En Route to Teaching English

on Monday, 22 March 2010
Recently, I had a student from my current school inquiring about being an English teacher and the road he should take to become an English teacher.

It's really interesting how keen he is in becoming a future English teacher.

First of all, here is just a short message to my beloved student.

First things first, you cannot allow yourself to say that "My grammar is not so good," if you want to become an English teacher. I've mentioned this many times in my blog or in life; English teachers have to be good in English. It's like a doctor telling us "I'm sorry, but I'm not that good in diagnosing illness," which sounds absolutely absurd. Not only must you try your best to be confident in using English, you have to actually be good in English.

The interview or short written test is not to check your content knowledge. It's to check your utility and competency in the language. I personally do not think that they are all out to check if you know which minister does what and when the policy was amended. They want to see how you utilise the language while explaining certain contexts.  

You might not be convinced but here is my situation explained. So far, in all my interviews for university entrances and posting, there has never been any mind-boggling questions about policies or "Siapa Menteri Besar Kelantan?" or "Berikan 2 objective PPSMI," or stuff like that. The moment I start talking in the interview (be it in Malay or English), they immediately become chatty and talk about everyday things that any Tom, Dick, and Haffizul can answer. Nothing that we talk about in all the interviews have anything to do with me having to read articles or policies. In fact, due to the happy mood that the interviewee and interviewer has, topics talked about are: marriage, having children, and how amazing is it that there is a Chinese dude applying to go to Sabah to teach English.

Enter the interview room; stutter; head down; look guilty of some shit you haven't done yet and I can confirm that the interviewer is going to think, "Hmmm... macam ni, aku tanya dia pasal benda-benda susah baru dia tau!"

All that aside, the path of becoming an English teacher is pretty easy if you have the right foundation and attitude. Yeah, attitude. Personally, I feel that the reason I managed to go through the process of being an English teacher smoothly is largely based on my attitude. Of course, having proper competency in the language is a very important criteria but nothing helps me get away out of trouble better than the having the right attitude. Less I be misunderstood, I'll say it here first HAVING GOOD ENGLISH IS STILL VERY IMPORTANT if you want to become an English teacher (Somehow, I just tend to put out disclaimers like this).

It's all about charisma.

You need the spunk, you need the flow, you need the competency, you need the confidence and many other soft-skills to slither your way through to become an English teacher. Call it superficial but I just feel that it is one of the defining characters of being a good English teacher. You need the X-factor.

That's right. The X FACTOR. Ask me again what does it mean by X-factor?

I honestly don't know. I only know that it encompasses all those qualities that make a language teacher interesting. Even more impressive if you can be attractive. Not physically attractive but attention-grabbing the moment you start doing your thing. The minute you start explaining or start telling them a story, it has to engage students in such a way that even if you were speaking in Japanese, they'll listen attentively. It has to be that way. Sometimes, English is such a foreign language to students they need to feel attracted to the language first in order to want to learn the language. You, the English teacher have to provide that sort of attraction...

*wipes sweat.

Let's get back to the question: How?

I've not been in all the English programmes and therefore will not in what way whatsoever condemn or even criticise about the other courses. I'm sure that the courses are about the same in terms of lecture content and materials provided in their literature (again, not referring to the aesthetic literature but literature as in English materials in general - again, for those not familiar with the jargon). Let's take a look at the TESL course provided in Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI).

From semester 1-3, you will be given a lot of introductory courses and basic English skill courses. Though it sounds elementary, I feel these courses provide necessary foundation for the future more pedagogical subjects. Some of the subjects you take in the first trimester will be:
                             1. Writing Skills
                             2. Listening and Speaking Skills.
                             3. Introduction to English Literature.
                             4. English Grammar
                             5. Reading Skills.
                             6. TESL Methodology

These subjects teach you about the skills and are also lectured as though it is required for you to use these skills as part of trying to get you to understand the theoretical concepts of these skills. Of course, this does not include the other subjects i.e. Educational Pedagogy, Psychology in Education, and others. Those courses are not part of the TESL programme but the university programmes.

