Why inexperienced TEFL course trainees make better teachers


If you are thinking of taking a Trinity CertTESOL or a Cambridge CELTA course, you may be feeling a little insecure about not having any previous teaching experience. Fear not! On Initial Teacher Education (ITE) courses such as these, a lack of experience can actually be a benefit rather than a weakness.

I is for initial

Both the CELTA and CertTESOL qualifications are designed for those wanting to change career, or to go into teaching as a first experience of the education industry.

It is ensured by the validation bodies at Trinity College and Cambridge ESOL that training centres create courses that are graded in such a way as to be approachable and achievable for new teachers, and include training covering the basics of a range of fields within English Language Teaching.

All that is necessary for acceptance on to these courses is a proven proficiency in English to a specified level, good motivation for wanting to become a teacher, an active interest in language, and the academic skills necessary to manage the course workload.

Apart from that, an openness to the input you will receive as a ‘blank slate’ to teaching is a good way to begin. From many years’ experience as both a teacher trainer and a course director, I have always felt comfortable working with trainees who are totally new to the industry, and follow the designed learning curve through the course to develop their own teaching style under guidance.

Learning curves vs unlearning curves

Speaking of learning curves, the steepness of the curve on an intensive course such as a CertTESOL or CELTA course should not be underestimated.

It is often commented that experienced participants on ITE courses have a lot of ‘unlearning’ to do before they can start developing in the specific ways which lead to success. This can actually slow the developmental process early on in a course, meaning there is more catching up to do later on.

With experience in any profession, we develop habits that may not always represent best practice. Old habits die hard, and some of these habits can be detrimental to performance as a trainee teacher under assessment according to strict criteria.

Many (though obviously not all) experienced teachers entering ITE courses have been working without formal training, or have been working to standards (some good, some not so good) set by schools where they have been employed for significant amount of time. Although their confidence in the classroom may be high, and their baseline level of language awareness may be broader than that of brand new teachers, the conflicts that arise between their experience and the methods taught on the course are often difficult to overcome. This can lead to further setbacks along the way.

That said, CertTESOL and CELTA course trainees of any level of experience do gain the same valuable insights into teaching and learning in the end. It’s just the level and type of challenge that is different or trainee teachers with differing levels of experience.

Finding your ‘way’

Another benefit of being a first-time teacher on an ITE course is the developmental pathway that the experience represents.

Coming in to the course as a ‘blank slate’ means that you get exposure to a very wide range of new techniques, methodologies, knowledge bases and views of language with an open mind. If applied effectively, these new skills can combine to form a very individual teaching style (your ‘way’) from very early on in your classroom experience.

I am always surprised by the creativity, passion and originality that new teachers bring to initial training courses, and some of the freshest, most effective lessons I have seen have come from the combination of personality and raw experimentation with something just learnt and applied in a new and interesting way by a brand new, inexperienced teacher. Those moments are one of the reasons why I love the job, and I am proud to say that in these situations, inexperienced trainee teachers have shown me new ways of doing things along the way!

The Blitz mentality

Finally, another common bit of trainee feedback from the courses I have been involved with is that the experience is so intense and non-stop that trainees take on an ‘all in it together’ feeling, finding their way through the new experience of the course as a cohesive group.

Every group of trainees gels in different ways, and it is commonly those who come to the course as brand new to the setting who come together most strongly, forming bonds that go beyond the length of the course.

As an observation, inexperienced trainees often take on the course experience more pragmatically than those who are used to a working school timetable. If you are accustomed to working in a school for a set number of hours (whether that is 10 hours per week or 25), certain working routines become part of the job, and if they don’t fit with the requirements of the course, then that can cause another kind of conflict.

Overall, if you are new to teaching, want a career change, or just have a general interest in languages and learning, then do not hold yourself back by second-guessing your suitability for a quality ITE course. Just make sure that you are prepared in specific areas which are required for the course.

Brush up on your language terminology, find a reading list and get hold of a couple of books that are recommended by the course provider, reflect on your own language learning experience and be prepared to ask lots of questions. These are the first steps towards becoming a stand-out teacher on a course like this.

Far from being a problem, a lack of experience can actually be a boon. You may be surprised how you perform when you take on the challenge that is the CertTESOL or CELTA experience.

This article was originally published in Jul-2018 and was last updated in Jul-2020.

Author: Tom Garside

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