I gave my first weekend TEFL course, training people to teach English to foreigners, in January 2007. Six years and over eighty courses later, I can honestly say I’m done.
When I have a weekend course coming up, I’m filled with dread for days beforehand. After a bumpy start in 2007, I’m happy to say that I’m now very good at giving the courses. But for the last year or more, they have been crucifyingly boring. Not just a bit of a yawn, but spirit-crushingly, soul-suckingly, brain-numbingly, skull-breakingly dull.
At one stage on the Saturday morning of the course, I used to ask if anyone could think of an example of an adverb. For the first fifty or so times, the answer I got was “quickly”. Every single time. Without exception. I now have an unnatural dislike for the word “quickly”.
Of course it’s a correct answer. That’s not the point. It’s the boring answer. If ever you’re on a course, and the tutor asks you for an example of an adverb, for God’s sake, please say “breathily” or “boorishly” or “malevolently” or even “slowly”. Just don’t say bloody “quickly”.
After getting the same answer fifty-ish times, I stopped asking the question. Now I tell them a few different adverbs and the students don’t get to contribute on issues adverbial.
I realise that this level of animosity is irrational. But these courses turn me into a different person.
In my normal life, I’m a lover and not a hater. I genuinely believe that there is good in everyone.
However, on the last few weekend courses, I feel nothing but hatred for the students on the courses. I’m sure they’re all lovely people and they’ve done nothing wrong, but I just don’t like them.
I used to spend my lunch hours on the Saturday and Sunday with the students. Then I stopped that. For the last few courses, I’ve even left the building rather than have to speak to them during short coffee breaks. I have begun to turn into an irrational irritable monster.
I’m still good at faking it. I still smile when answering their predictable questions. I still get excellent feedback from the students. But it can’t be much longer before I snap and lash out.
The schedule for the weekend course is punishing. It goes from 9:00 am to 8:00 pm on a Saturday and 9:00 am to 6:00pm on a Sunday. That’s a long working weekend. And no one allows you to take Monday off.
I suppose it doesn’t help that I have little respect for the course itself. As well as working on weekend courses, I also train people on CELTA and DELTA courses, the gold standard in TEFL training. So telling people that they’re qualified teachers after two days, though it’s kind of true, is laughable.
So I quit.
I kept telling myself I’d quit soon and kept putting it off. It was time. I wasn’t getting allocated as many courses as I used to be. At one stage, I did about 20 courses in a year. This year, I was only allocated 3 courses from January to June.
As this weekend’s course got closer, the terror inside grew and grew. On Friday night, there was only one way I could persuade myself to set the alarm clock for the course, and that’s if I promised myself that I’d never do another one of these again.
So I’ve sent in my notice. I’m done with weekend TEFL. It might be financially silly, but I don’t think it is. As I said, I wasn’t getting many courses from them anyway. And I have other sources of income. I have a scholarship from college, and a grant from the city council, there’s the school I work in as a teacher and teacher trainer, and there’s my freelance work as an oral English examiner and as a CELTA and DELTA trainer. In fact I’m going to the south of Russia teaching a CELTA course this summer. I’ll be grand. Probably. And there was no right time for this.
I know I have a lot to grateful to the company for. I made thousands of euro from them. And when my attempt at being an entrepreneur failed in 2009 and I found myself living in my parents’ house for the first time since 2003, the weekend courses were the only thing that kept the wolf from the door.
And many of the students on the course have been really lovely. I’ve had praise. I’ve had cards and presents. I’ve been told that I was the best teacher people have ever had.
And I’ve had my adventures doing the weekend courses in all corners of Ireland. :
I have given courses in the aerobics studio, and once, in a hotel bedroom.
I once ran out of petrol driving to Belfast for a course, because a handsome man was feeding me sweets and we had to ring his dad to rescue us.
I once got a phone call at 5:00 pm in Cork, asking if I’d give a course in Belfast the following morning at 9:00 am and I made it there on time.
And another time I spent pretty much the entire night walking around Belfast searching for accommodation with almost no money and still taught a course the next day.
I once missed the last bus to Letterkenny the night before a course, so I got a bus to Dublin airport and rented a car. It was the first time I had driven in 4 years and I was very shaky behind the wheel. It started snowing and I nearly crashed. I arrived in Letterkenny so late that I had to wake up the hotel manager to let me in.
A week after running out of petrol on my way to Belfast, I ran out of petrol on my way to Tralee.
I once gave a course in Limerick on the weekend of a rugby match. The hotel messed up and gave us a function room on the floor that had been booked out by the visiting professional team, the Northampton Saints. There were real live rugby players in their underpants being massaged directly opposite the door of our room. I may not have been completely focused on my work that weekend.
I once couldn’t afford a hotel room in Sligo the night before a course, thinking that my dad’s credit card number written on a scrap of paper would be enough to book a room. I was wrong. I ended up sleeping in my car for the night.
Once, in Galway, I had Mark from Westlife’s cousin on the course. I talked to him a bit more than I talked to other students. He told me that Kian from Westlife frequently drops his trousers and his undies in a nightclub in Sligo. That image has lingered in my mind since.
I once taught the first ever course we did in Navan. The hotel was very excited to have us and they gave us a HUGE ballroom with a big chandelier. There were four people on the course, clung together in the middle of the room, like mice in an elephant pen.
I once taught a course in Kilkenny where a man was talking about his Portuguese partner. The girl next to him turned around and asked, “What’s her name?’ He looked a bit embarrassed, and said “His name is…” Her face dropped. Her mouth opened and closed a few times. She said, “Oh. You’re a……taken man”. By “taken man”, she meant “homosexual”.
I was once flown to Glasgow to do a course, because none of the UK tutors could do it. When I got into my hotel, I realised that there was a big hole in the bum of the only jeans I’d brought with me, that there was a hole in the toe of one of my shoes and that there was a stain on the jacket I had with me. I told the students that I’d lost my luggage, rather than admit that I always look a little bit homeless.