Can anything really prepare you for the Trinity CertTESOL? You may receive information packs, reading lists and pre-course work to do, but the experience of the course itself really depends on how you approach the various tasks you will have to undertake during the time you are there.
People say it’s the best/hardest/most productive/most intense thing they’ve ever done, but also that it is the most life-changing/mind-opening/self-confronting experience they’ve ever had. What makes it this way? Why do people have such wild reactions to a 4-week (or 12-week) training course?
Range and variety of tasks
When you start getting into the course content on the CertTESOL, you will see that the range of analytical, practical and knowledge-based skills that you have to demonstrate is very wide. In the six major components of the course, you have to:
- Become a student of a completely new foreign language and reflect on the experience.
- Observe experienced teachers and reflect on how their lessons were delivered, making evaluations and recommendations along the way.
- Perform a full needs analysis, contrastive language analysis and evaluation of all aspects of a learner’s language skills, in order to plan effective classes for them.
- Design a piece of teaching material from scratch, along with justification of why you did so and how you used it.
- Take a closed-book exam covering grammar, phonology, sentence structure, morphology and identification of word class, potentially covering content you only started thinking about 6 weeks ago, and…
- Teach 6 hours of language classes under observation from your tutor and some of your peers on the course.
No pressure, then!
Yes, this is an enormous amount of work (equivalent to an entire second year of an undergraduate degree) and a huge amount of information to take on (which explains the dark circles under trainees’ eyes at around week 3 of the course), but the main feeling that trainees cite about the experience is that everyone is in it together, following the same steep learning curve, laughing at the sheer amount of work being asked of them and working together to get each other through it.
That is the ultimately positive thing about the CertTESOL course, and the aspect of the experience which keeps trainees recommending other people to jump in to the intense, amazing and ultimately worthwhile endeavour that it is.
The main shock for many CertTESOL trainees is the written work that needs to be done for the course. The four written assignments for the course amount to around 12000 words, which you will spend 1-2 hours a night writing.
The specifications for the assignments are generally quite broad, so you will have to be good at taking a personal, critical tone to your reflections.
The only really proscribed assignment structure is for the Learner Profile assignment, which includes sections on an ESOL learner’s background, a broad analysis of their first language, a full needs analysis, phonological analysis of their pronunciation, and a designed teaching plan (including teaching a 1-1 lesson) to address the needs that you identify.
This assignment is the one which causes the most problems for trainees, so make sure you plan in time in your schedule to attack this one early and get the bulk of the work out of the way before things mount up towards the end of the course.
Lesson planning and time management
In addition to the writing for assignments, you are also expected to produce full lesson plans for each of the 6 lessons (plus the 1-1 lesson for the Learner Profile) that you will teach on the course.
Quality lesson plans of the calibre expected on a course such as this can take a long time to put together at first, so be attentive in planning-focused input sessions (usually delivered towards the beginning of the course).
Take good notes and get familiar with lesson structures and teaching routines which you can use in different types of lesson. This will save you a lot of time and enable you to get some well-earned sleep the night before your lesson.
There is no point at all in staying up until 4am the night before you teach. This will lead to mistakes and stress on the day, and after all, what is the worst that can happen? Leaving some flexibility for things to emerge during a lesson can lead to a better result in the long run.
Focus on reflection
Another aspect of the CertTESOL that some people find challenging is the reflective content that has to be included in written assignments, as a response to observed teaching, participation in unknown language lessons and as part of the materials assignment.
The ability to reflect on what you are doing and make improvements accordingly, is an essential part of being an effective teacher, so getting to grips with how you feel about what you do, whether it works, and how you can change things is an important skill.
This also means that you should not worry too much about things going wrong in observed lessons – a pretty bad lesson can be saved (in terms of grading) by effective and honest post-lesson feedback, suggested solutions and a well-focused written reflection in your teaching practice portfolio.
Mistakes are a natural part of learning, so embrace that and look for ways of making things better – it’s why you are on the course, after all!
These are just some tips for success on the demanding CertTESOL course. Every trainee’s experience is different, however, and the most important thing is to develop your personal style as a teacher and enjoy the experience of developing along with your co-trainees and the students you work with.
This article was originally published on November 4, 2018 and was last updated on May 22, 2020.