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Where are you and where do you want to be? (a poll)

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What are your current teaching situations and future interests? You can choose more than one.

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Click on the “Polls” category below or to the right to view and vote in the previous poll.

Comments are welcome! I work in the US currently but have not yet given up on my original plan of working in Japan, at least for a year or so. Shorter-term projects in Taiwan would be great, too.

Online TESOL Certificates, By Popular Demand

For a long time, people on internet communities have been asking whether TESOL (the international professional association) accredits or endorses any online certificate program, or whether they offer one themselves. The answer was always no, and so people always wound up advising against nearly all of the online TESOL (the profession) certificate programs. Most seemed to be ripoffs at worst and of extremely uneven quality at best. Recognition of such certificates is questionable at best, too.

TESOL has finally thrown their hat into the ring, and (to mix a metaphor) if things go well, we can expect them to become the 900-pound gorilla of online TESOL certificates. The TESOL Core Certificate is “a 130-hour online training program providing a foundation in the theory and practice of English language teaching” for both adult and young learners, in both ESL and EFL environments. It is not yet accredited, but the last online certificate I looked into that claimed to be accredited got its “accreditation” from an institution that I don’t believe would be recognized as able to grant accreditation anywhere outside of its home country. So is TESOL’s sponsorship and seal of approval worth more than that kind of accreditation? I’m inclined to think so, but you should make up your own mind.

You can read about the instructors and courses here and the other components of the program here. The entire program will take 6 to 9 months, which is indicative of a good program, I think–any program that takes only 4 weeks or so and isn’t 9 hours a day, 5 days a week in person (like the St. Giles CELTA course, which is very intensive!) is clearly just for show. No real work involved. A capstone requirement for the certificate will consist of ten hours of classroom observation, if you are teaching or assisting; 10 hours of reflective teaching practice (ditto, presumably); or 10 hours at an in-person or online professional development event such as a conference or workshop series. In addition, participants will write a “self-reflection paper as part of a professional development plan and portfolio.”

The program will start twice during the year, once in January and once in June.

The cost to do the entire program is $1,000 for regular TESOL members, $400 for global TESOL members (from certain countries only; see list), and $1,090 for non-members, including a TESOL membership). It’s possible to take individual courses, too. You can read more on the registration information page.

I still think that any online certificate is likely to put you at a disadvantage compared to a certificate from a university (a real, accredited university, that is) or a CELTA, but this is still likely to be a better choice than a random online certificate from somewhere else. If you are vaguely considering getting an MATESOL in the US after you try teaching overseas, and you are absolutely set on an online certificate as your only option, then this might count for something (then again, if it’s not accredited, I don’t see how you could receive any course credit for it–if nothing else, it could at least garner you some letters of recommendation from respectable, established professors, though, which can be very hard to come by once you’ve been out of undergrad for a few years!). Overall, I don’t think any online certificate is ideal, but if I had to do an online certificate, I would look at this one first. (This is not an endorsement or a recommendation, mind you; I just want to bring the existence of the program to your attention.)

For comparison, here are the courses I took when I did my TESOL certificate at CSU East Bay (then Hayward), which was an in-person program over three academic quarters:

Approaches, Designs and Procedures in Teaching ESL I (4 units)
Approaches, Designs and Procedures in Teaching ESL II (4 units)
Pedagogical Grammar/Outcomes Assessment (4 units)
ESL Practicum, Supervised Teaching (4 units)

Advantages: Some units transferred to the MATESOL program later as credit. Courses were offered in the evening. I was able to TA for an entire quarter of a course. There’s no question about the worth of my certificate. I made personal connections with all of my teachers and several of my classmates, which I maintain to this day both professionally and as friends (I don’t foresee this happening in an online course). I really loved my teachers–they’re great people!

Disadvantages: Pretty expensive (about $4,000, maybe?)–most certificate programs are offered as “continuing education,” so I didn’t get an in-state tuition break. 9 months is a long time.

Why “certificate” and not “certification”? TESOL notes that they’re going with a particular definition here, and I think it boils down to some association of the term “certification” with “credential”–that is, education that allows you to be granted a license or status to teach something. For example, in California you need a teaching credential to teach ESL at the adult school level, because adult schools are part of the public K-12 system. A TESOL certificate or CELTA (as far as I know) does no such thing, nor does it qualify you for a visa anywhere that I know of. It’s useful for two other reasons: 1) Some employers look for it or require it based on their internal rules about qualifications, or will give you a bonus/higher salary because of it. 2) It gives you the pedagogical and sociolinguistic tools and knowledge to start the process of becoming a skilled professional English teacher rather than a person who speaks English and has the job title of “English teacher”. (Those are two different things! Of course, it’s possible to educate yourself enough to become a skilled, professional English teacher, but just speaking English and getting a teaching job definitely doesn’t do it automatically.) As a bonus, I think having the tools to do the job well will make the job far more interesting, although it could also make it more frustrating if you find yourself in a job where modern language-learning techniques are ignored…

10 Ways to Make the Best of Your Time in…

At The View From Over Here there’s an excellent post on “How to Make the Best of Your Time in Korea” with some great specific advice for people teaching EFL in South Korea. The other writer has kindly agreed to let me borrow her list framework as a springboard for my own general EFL list, but you should go read the original for her perspective even if you’re not going to Korea, I think.

