classes are typically a lot more expensive than group study, so often individual lessons are held with valued clients of the school, who expect what they ask for.

Teaching One-to-one
Photo credit to Alexandr Podvalny on Unsplash

In a similar way to small group classes, one-to-one study gives you the opportunity to find out about the learner, work to their motivations, and make your teaching relevant to them. Lessons are often more flexible and can go off on tangents as different topics and areas of interest come up.

Again, as long as learning is happening, this is fine, and is often more authentic in terms of language use, compared to a highly structured lesson delivered to twelve people learning the same thing which you have chosen to teach.

Perhaps 20% of my early teaching experience was with individual students, in my case, often higher-level business people who wanted personal treatment in their language education.

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Conclusion: Overall, my experience in the first couple of years teaching at franchise schools helped me to develop as a teacher as it gave me the support of a structured approach with materials to use but also allowed flexibility for me to develop my own style of teaching out of that.

I also had the chance to work with different types of learners in various settings, which allowed me to find out what kinds of teaching I enjoyed and was good at.

A final piece of advice: in your first year in the classroom, don’t turn any classes down – find out what works, and find a specialism that you enjoy. This will set you up to develop in specific ways as you gain experience, and help you to become a more rounded teacher in the end.

Featured image credit to Scott Webb on Unsplash

Posted On: February 25, 2020.

Author: Tom Garside

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