Tales from the TEFL Certificate Program: “What do you want to learn?”

By Overseas Programming and Training Support
Nov. 23, 2015

TEFL Volunteers at three pilot posts began their training in 2014 with online courses, and in the two years since then, have participated in teacher training at their posts, taught English classes with host country partners, shared experiences with other Volunteers in communities of practice, honed their classroom skills, and much more.

This three-part series on the Peace Corps TEFL Certificate Program highlights the stories of four Volunteers: Hannah in Armenia, Gabrielle in Madagascar, and Emily and Andrew in Nicaragua. They are among the first Volunteers to earn the TEFL Certificate at the end of their service in the spring of 2016. 

Here is the first of the three articles, in the words of Hannah, a TEFL Volunteer in Armenia. Hannah regularly co-teaches English classes with a counterpart to third through 12th graders at a typical village school of about 200 students, with classes that range from four to 25 students each. 

Inspiration 

One of my favorite parts of being a TEFL Volunteer within the certificate program has been the professional growth I’ve seen in myself. I came to the Peace Corps with about a year of informal teaching experience, but I can say with some certainty that I have become a true teacher over the course of the last year in Armenia. While on the one hand I have learned to develop thorough lesson plans, I think the skills that I’ve developed as a teacher have been a bit more intangible than just that. I feel comfortable adapting a lesson or an activity or even just asking my students an honest question about what and how they want to learn. It is this ability to adapt and communicate that has empowered me the most. I started in a place within the classroom where I was the foreigner—the American, the outsider. And now I’ve become a respected ally for my students. 

A Challenge Accepted 

I had one particularly challenging class that I’d been battling with for a week. I continued to write lessons for them that they were either uninterested in or inattentive to. When I reached the peak of my frustration, I put my book down and finally asked them, “What do you want to learn?” After a few moments of stunned silence, my class finally told me that they wanted to know about me and my life in America. And so, I spent the class teaching them words like “high school,” “university,” and “literature.” We looked at maps and talked about the differences between America and Armenia. None of it was planned or organized. And so it came to be that after weeks of battling with them over various verb tenses and grammatical constructions, we finally had a class delivered entirely in English in which the students were completely engaged that was completely unrelated to the text books or overall curriculum. Was this my finest teaching moment in the Peace Corps as far as detailed lessons go? Absolutely not. But, it was a breakthrough moment for me as a teacher because I felt connected to my students on a new level. I was sharing part of myself, and they wanted to learn from me. After that moment, by allowing them a glimpse of who I am personally, classes began to run smoother. We developed a healthier sense of mutual respect. 

Best Practices and Lessons to Share 

It’s very important to establish comfortable routines for the students. I made a few alphabet charts for my first year English students, third graders. My students know that the first thing they will do when I arrive in class will be to use their alphabet charts with a partner and quiz each other on the letters of the alphabet. This gives them added practice time as well as a specific routine to follow. I have established a set of activities and games that apply to all kinds of different topics—whether it be grammar, vocabulary, or just general review. My classes have all become familiar with using “Hot Seat” to practice vocabulary sets, just as they know that at the end of a unit we will have a comprehensive “Jeopardy” game to review all of the topics covered in the past few weeks. I think that these expectations and the clarity and repetition of the activities that my students participate in have been essential for their learning abilities. 

The TEFL Certificate After Close of Service 

I think some of my favorite experiences related to the certificate process have related to my participation in developing the curriculum for future PCVs. My interests have started to lean toward the development of curriculum and looking at policy in education. My experience on the ground has informed my passion about education because I feel like I have a voice in education systems—both in the U.S. and abroad—and I want to use that voice to affect positive change for students and teachers alike. I believe my first step after the Peace Corps will be graduate school, but I am trying to keep my options open as well. 

About the Peace Corps TEFL Certificate Program 

The TEFL Certificate Program, an innovative and first-of-its-kind program at the Peace Corps, was developed in response to our host country partners’ need for certified English teachers. The program provides rigorous, supervised teacher training and the opportunity for Volunteers to earn a professional teaching credential upon successful completion. Additional posts including Thailand, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Benin, and Rwanda are entering the TEFL Certificate Program in 2016. For more information regarding the TEFL Certificate program, click here.

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