Here are my suggestions based on my experiences traveling and studying abroad, as well as what I’ve learned from friends and colleagues working overseas (or those who’ve come here):

    Korean Washing Machine by a friend (used with permission)

    "Korean Washing Machine" by a friend (used with permission)

  1. Learn at least some of the language! She mentions that even if all you do is learn to read menus, you’ll be a lot happier than your compatriots who didn’t bother. Very true! Start small–learn the writing system. Learn chunks that let you get out and about, like “Is this train going to…?” Use tools: I use an online dictionary for Japanese that includes slang and whole phrases, combined with a plug-in mouseover dictionary, and I can switch to typing in Japanese instantly and easily. As a result, I can go beyond my real abilities to get information I need. Learning about the language’s structure can make teaching English easier, too, since you’ll learn some sources of common errors. P. S. My friend who works in Korea and has the complex washing machine pictured above notes that no, you won’t be able to muddle through with just a dictionary–hers yielded things like “heavenly blessings” and “the geographic features of a mountain” for some of those labels!
  2. Learn some culture and history. You’ll understand people better and the sights you see will be more interesting (see #8). You don’t have to hit the history books unless you want to–you can watch movies and TV shows, read novels and manga/comic books, read a Culture Shock book or Moon handbook (technically these are travel guides, but they’re heavy on history and culture), etc.
  3. We got a little over excited by daedrius (edited, with permission)

    "We got a little over excited" by daedrius (edited, with permission)

  4. Choose your friends wisely. I thought the other blogger was really smart to point this one out. If you’re looking for a satisfying career experience and you surround yourself with party animals, or you find that you’re inexplicably depressed and somehow don’t notice that you’re hanging out only with Bitter Expats … you need to change things. Don’t be afraid to move on from one group of people to another. People whose goals and activities don’t match with yours can really ruin your EFL experience. So can spending all weekend and all evening in your apartment by yourself because you don’t know anyone. Use, Facebook, etc., if you’re having trouble finding the right people.
  5. Make friends with the locals! It might be difficult, but try to make friends with local people, and not just through language exchanges (which I haven’t found to work very well). I’ve known people who’ve had good luck joining kimono clubs and martial arts schools, though this seems to work best out in the countryside where they’re too kind/baffled to say no to a nonfluent foreigner. Asking a co-worker to teach you to cook local food might be a good way to get to know them, too. If you have suggestions on how to tackle this one, leave a comment!
  6. Thoughts by gad__

    "Thoughts" by gad__

  7. Find the right type of job for you. I know, just having work is good, but you should pay attention to shift times, student age, how much planning there is, how much commuting, etc., before you take a job. You don’t want to not be able to either take care of your students well or enjoy your life. Once you get the job, if it really isn’t a good match for you, you may have to leave. Do so if needed, as gracefully as possible. Make sure you understand your contract, your living arrangements (particularly if they’re tied to your job), and your legal rights in terms of your salary, residency/visa status, etc. Don’t ever let yourself be in the position of fearing to quit because you don’t know what will happen if you do.
  8. Heiwa elementary school by ajari

    "Heiwa elementary school" by ajari

  9. Do your research about your school. Use Google and bulletin boards to see if you can find out anything specific about the college, conversation school, etc., you’re considering. Some places are really awful, with illegal working conditions; others are simply imperfect; others are fine (remember, complainers are always louder than happy folk, and people’s metrics for acceptability are different). Unfortunately, the more subtle relevant information–like whether a particular school will allow you to use modern, communicative teaching methods–is often virtually impossible to find out on the internet. Contacting a previous instructor is sometimes possible if you’re being recruited or if you’ve gotten an offer, so that may be your best chance.
  10. Remember, it’s just a job. There are plenty of bad and not-so-great English-teaching positions back home, even for people with MAs (trust me…) and, I assume, for people with PhDs as well. As long as you’re overseas, you’re in a position to do something interesting, so enjoy your free time, travel (catch the train if your town itself is boring), learn the language, attempt to make culturally sensitive changes at your workplace (like the paper I read by a teacher in Japan who started an extensive reading club and eventually got it funded by the school!), find a new job if it’s that bad, or do something to make the most of where you are. Hey, if you’re abroad, I’m already jealous of you!
  11. [Takao] Eco Lift by scion_cho

