TEFL prepares teachers

Earn a certificate to teach English to new learners, here at Hamline

Kelly Holm, Senior Reporter

Here at Hamline, some students may be startled when a squirrel or rabbit decides to abruptly cross their path- but when Hamline alumna Nick Reishus moved to Wuyishan, China to teach English as a foreign language at Wuyi University, he learned that a lot more than just friendly furry mammals lurked on his new campus.

“I was gathering answers from students so I could make a class Family Feud game, and one of my questions was ‘What is your least favorite thing about Wuyi University?’” Reishus said. “Many answers were about the campus food, or the traffic outside the school gates, but my favorite answer was ‘there’s many snakes and the students are terrified.’ It turns out the city I lived in was home to different types of venomous snakes, and many lived on campus.”

Luckily, the only bite Reishus received was by the travel bug, as he’s taught in southern China for over three years now, eventually leaving Wuyishan for a position at Shanghai University of Finance and Economics. But exactly how did he end up in this scaly situation? Through the Teaching English as a Foreign Language [TEFL] certificate program, offered at Hamline to juniors, seniors and graduate students of any major, as well as community members.

“The TEFL program represents the initial credential for teaching English overseas,” said Betsy Parrish, professor of TEFL and Adult English as a Second Language [ESL]. “It prepares people to work in a variety of overseas settings, either through programs like the Peace Corps, or Fulbright ETAs, or working through placement programs like EPIK in Korea or the JET program in Japan,” to name a few of the options.

Emphasis should be stated on “initial credential”-  if one wants to make a career out of teaching English as a foreign language, they should pursue a MATESOL and/or a K-12 license, if they want to teach children.

There are two schedules under which one can complete the eight-credit curriculum, one being a one-semester course and the other a two-semester course. For Hamline students, TEFL part 1 and 2 can be taken as part of the general course load. For community members, current tuition rates price the TEFL certificate at $488 per credit.

“We actually offered it over J-term for a number of years, but then J-term got shorter and shorter, so we couldn’t manage to fit the intensive program into that month,” Parrish said.

During the course, students will learn techniques for teaching English to non-native speakers, and work with classmates on creating lesson plans. Along with lecture and workshop time, the course also includes a practicum in which students will go out and teach adult immigrant and refugee English learners in the St. Paul area.

“We’ll inform the students in the class about issues in immigration, what the learners in your classes are facing, and what you can do as an advocate,” Parrish said. “Draw on the student’s first language if you are able to… teach English through gestures, through immersion, without having to resort to a lot of translation or relying on the first language, not that you shouldn’t if you can.”

Parrish drew attention to the impact that the Trump administration’s cuts of refugee admissions, as well as the president’s desire to decrease immigration levels, had on the program’s goals in St. Paul. She said that enrollment levels in TEFL dropped after Trump’s election and that a daytime section of the course which normally filled up, remained only partially full.

“One group that we do draw on locally are people who want to teach adult ESL here, to immigrant and refugee learners… With the declining number because of the election, the decline in the number of refugee and immigrant students coming into the system, the programs are declining,” Parrish said, calling attention to other language-teaching programs in the area with dropping enrollment as well as Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ refugee resettlement program deflating in the wake of Trump policies.

Political concerns have affected the locales chosen by TEFL graduates who elect to go abroad as well. In the early days of the program at Hamline, during the 1990s, Middle Eastern gulf states such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were home to some of the highest-paying jobs for teaching English as a foreign language, attracting graduates who wanted to live abroad while still making a living wage and being able to pay off any student debts. In recent years, however, war, terrorism and political instability have overseen a decline in TEFL students going to the Middle East.

“They’re more concerned about security and obviously these are parts of the world that are under a lot more… political strife than they were, say 10 or 15 years ago,” Parrish said.

Now, especially rich with jobs for TEFL graduates are the south and east regions of Asia, with a rising number choosing to go there since the years of the recession.

“A lot of people would graduate from college and not be able to find work… there was a period there when [motivation for taking the TEFL course] was really just fear of not being able to find a job upon graduating and wanting to have… an opportunity, rather than just staying in Mom and Dad’s basement,” Parrish said.

Parrish believes that now, under sunnier employment rates, a higher percentage of TEFL students are participating out of a personal interest in global education rather than simply the need for economic security.

Sophomore Ingri Mastel, who speaks Norwegian and wants to become a linguist, is one such student. She plans to take TEFL next year as an upperclassman.

“Language is kind of the thing that glues the world together, but also the thing that separates it,” Mastel said. “Coming from a more or less bilingual family, teaching English is something that has always been really important… Back in the old days, [knowing English] was like a sign of prestige, but now it’s just kind of a sort of ‘you gotta learn it because Americans don’t seem to be learning other languages.’ Which is really sad, but such is life… It’s not going to change overnight.”

TEFL graduate Benjamin Thurn, who taught in South Korea and is now a Senior Program Officer at the Washington DC-based NGO American Councils for International Education, says that witnessing intercultural communication struck a major chord with him while he was teaching.

“The language is just a vehicle,” Thurn said. “Seeing students who have never worked with the opposite gender collaborating on a project or listening to one another, or watching students from two different countries with a history of conflict solving problems and engaging in dialogue- that’s where the real meaning is for me.”

Parrish recommends taking TEFL to anyone with an interest in language, global studies or international travel.

“Folks who’ve done the program have had a real genuine desire to experience living and working in another culture in a more meaningful way than just a tourist with a backpack, and I think that’s kind of what TEFL allows you to do,” Parrish said.