Vol. VI No. 21 - Tuesday
July 17, - July 23, 2007

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by Saichon Paewsoongnern

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Becoming a certified foreign teacher in Thailand

Becoming a certified foreign teacher in Thailand

The course gave me a firm foundation to build on, and the confidence to believe that I might even have something to offer as a teacher.

It was almost a year ago: I got there late, direct from a songtaew full of Canadians, direct from an overnight train from Bangkok, direct from flights originating in Seoul, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon, respectively.
I found a door with my name on it along with others’ in little puffy-cloud cutouts and opened it. I found a group of people moving in a circle and chattering excitedly about a bunch of pictures scattered on the ground. I thought: what on earth is this?
Over the course of the next month, I would learn how to teach others to play an invisible guitar, speak a spot of Indonesian, FUMP like a pro, and most importantly, how to teach English.

Despite the workload, the course was also a lot of fun with plenty of laughs courtesy of the trainers and my fellow trainees.
Let’s start with what I expected from this course. I understood that a TEFL/TESL/TESOL certificate was a necessary requirement for teaching English in Thailand, as well as in much of the world. So I expected to get a piece of paper I could wave at prospective employers. Also, I had this nagging suspicion that teaching English might, in practice, require more than being able to speak English, something I have extensive experience with.
I chose the SIT course because I was familiar with the School for International Training in Vermont, USA via a pair of acquaintances. I was aware that SIT is a real-life accredited institution in the States. This ensures its TESOL course has a legitimacy that the Amazingly Awesome Academy of English TEFL course, or what have you, doesn’t have.
The SIT staff in Thailand was also responsive to my emails about their program, replying to an exhaustive and exhausting series of questions and concerns personally, thoroughly, and promptly.
So what I expected the course to do, besides provide me with a piece of paper suitable for framing and waving, was hopefully teach me how to teach, a hall-of-mirrors proposition that I imagined involved a lot of discussion of the arcane intricacies of the English language, how to write things phonetically, the subjunctive, and possibly William Cowper or Noam Chomsky. None of these things happened.
The workload was daunting initially, as I learned how to, in the course of a lesson, break the ice, activate schema and ensure a proper balance of VAKT while minimizing TTT, FUMPing new vocabulary, and properly using CCQs to ensure that the students achieved the SWBAT.
But what about grammar? I quailed to think of how I was going to explain the difference between the English language’s twelve verb tenses, or its wacky whims regarding which nouns are countable and which are not. As in many areas, the SIT course shone in its ability to teach not the exhaustive peccadilloes of English but its ability to teach the proper strategies for teaching one’s way out of any grammatically sticky situation.
The main strength of the SIT course, I believe, is that it taught teaching via the very method of teaching we were learning to teach. In other words, how we were learning to teach was the same as how we were to teach our students. This actually meant that despite the workload, the course was also a lot of fun with plenty of laughs courtesy of the trainers and my fellow trainees.
I’m pleased to say I survived the experience and have now been teaching in Thailand for nine months. As I look back through my papers from the SIT course - a hundred pages or so of scribbled notes and more than twice that much of handouts and reading - I am struck by how much of what I learned in that month I use every day in the classroom.
Also, I shudder to think what sort of teaching would have been visited upon my students had I not taken such a course. I am not suggesting that a course can churn out fully formed teachers in a month. I learn something new every day I am in the classroom and hopefully so do my students. However, the course gave me a firm foundation to build on, and the confidence to believe that I might even have something to offer as a teacher. What more could one ask of a TESOL course?
The next course starts in Chiang Mai on August 8th - September 4th. For more information, please visit the AUA SIT TESOL web link at http://www.auathailand.org/sit/index.html

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