So I’m sure many of you recall, last February I reviewed a number of TEFL courses in Prague, and landed on The Language House TEFL program, putting my deposit down in March of 2015. I was signed up for the November/December 4-week course, at the school located in central Prague, only a few minutes walk away from many of the main tourist sights and just across the street from a large, modern shopping mall. Here is a summary of my experience of the course, as well as my life in Prague during that time.
Arrival & Accommodation
I arrived late Friday before the course’s Monday start date, and the school arranged for a taxi pickup to take me to my accommodation. The driver’s name was Vladimir and we had a nice little chat, though I was so exhausted after a 26-hour journey, I could barely comprehend where I was and what I was doing. In retrospect, I am very glad to have had the taxi – trying to figure out the public transit at that moment, with all my luggage, would’ve been such a nightmare.
The accommodation varied from student to student, but the I was placed in a spacious 3 bedroom flat with a separate kitchen and living area, with only one other student sharing with me. Other students were not so lucky as to have all that extra space, but from what I saw everyone was in relatively comfortable living situations. My flat was old and definitely could use some more regular maintenance – the kitchen baseboards just…weren’t (fallen over, missing pieces, crumbling), the toilet seat was cheap plastic and constantly falling off, and the shower door liked to jump off it’s tracks at random moments. But it was a place to live, warm and dry and had all the dishes and sheets provided, along with a washer and wifi.
I paid 400 Euros, and I think most of the value of that was fact that I didn’t need to arrange it myself from overseas, and the location. The flat was in Žižkov, which is near to the city center, and overall is just a fun area to live in. The building I was in was right behind the iconic Žižkov TV Tower, and it was kind of a neat experience to look out the kitchen window and see it lit up at night all red and blue with babies crawling up and down it like ants (the Czechs have some very interesting art…).
I paid 50 Euros additional for the optional “Prague Orientation” which was overall good value, as it gave me an opportunity to see some of Prague and the sights before the course. I feeling rather unwell after my 26-hour journey from the states, and jet lag hit me hard, but decided to participate anyhow. We went to Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral, a quick jaunt down historical Golden Lane and then out for dinner at a medieval themed restaurant (and it had the history to back it up!) which included a tasty meal and a drink. Vegetarians, get ready to eat a lot of fried cheese here, by the way. The next day we went to the school itself for a “survival guide” presentation and a representative from a visa company came to introduce us to the visa process (more on that in a future post, I promise). And last but not least, came the visit to the Prague Beer Museum where we were each given a basket of four different beers to try.
During orientation we were also given a month-long transportation pass, that was covered by the course tuition. We took that pass and used it on the trams to get to the school each morning, which began at 9AM each weekday. The bulk of the first week was spent learning teaching terms, techniques, and methodology. The days were long but not too overwhelming. On Wednesday we had our first Survival Czech lesson, to be continued in one lesson per each week of the course.
On the Thursday of that week (if I’m recalling correctly) we were given an optional walking tour (I opted in) around Old Town Prague and learned a bit more about the city and it’s history. We ventured past the Municipal House and National Theatre (just around the corner from the school), Old Town Square and the Astronomical Clock, went across Charles Bridge, had some spiced wine or hot grog by the riverside, went to the Lennon Wall and past the art museum… all to end up at a dinner paid for by the school, where it was announced that the next day we would put our teaching methodology into practice the next day (Friday) by teaching a group of our peers any skill we felt we could.
Friday we taught our personal skills to small groups of each other, and also prepared to meet our first Czech students. Friday evening was the first class with real Czech students – we were all assigned to prepare a simple 15-minute warmup activity for a small group of students in one of five levels (beginner, pre-intermediate, intermediate, upper intermediate, or advanced). Our warm-ups were observed by a teacher trainer, and two or three other trainees. After our warm-ups it was our task to observe one of The Language House teacher trainees teach a full 45minute lesson and take notes – next week, starting Monday, it would be us leading these same students for full 45 minutes lessons.
It’s also tradition that after the first Friday of the course, the students of the previously graduating month take out the new students. So my class of Novembers were taken out to the beer museum again, and met up with 20-some of the Octobers still living and working in the city. It was nice to meet some people who had already gone through the course, knew what to expect, and could give us a little glimpse into the lives waiting for us when we were done.
Second & Third Week
These weeks were definitely the hardest. We began teaching real classes to our students, finally. Each day was very long, and stressful, for most of us. I know it was for me at least! Most days began with me waking early trying to lesson plan, but feeling at a loss until the last hour before class and then cobbling something together. Our training began at 9AM, and we covered a variety of topics throughout the day. Our one hour of Czech a week seemed to me a miraculous break from the methodology grind. Though no one class or topic was intensely difficult, but there was just so much going on. After the lunch hour, we had a bit more training, and then it was a couple hours “break” until time to teach. And by “break” I mean, of course, lesson plan, and hopefully eat something.
At 5PM lessons started, again with the trainees broken into smaller groups. You’d watch two or three peers teach, then when your time came you were observed by them in return as well as by the teacher observer, who took notes and gave you a grade. At the end of all the lessons, the Czech students would be released for the evening, and you would give a self-evaluation, get feedback from your peers, and then from your observer. The day usually ended around 9PM. Then it was time to go home, collapse, eat something, shower, and maybe even do your homework.
