TEFL and What it Means on the Ground

tefl teaching practice student teachers madagascar
This is a picture of all of the children who volunteered to come to school during their summer vacation so that my stage had the opportunity to finish our practice teaching. This was on the last day of practice teaching!

As Peace Corps Volunteers, we learn to throw around a lot of lingo, most of which are acronyms. During the first few weeks of training, I remember being overwhelmed listening to more experienced volunteers and staff leading sessions in English, yet I had no clue what they were saying because there were so many letters being thrown around. Now, as an expert with this Peace Corps lingo, I am going to explain to you one of the most important acronyms that played a huge role in my service; TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language. 
The first goal of Peace Corps is “to help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women”. In order to make sure Peace Corps is meeting this goal, in 2014 they began a pilot program in three countries aimed to make sure education volunteers were trained to teach English as a Foreign Language. One of the pilot countries for this program was Madagascar. 

2 volunteers giving exam during tefl practice madagascar
This is a picture of another Peace Corps Volunteer and me giving our final exam during practice teaching. This was my first time giving an exam where everything had to be written out on the chalkboard.

The TEFL program consists of three main components: online learning modules, technical sessions with assignments, and teaching observations. The online learning modules begin prior to entering the country, and continue throughout your entire service. They are completed quarterly, and generally consist of watching a video or reading a worksheet, completing a small assignment, and writing on a discussion board with your fellow volunteers who arrived to country with you.  
During Pre-Service Training (PST), there are 10-12 weeks of daily technical sessions which prepare trainees on skills they will be using during their service. Examples of sessions include: how to teach reading/writing/listening/speaking, how to promote gender equitable teaching practices, how to work with students with special needs, and how to handle large class sizes. Sessions are taught by senior programming staff and volunteers chosen to be trainers. The teaching observations are spread out throughout a volunteer’s service. All volunteers must have a minimum of ten hours of practice teaching experience completed during PST and they must be observed in their own classrooms at site a minimum of two times, typically once a year. If all of this is completed, the volunteer is awarded with their TEFL certificate at the end of their service. 
So, what is the TEFL certificate actually used for? During our service, we are completing the certificate to prove that we are meeting the first goal of Peace Corps and we are actually providing our communities with trained professionals. After service, it can be used to teach English in other countries. In fact, many volunteers continue to teach English after their service is complete.  

english class madagascar
These are two of my 11th grade classrooms, both of which benefited from the fact that I was a trained TEFL teacher. They asked me many technical questions that I would have had a hard time answering had it not been for my fellow volunteers and the technical training I received as a result of the TEFL program.

What is the difference between TEFL and ESL (English as a Second Language)?  TEFL is used to teach students English in a place where English is not the native language. Essentially, they are learning English the same way as we learned Spanish or French in high school. On the other hand, ESL is used to teach students the native language of a country. For example, students who have recently immigrated to the United States are often put in ESL classes so they can learn English. For this reason, TEFL is not used to teach English in America. It is only used to teach English abroad in countries where English is not the native language. 
What does the TEFL certificate do for someone who has no prior experience teaching? The majority of Peace Corps Volunteers are chosen to be education volunteers. While many of them have a background in teaching, there are also many who have never taught in a classroom before. The TEFL program prepares volunteers on the basics of teaching, gives them experience in a classroom prior to going to site, and allows them to exchange ideas with other volunteers throughout their service.   
What does the TEFL certificate do for someone who has a lot of prior experience teaching? I have my Master’s in teaching and spent a lot of time prior to my service teaching TEFL in other countries. I was extremely thankful for this program because it helped me become better-rounded as a teacher and it helped prepare me for what it is like teaching TEFL in Madagascar.  I learned a lot from the Malagasy staff about teaching English, I learned a lot by watching my peers teach, and I was able to return to the training center twice to share my experiences with other new volunteers.

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