Originally from Cordoba in the South of Spain, 26-year-old, María Ortega Blanco gained her TEFL qualification in 2016. Having spent some time teaching English in China, María has now returned to Cordoba to teach for the international company, Helen Doron Early English. We asked María some questions about her TEFL experience.
What was your experience in teaching/education prior to undertaking your TEFL qualification?
Back home, I studied Translation and Interpreting, my major being English and Chinese, so I had no training at all in the teaching or education area. When I moved to China, I was teaching for approximately a year and a half before deciding on a TEFL qualification, preparing lessons for both young children (3-12-year olds) and adults.
Where did you use your TEFL qualification?
I obtained my TEFL qualification in November 2016, and I have taken advantage of it ever since. When I got certified, I was working in China, and the qualification helped me develop and improve my teaching skills, this resulted in better-prepared activities, smoother lessons and an increase in my own efficiency. I used my TEFL qualification for a year in China, teaching in a kindergarten and in a public primary school. I have been back in Spain since September 2017, where I have been working as an English teacher in various language centres, and still, what I learned from my TEFL course, is helping me now with both lesson preparation and class management.
Why did you decide to take a TEFL course?
I had heard about TEFL through my colleagues, after reading on the internet about the potential benefits of being properly trained in teaching English as a foreign language, I had no doubt – I had to take a TEFL course. Despite my experience and being good at dealing with young children, I still found it hard to prepare interesting lessons that did not turn boring for the students after the first half hour. I thought a TEFL course would help in different areas of the teaching field.
Has your teaching style evolved since taking the course?
I am 100% sure my style has turned from totally teacher-centred to absolutely student-based, with activities that not only engage and involve the students but also encourage them to use English to express themselves. Furthermore, I can see my own evolution when it comes to lesson preparation, since, I have become more efficient, and I can now relate content and activities more easily than I could before taking the course.
Besides career and skills development – would you say you have grown personally from your TEFL experience?
Taking a TEFL course does not only involve learning how to teach but it also includes how to prepare lessons, how to manage classes and even how to prepare activities depending on the type of student and teaching content. Despite the TEFL classroom courses not involving the practice of teaching real students in the classroom, it is extremely helpful with all the tips and pieces of advice it offers – the course enables you to use all that information at your own pace with your students. If you already have experience with children, taking the course will help you to enlarge the range of activities you normally prepare, as well as decide whether a certain activity is the most appropriate for the type of content or class (young children, large groups etc.).
What did you find the most challenging aspect of your experience?
Teaching in China and Spain is completely different as both the curriculums and methodologies have absolutely nothing in common. When I came back to Spain, adapting my teaching style to the new methodology was the hardest part of the job. I also found the relationship between the teacher and the students differing between Spain and China – which took some time to adapt to as well – I found the bond with the Spanish students to be stronger than it was with Chinese students.
However, teaching in China helped me a lot with classroom management – in the primary school, I had 60 children in each group, aged between 6-10 – this is where the teaching large groups part of the TEFL course was put into practice. In the beginning, I was honestly scared as I had never faced such a large group, however, their behaviour was exceptional during lessons – their interest alongside the wide range of activities offered by the TEFL course for large groups, made the school year pass by quite smoothly.
How did you find adjusting to living and working in a new country?
Although I thought I knew a lot about China due to studying Chinese language and culture for over four years – it was a huge cultural clash to live there. The differences between the West and China are massive, and most of them unexpected. I had previously lived abroad for a year in Sweden, but Sweden and China are nothing alike, and the differences for me were noticeable. Not only is the language a tremendous handicap for foreigners, since Chinese has a wide range of dialects that vary incredibly between provinces, even the closest ones. Also, the Chinese can be quite unwelcoming people towards strangers, so I found in the first few months that it was quite hard to interact with them. Had I known all the difficulties I was going to find, I would probably have never moved to China in the first place, which would have led me to miss an incredible amount of experiences and places.
I have always found Chinese culture highly interesting and living there enabled me to experience it first-hand. I could learn to speak, eat and live like the natives, and given my passion for Chinese food – it was more than satisfactory experience. Working with them, though, is harder than it may seem. First of all, I found that a lot of Chinese people tend to consider foreigners as ‘experts’, so they look forward to hearing your advice, but it can be quite difficult to introduce changes in the way they work. Besides this, at least in my own experience, all the teachers at my school were extremely pleasant and did not want to bother me, so I could barely work because they would do all the work for me.
Going back to the cultural part, China is full of historical places, I was lucky to have many holidays throughout the two years I spent living in China. I had the chance to visit Beijing and the Great Wall, Shanghai with its skyscrapers, Xian and the Terracotta Army and Chengdu with the pandas. There was also all the places that I could visit in close proximity to China like, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia.
All in all, I found living and working in China tough – but also an absolutely enjoyable experience that has helped me to grow both personally and professionally and has enabled me to acquire an important background for future jobs and life experiences.
What advice would you give to any teachers considering completing a TEFL qualification?
For those who have not studied or have no training at all related to teaching, I think taking a TEFL course is a must. Teaching is way easier when someone explains to you how to teach – the course teaches you the best methods for lesson planning and the most appropriate games and activities according to the size of the class and the age of students etc. Classroom management also becomes easier when you have guidelines to follow – also, a good atmosphere in the class will always make the lesson go more smoothly. For those who have studied Pedagogics or a Teaching Diploma, I found it quite helpful – as TEFL works to build on your existing teaching knowledge. In my opinion, it is desirable, as a teacher, to never stop learning and growing so that you can relay this to your students.
Would you recommend TEFL Org?
I would definitely recommend TEFL Org, since it offers a wide variety of courses, with more or fewer hours to meet all the customer’s needs, plus there is the opportunity of lifetime access to their Jobs Centre once you are a student, which in fact, helped me find a job back in Spain. Moreover, the courses offered are very complete and helpful and they provide teachers with important tools to complement and improve their teaching skills. Besides this, the online courses offered by TEFL Org allow you to set your own rhythm and learn at your own pace, always bearing in mind that, should you need any help or have any doubt, you can contact the staff and they immediately do their best to provide you with a solution. As I said, absolutely recommendable.