I had a TESOL Certificate student

Here’s a short “before I forget”-type post.

An administrator of the TESOL Program from the nearby large, public university reached out to a bunch of the ESL faculty at my college and asked if we’d like to host a TESOL Certificate student for his/her practicum. I volunteered to host one in my intermediate multi-skill course.

(Practicum is not a word we used in my MA program, possibly because almost all of us were already working in ESL/EFL.)

I first met the student in question at a café in town in October, and as it turned out, he is already a professor in another subject and has been teaching for decades, and just wants the TESOL Certificate for something to do after retirement. This shifted my idea of what would happen next from “I beneficently guide an idealistic neophyte teacher” to “I am judged by my pedagogical and academic betters and found wanting”.

During his observations, I managed to forget I was being “observed” and ran my classes more or less normally, even ad-libbing at least a few tasks. I find that I default to gregariousness in the classroom, and just get more ostentatiously relaxed when I know I’m being watched. I heard from the TESOL student after every lesson and apparently he was surprised by some of the things that we did. I was pleased with those lessons as well – if only they were all like those!

After 3 observations, it was his turn to teach, and he prepared 3 of his own lessons on prepositions, conjunctions, and phrasal verbs at my direction. The content of his lessons would fit pretty exactly into the frame we call PPP (present, practice, produce), sometimes with the last P dropped in favor of everyone reviewing answers together from the second P. He gave PowerPoints full of abstract example sentences and demonstrated usage with a bit of “realia”, trinkets brought from home. He handed out worksheets with closed-ended grammar questions and had people work in pairs and then solicited answers.

Needless to say, this was not a modern ELT lesson. It seemed remote, pre-packaged, of little clear relevance and definitely not “student-centered“, although it was delivered with a professional touch. But given everything I’ve said about “playing the teacher role” in the past, I should have been prepared for the students’ reaction: they really liked it. Or rather, the students who don’t generally like my TBLT- or Dogme-ish lessons, the ones I might in a darker moment call ritualists in the cult of failed methods, really liked it. Students who I would have put in the bottom 1/3 of my class responded the most positively. I didn’t hear much from the students I usually get a lot of participation from, but I did see people whose engagement in the class can be described as “tertiary” work quite hard to get their worksheets done and really demonstrate concern that their answers were correct.

I don’t want this to come off as “the TESOL student succeeded despite himself”. He is an experienced teacher who delivered a lesson that understandably didn’t conform to modern ELT expectations. He also improvised when he needed to and established good rapport with the students. The thing I’m reacting to here is just that a lesson that was so different from what I usually plan worked very well with a demographic that my lessons usually succeed less with.

There were other things I noticed about his lessons, most memorably that intentionally striking academic professorspeak like “it can be compared to”, “simultaneously”, or “as a generic term for” from one’s working vocabulary at the podium is a challenge – one that I remember facing at the beginning of my career back in Japan. But my main takeaway as a teacher is that this “playing the teacher role” is even more powerful than I thought. If we take a certain amount of educational ritualism (in the form of embrace of the abstract over the personal, the effete over the practical, the comprehensible over the true, etc.) for granted in certain numbers in each one of our ESL classes, it may really behoove us to spend at least some of every week pedantically explaining grammar at people, for affective reasons if nothing else.

7 thoughts on “I had a TESOL Certificate student

  1. Very interesting reflections. Two thoughts occur to me.

    First, I think your TESOL cert. learner is not as old fashoined as you judge him to be; PPP is still the most widely-used approach in ELT. “Remote”, maybe not, but “pre-packaged, of little clear relevance and definitely not “student-centered“, seems to me to a good description of the way coursebooks encourage teachers to do their jobs.

    Second, students’ views of the best way to learn an L2 are notoriously conservative. Teachers like you (and me) who want to go against the expected norm of telling students all about the language, leading them through carefully rehearsed speaking activites al, and correcting all their mistakes, have to spend a bit of time “selling” your own approach (explaining why it works), emphasising the feedback bits of the lesson, and also, perhaps, doing a bit of old fashioned presentation and practice now and then just to show you can.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A lot of my first few days of the semester are devoted to explaining my methods and why learning language is not a matter of sequentially polishing and perfecting individual bricks of grammar on the way to building a house of English ability. Still, I end up doing quite a few lectures over the semester because I think there is value in giving students something they know the rules of in and of itself.


  2. Agree that this is really interesting (including the comments). You mention that the TESOL certificate learner was surprised by your approach. Assuming that he was pleasantly surprised, what was his take on all this?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Regarding the relative effectiveness of the TBLT and PPP approaches, I found the following research interesting (specifically, pp. 274-300, which summarizes the findings and discusses implications for teaching):

    Cobb, Marina, “Meta-analysis of the effectiveness of task-based interaction in form-focused instruction of adult learners in foreign and second language teaching” (2010). Doctoral Dissertations. 389.


    Liked by 1 person

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