    "Takao Eco Lift" by scion_cho

  12. Travel! I know people who lived in Japan for a year or more and never looked at a travel guide, because they thought travel guides were only for tourists who were passing through. This is nonsense. Buy the Rough Guide for wherever you’re going. It’s full of information about restaurants, parks, and day trips, plus a lot of relevant cultural and historical notes. Check out Chris in South Korea for inspiration–he goes somewhere new every week! Hit Google and look for bloggers writing about things in your country or even your province. If you’re teaching in Europe or most parts of Asia, you’re well-situated for travel to surrounding countries, too.
  13. "Oh my... rice IS fun!!" by Anjuli

    "Oh my... rice IS fun!!" by Anjuli

  14. Eat the food. No, really, just eat it. In Taiwan, some of my classmates were betrayed by Pizza Hut’s squid-corn-mayo pizza once, flipped out, and basically ate at McDonald’s the rest of the time. Naturally, they were miserable compared to the people enjoying Taiwan’s “Western-style” cafes, Taiwanese cuisine, and first-rate international restaurants. When you buy food to eat at home, the blogger at The View From Here mentions that it’s good if you can spend your money at small local markets some of the time, instead of giant supermarkets or department stores. As a bonus, you may be able to get to know the local shop owners, and you may feel more comfortable trying out your language skills on them. Check out the Lonely Planet World Food Guides and similar books if you’re nervous about or unfamiliar with the new place’s cuisine, terms, and customs. Find the balance that works for you–I admit I frequented a certain Taipei hotel’s Sunday brunch buffet so I could get my good cheese hit.
  15. Try to think of where you are as home. Remember, wherever you go, there you are. Be mindful of that and enjoy it. Make a place for yourself online (by connecting with other bloggers, etc., in your area) and offline (by joining clubs, classes, etc.). I’d advise against cluttering up your place too much if you’ll only be there a year, but don’t go the other way and live in a barracks room. Make yourself comfortable. If you think of where you are as home and not a temporary pass-through, you should be more motivated to make your life a good one. Take care of your health, living environment, mental and social needs, physical and aesthetic comfort, and whatever else you need. Don’t put it off because “it’s just nine more months”–this can go from miserable to dangerous pretty fast.

You may notice that many of these suggestions seem to relate to moving your focus from internal to external. In fact, it reminds me of integrative orientation in terms of language learning. Getting comfortable in a new culture, and not just getting over culture shock but actually learning to live successfully, may have some parallels to successful language learning, so it wouldn’t surprise me if something of an integrative orientation is helpful in this process as well. At any rate, the unhappiest people on certain bulletin boards do seem to mostly be the ones who either relate everything to themselves or relate everything to their home countries.

If you have other suggestions, leave them in the comments and I’ll make a follow-up post later! If you’ve have links to posts with tips for specific countries, those would be great too. Many of you have more experience overseas than I do, so your general or specific suggestions would be very welcome. Don’t forget to hit up “How to Make the Best of Your Time in Korea” if that’s where you’re heading!

International Kindle at Last

So, previously I posted some caveats about the Kindle, but the fact remained that it was and is a very appealing piece of technology for internationally travelling teachers who don’t want to carry suitcases full of books with them. Even if you didn’t experience the USB issue that my friend experienced, though, the fact was that you couldn’t use its wireless purchasing ability outside of the US–that’s the delightful and financially dangerous ability to think “Oh, I’d really like to read XYZ…” while you’re sitting on a subway platform somewhere, pull out your Kindle, buy it even though there’s not a wifi connection there (because essentially Amazon’s paying for you to use cell networks), and start reading it in just a couple of minutes.

Anyway, good news–the new Amazon Kindle International edition has you covered if you are in Europe, South America, and Asia (scroll for Asia), excepting Finland, Lithuania, Mongolia, Vietnam, Iran, and some other areas that don’t run on 3G or EDGE/GPRS, etc. Some parts of Africa are included. Popular EFL destinations like Japan, Korea, and Taiwan look to be well covered. They will ship the Kindle itself to you–to Japan, for example, the cost is $20.98 (ouch, but it’s “priority courier” and will arrive in 2 to 4 days [!!!] after it’s shipped).

But don’t get this if you’re a bookworm with poor impulse control and a maxed out credit card…Me, I’m not getting one for various reasons, one of which is that I can’t take it in the bathtub. (Get back to me when it’s waterproof.) Plus I live in an English-speaking country and can buy books at Half-Price Books for $1 each, so I hesitate to spend this much money on a gadget–but at the prices English books cost in places like Japan, it might be worth it. Never mind the space you’d save in a small apartment…

If you get one or think you might, don’t forget to click the “I’d like to read this book on Kindle” link on the left, under the product image, when you’re browsing on Amazon. TESOL books, in particular, could use more representation on the Kindle. Clicking on it doesn’t commit you to anything; it just lets Amazon and the publisher know that people are interested in seeing that book in a Kindle version.

If you’ve come up with a creative way to use your Kindle, let us know about it and I’ll post again later, because I think the international functionality means that these will become much more common items among EFL teachers. I may write about it over on Readable Blog, too; for a really serious English learner, it could be a good tool. (To my surprise, Cambridge graded readers are available on Kindle! AWESOME.)