You have to crawl before you can learn to walk. These words are just as true for TEFL debutants as they are for babies. Before you go running off into a classroom full of eagerly awaiting students with a lesson plan full of activities, it might be best to sit down first and ask yourself two simple questions.
- What am I hoping to teach?
- How am I hoping to teach it?
If you have been lucky enough (or better stated wise enough) to have attended a TEFL course of any length prior to entering a classroom for the first time, then you will have certainly heard the words: methodology and approach.
A ‘methodology’ by definition is a body of methods, rules, and postulates employed by a discipline. In this case, that discipline is teaching English as a foreign language.
An ‘approach’ refers to a particular manner of taking preliminary steps toward a particular purpose.
Before you venture into a classroom you should have some idea of how you are going to conduct yourself in the class. By ‘conduct yourself in the class’, I am not referring to any answer that incorporates the word ‘professionally’. In order to teach English as a foreign language, every teacher must understand exactly how s/he wishes to relate to both the language being taught and the students. After all, besides yourself, that’s all you have in a classroom. Also implied by this is how you want your students to relate to the language being taught.
Though there are many methods and approaches to teaching English as a foreign language, the one which has received the most press in recent years is the communicative approach. This is the approach taught by most TEFL training courses and schools. It is, in my opinion, the one approach which most teachers really have difficulty incorporating into their teaching. The reason is not that it is overly difficult. Simply stated, most courses are not long enough and so do not have sufficient time to teach their trainees how this approach relates to all the different aspects of teaching such as, but not limited to, teaching speaking skills, listening comprehension skills, reading skills, writing skills or even grammar.
Teaching is not simply an act of opening your mouth and letting words spew out. Teaching implies that these words should have meaning not just for you but for your students as well. Your words must let students know how they are to relate to the language that they are about to explore and in the best of cases learn. And so your words will and must differ in content depending upon what aspect of the language you are focusing on and what you want them to learn during the time you have them in class.
Given this, the Teaching Knowledge section of the TEFL Clinic has been put together. In reading through these pages, try to understand how you relate or should relate to the language that you are teaching (or are thinking to teach). Analysis is good before you enter the class and after you leave it- but never during. The time to think and understand is now.