Also throughout these two weeks and the last week, you were required to arrange and teach three one-on-one lessons with a student. The most difficult part of this for me was arranging a time to do it, as we were so busy already, and students also have lives and schedules. But with weekends, evenings, and a missed meal somewhere, it all got done.
Starting in the third week as well were the Young Learners & Teens (YLT) special modules for those of us that paid extra for it, so the group was split into YLT and non-YLT. The YLT course covered teaching techniques and methodology specifically for those under 18, though unfortunately we never had any opportunities to practice with any Czech young learners during the course. We covered the key differences between teaching children vs adults, drafted lesson plans, and what it’s like to work full-time with kids of different ages. YLT modules continued into the fourth week, but it meant we missed out on some of the other courses that the non-YLT students got – teaching business English, or teaching online. We were offered an opportunity to schedule these classes the week after the course if we wanted, though, and get our full tuition’s worth.
In addition to intensive course, of course, we were all also living in a completely foreign country where we don’t speak the language, or know the culture, or our way around. The upcoming end of the course would bring with it the end of our accommodation, so we needed to be flat-hunting as well. And the ever-changing visa and work license process was constantly being debated and discussed too. Thrown together into this conga-line of challenges, naturally myself and my classmates stuck together and all became very close, and even as I write these words I am sitting over at a house in Žižkov were four of my November friends live.
During the last week, our training, homework, and lessons with the Czech students continued as usual, but we also had two additional challenges. The first came on that Wednesday – the grammar exam. We knew from the beginning of the course it was coming, and there was a lot of anticipation about it. Everyone I knew was worried and stressed about how terrible they were going to do, they hadn’t studied enough, and that grammar was simply unexplainable, inexplicable, and our inevitable demise. And yet, somehow, we all passed! Apparently in most months, at least a few people have to re-take it, so I’m quite proud of my class for all getting it on the first go-round.
Yet even though all our grammar anxiety was for naught, it did not stop everyone from stressing an equal amount, if not more, over the mysterious “Long Arm Of TEFL.” The teacher trainers wouldn’t say what it was, only that it would be “our last test” and on Friday afternoon of the last day of the course. The lack of explanation added exponentially to the stress levels of everyone, and I heard many a rant of how people weren’t going to take any more of this, if the trainers pull some stunt they’re walking out, etc. Yet, time rolled around for the Long Arm and we all pulled through in one piece, and subsequently were sworn into secrecy ourselves. Although I didn’t sign a NDA or anything, I’ll honor my pinky swear and not reveal the secret of the Long Arm to any future TLH TEFLers… only to say that there is indeed light at the end of the tunnel. And no one died. Probably.
Riding high on the thrill of completion, we were taken out by the school one last time, for celebratory drinks at a local bar. The stress of the last few weeks had been intense, but we were all through the woods and out in the wide world at last, and I don’t think any of us were sober. If any one was, the rest of it took it personally and drank that much more to make up for it.
What I Gained:
In order of what I value most:
Friends – some brief friendships, but some I can see lasting a lifetime. Absolutely the best thing I could possibly get.
A near second is the alum network – hundreds of people who have gone through the same gauntlet, with connections and experience all around the world. I never feel alone in the TEFL world, not even now that I’m done with the course. I feel confident that even years from now I can go back and draw on this network as I need – because I see the other alums from years past doing so all the time on the alum board, sharing jobs, flats, questions, tips. The Language House definitely has a great network, it was why I chose them over the other courses, and I don’t regret that decision in the slightest.
The school itself is also a great resource I still I have – if I have questions about visas, flats, or just need to make some copies or need a place to use the wifi for an hour, I’m more than welcome to as an alum to stop by and ask questions or use the computer (provided I stay out of the way of the current trainees, of course).
Of course the education on teaching itself is very valuable, as it has enabled me to more confidently pursue my career in teaching and design and produce my own lesson plans. Knowing terms and methodology didn’t just help me in my interviews, I believe it has made me a better teacher than I would’ve been if I had started teaching without this education. Especially the experience of working directly with Czech students – probably twice the learning happened standing up there in front of them, attempting to teach, as did seated in class listening to our trainers.
Oh, and a TEFL certificate – most valuable in it’s meaning to employers. Depending on where you teach, this certification can take you a long way, or be the difference between a job and having your experience-less resume (like mine) tossed out.
Where I Think They Could Improve:
Possibly less students, or more space/computers. Break time often felt like crunch time not just due to the stress of the activity, but the stress of knowing whether you could get your turn at the computer/printer/copier in time.
After beginning teaching, one thing my school asked from me that I was unprepared for were writing study plans for my classes. I was ready to teach lessons as individual units, but left flummoxed on how to prepare a whole class syllabus from the start. What to cover first, and how to decide what direction to go? Maybe this was covered at some point and I just missed it – but I feel this is an important topic for any teacher to become familiar with, so lessons aren’t just all pulled out of a hat at random each week.
*Note for clarification- a study plan is not the same thing as a lesson plan – it is the plan for a whole semester (or other long time frame), where you sit down and decide all the lessons you will teach over the course in one go. My school definitely covered lesson plans – that was probably over half of our training!
Yes – if you are committed. TEFL isn’t a casual course, and takes a lot of energy, mental and emotional stamina to get through. We all came out better teachers (and friends) by the end, but it was easier for some than others. I think if you are determined to teach, and want the education, you should by all means go for it. Just know what you’re getting into!