I’m a Qualified Teacher! (Well, sort of)

Ok, I don’t have any PGCE or BEd or anything fancy, but I’m officially a TEFL teacher, and that will do for now. Of course, whilst we’ve been having fun exploring Hanoi, we have had to do some training as lessons start next week! Gah! I completed my 120-hour online TEFL course at home and have upgraded it to a 140-hour course by completing the practical element here. Wait! You mean you have a teaching qualification by doing stuff online? I hear you ask. Well, yes, and as bizarre as that may sound it was probably the most convenient way of doing it for myself and many others. The course requires you to revisit (or just visit for many of us) English grammar as well as learning a lot of jargon, theory, and planning hypothetical lessons. Perhaps it would have been more effective to do this in person, but we were still able to get grips with it online. A more hands-on course such as the gold-standard CELTA course requires 4 weeks intensive study and is blooming expensive so was not feasible. Soz. 

Anyway, this week meant we had to put our money where our mouths are and turn theory into practice. Most of the course involved sessions with an instructor, and despite the jet lag, I enjoyed it. A personal highlight was being a student in a 20-minute Turkish lesson; it certainly gave us insight into what our lessons could seem like to our students. Our instructor conducted the entire lesson in Turkish, but we were able to follow. After using some props (or realia, ooh get me) we were taught the words for coffee, tea, alcohol and bread (kahve, chay, cognac and ekmek in case you were interested – see, I still remember it! Must be a good teaching method!) We drilled the vocabulary and put them into context to create a short conversation. There we go, if I ever go to Turkey I shan’t have a problem ordering a drink.

After the revision, Turkish and even our own lessons (very odd teaching 20-something’s how to say ‘swimming’) I discovered that I will be teaching 1st to 4th graders. At first I was slightly terrified by my timetable as there are 30 periods a week (or 20 teaching hours), but apparently this isn’t considered a full-time timetable in Vietnam. The lessons are usually 40 minutes so many teachers do 40 hours+ a week! Also, as far as I know, I should be able to teach each grade the same lessons, meaning only four lesson plans a week or so. I’m also lucky to be getting a TA for crowd control and translation purposes, so really all should go swimmingly, right?

Teaching Schedule….
Well, I did feel more assured after a trip to a local school to observe some English teachers in action. As soon as we entered the playground tiny little kids appeared waving and calling ‘hello’! Very cute. (Must be careful not to lose neutral/firm appearance during first few lessons because of this.) As classroom desks and chairs are fixed in the schools, we had the rather amusing and uncomfortable experience of squeezing 20 or so adults into a classroom already full of fifty 2nd graders. Walking to the classroom, you couldn’t help but notice the children in other rooms working silently from their books but nevertheless peeking up at you with curiosity. Yet the moment you entered the English class it was chaos! Most classes in Vietnamese schools use traditional didactic methods so kids are bouncing off the walls when they get to their noisy English lessons. I may be deaf by January.

Just follow the syllabus they said…
I’m not going to lie, after my year working in a secondary comp at home, it was very refreshing to see such enthusiasm from the students. I can’t say what my own classes will be like, but a little bit of giggling and chatting was the ‘worst’ behaviour I saw in the classes. Yes, the kids called out, but only because they desperately wanted to answer correctly. Most EFL teachers create teams in primary school lessons which makes the kids very competitive. Certainly makes a change from ‘Miss, I’m not doing any work cos you’re not our proper teacher.’ Lol. (I do not miss being a cover teacher). Apparently male teachers garner more respect from students and so for this reason only one girl has been placed in secondary schools. Perhaps their older children are all rogues, but I found this quite amusing (and annoying) as I can’t imagine there will be more problems than some apathy and the occasional pen lid flicked across the classroom – a breeze of a lesson back home. Ok, maybe I’m being optimistic and arrogant as I suppose there’s naughty kids everywhere. We will see…

Anyway, by and large training has been useful and I feel more prepared. However, it’s got to be said that the agency who we work for are slightly erratic when it comes to organisation. After hearing stories from teachers in China I had come to expect that this might be the case in Vietnam. We often find that we receive emails detailing the next day’s activities only the night before. There’s also been an incredible amount of bureaucracy. Despite having a UK police check and bringing myriad documents with me, including my original degree certificate (photocopies not allowed) I had to visit the British Embassy to declare that Sophie P M Hill and Sophie Hill are the same person. I then had to have a Vietnamese police check, (you know, in case I’d decided to throw all my morals out of the window in the last 10 days) and also the ordeal of a health check. This meant a long afternoon having a blood test, giving a pee sample, a dental examination, an eye check, an ear endoscopy (a camera in my ears – oh and up my nose and in my mouth without being cleaned in between – lush), a general examination (basically had my neck and stomach felt up), a chest x-Ray, an abdominal ultrasound, and even (dare I say it) a ladies ‘top-half’ examination! I won’t go into details as this is public domain, but it was bizarre. YOLO. Yep, all that just so I can work here.

Hey ho, I suppose it’s when you realise that culture goes much deeper than food and language. We are only here for five months anyway so we may as well just roll with it as best we can. We’re certainly all ready for some structure and the first week of teaching is almost upon us. On Friday we had our company’s Opening Ceremony. It began formally with speeches from all the important people (you know the drill) but then somehow moved into a group singalong to ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’ and a live band. Bizarre but fun evening. Not quite sure how I must have looked with a can of beer in each hand, but I had to guard it because people were pinching beer from the box we’d bought.

Who doesn’t love a nursery rhyme now and then?
We then had the joy of a 6am start this morning to visit one of our schools for their opening ceremonies. Again, this was a bit of a shock to the system, but a positive one nonetheless. Between the national anthem, a reading of a speech by Uncle Ho, and singing and dancing, I had to stand up to be introduced as ‘Teacher Sophie’. I must say it’s very odd being called by my first name, but then perhaps that’s the key here. The teachers were up singing with mics and filming everything on their iPhones (clearly there’s no Child Protection red tape here) but nevertheless they are respected by the children. We then had a few more dances including the ‘Birdie Song’ before closing. It might sound wacky, but I think I got off lightly compared to one of my house mates. She has a dance degree and so was asked to choreograph and take part in a routine with the kids to Boney M’s Daddy Cool (have they listened to the lyrics?) To her relief, this was cancelled.

So yes, all still good. Some changes to the system, but what’s the point of going half way across the world to experience the same old eh?



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