Later on, the other subjects taught in the later semesters would be:
                            1. Teaching of English Literature.
                            2. Teaching of Grammar.
                            3. Teaching of Listening and Speaking.
                            4. Reflections.
                            5. Materials Development and Adaptation

These are examples of latter subjects being taught in your TESL course. They are more focused on techniques and plans on how to teach English. I would say that these courses are the most valuable throughout the 4 years as they not only provide us with example lessons but also discuss about the variables in a classroom. Materials are being created and discussed along with the contribution of ideas to prepare you for the many possible outcomes in a typical English classroom.

Finally, you get to do a 15 week practical teaching course called practicum. Basically, a trainee teacher if you're not familiar with the jargon. This is where you try to apply whatever you've learned in the 3 and a half years in UPSI. I would say that it's not really enough because it'll be good to get a year of this practicum course instead of 3-4 months only.

I definitely promote the TESL course in UPSI if you want to be an English teacher. I would even go as far as to say that you should apply for a TESL course in UPSI if you are aiming for flexibility in future careers, self-satisfaction, and lecture quality (with the last criteria being the most volatile one... hehehe.)

Go to www.upsi.edu.my to ask for more, to contact the dean of the language faculty, or the Head of Department (TESL) for further inquiries.

    Dr. Che Ton bt. Mahmud
The Head of the English Language Department
    Senior Lecturer
    Tel. No: 05-4505341/5342
    email :  che.ton@fb.upsi.edu.myThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

    Dr. Hj. Abdul Ghani b. Hj. Abu

    Tel. No: 05-4505350/5413
     email : a.gani@fb.upsi.edu.myThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

*information gotten from http://fb.upsi.edu.my/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=16&Itemid=30.


hamzah said...

whoa..tqs for ur advice..it is very2 useful..but i still dont understand about what should i do now..i can improve my grammar by reading or something like watching english movie(lot of collection..hehe)..but how can i improve my "speech" skill if there is no place to go to talk in English..u are the only place i go to talk in english..

Government Agent said...

I see. Practice can come in many forms. Singing is a very good way of practicing speech as well.

I mean, of course nothing beats speaking in English to people around you.. but what you could compensate is to probably use English in written forms or chat online with Skype with friends online.

Befriend those who use English. It'll make life easier.

hamzah said...

how???i have no friend who always speak in english..

singing??haha..quiet interesting way..ill try it out..

as u say..write n speak in english is differ..write can take a time to think first but to speak in english we need to think asap..that is the only think which make me worry..

Government Agent said...

I know it sounds funny, but when I was in form 1 or 2, I used to chat in mIRC which is a malaysian chatroom and chat with people from overseas.

Now with other online voice chatting methods, I'm pretty sure you can find some 'pen-pal' like friends not from your area to speak in English to. I'm sure you'll find some with similar interests as you.

srsfeqah said...

Hi Government Agent..
I found your interesting blog when I was searching information on 'How to Teach English Literature'. I am a brand new 'English Teacher' & was being send to Sabah since 2 months ago.

For your information I'm not majoring in English, originally I was Genetics-Biology student. However I was Biology/EST DPLI student. Unfortunately I did not learn that much English during the EST classes (almost none).

When I saw your list of subjects during your degree program, I start to think, am I actually qualify to teach English? If for easy-simple English, I should be able to, since I had learned English from standard 1 to form 5. But for good English, I have to work very hard. And literature? I never learn literature before..adoi..

I am happy when you said your Sabah students seem interested in learning English. I don't think my students are same like yours.

Any suggestions?

Thank you

Government Agent said...

Dear srsfeqah,

Nice to know that you're taking your teaching seriously enough to wonder about qualification. Of course, if you're teaching students who are relatively weak, your level of expertise will help them greatly. NEVER underestimate your valuable experience. Of course you might not be SIMILARLY qualified as an English graduate but based on your comment, I feel that you have a command of English that surpasses almost 90% of my students.

I've also mentioned about 'how good is good?' and the answer is 'better than your students for sure'. It really doesn't matter if you're an English graduate, a professor of English syntax and semantics or just a plain ol' native speaker from Melbourne; if your English is better than your students - jolly good.

Interest is a relative term. Almost half of my students write in their journals that they are NOT interested in English. It is up to me to change their minds. I can confidently say now that I've managed to coax those minds into loving the subject at least. They might still be VERY weak but if they love the subject - that's 1 up for me.

Literature is a problem? I'm sure your school panitia managed to get a CD which has all the new literature components' materials. ASK because they SHOULD have it. It really helps you a lot.

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