Notes from the Field: Interview with IDELT Grad, Jason Mercer

This post was written by Denise Kray

We’re always happy to take advantage of an opportunity to check in with the graduates of our TEFL certification courses, to hear about their experiences teaching abroad and their thoughts on the TEFL industry in general. Jason Mercer recently took the IDELT in Buenos Aires and has taught in Argentina and South Korea. Here’s what he has to say to us about those experiences.

Tell me about your first teaching experience in Korea. Where did you teach and what did you think of the school/students?

My first teaching experience in Korea was in a city called Daejeon.  It’s the fifth largest city in South Korea and about 2 hours south of Seoul.  I taught mostly elementary children at a private school.  In the States, people would consider it a sort of afterschool program.  Students would finish their studies at the public school and then come spend an hour or two in classes at the institute to improve their English skill.  Understandably, students would already be sluggish or hyperactive.  However, I was quite impressed with their overall ability to soak up the language.

How much traveling abroad had you done before you first went to Korea?

Before I first went to Korea, I had studied in Spain for a semester, travelled though Western Europe, volunteer taught in Vietnam and travelled through parts of Southeast Asia.

Why did you decide to take the IDELT in Argentina?

I decided to take the IDELT in Argentina for two main reasons.  First, although I had already taught for two years and received a TESOL certification, I did not feel that I had a good grasp on lesson planning.  The second reason was more of a long-term goal of mine.  I had wanted to spend a significant amount of time in Argentina for at least 10 years.  Its people, culture and lifestyle interested me immensely.

How did the IDELT prepare you to be a more effective teacher?

I feel like I have a much better grasp on lesson planning than ever before.  My confidence in the classroom is better also due to the successful practicum sessions.

Would you recommend others take a TEFL certification course before they teach abroad, even if it isn’t necessary in the country they’re looking to teach in?

I would definitely recommend a certification course.  Most schools assume that the teachers know what they are doing.  If a teacher receives no training via a certification course, their first few months of teaching will likely be uncomfortable and unsettling.  Above all the specific teaching training aspects, certification courses also typically attempt to prepare the teacher for the nuances of living and working overseas.

Did you teach in Argentina after taking the IDELT? How would you compare that experience to Korea?

I taught at a private school in Santa Teresita, Argentina for a couple months.  Santa Teresita is a small beach town about 3 hours south of Buenos Aires.  I taught a variety of students from children to adults and at a variety of levels.  Most of the students had a better English skill than even my best student in Korea.  The teaching experience in Argentina was a little less stressful overall and more enjoyable.  I think mostly because the students were more determined to learn English and much more relaxed about the learning process.

Why did you decide to return to Korea to teach?

This may sound petty, but it’s mostly because the compensation in Korea is much better.  I would have been happy to stay in Argentina longer, but I’m hoping to earn my Master’s degree now in TEFL/TESOL.  After lots of discussion with others, I’ve found that it’s doable to do distance learning while working in Korea.  Beyond that, living in Korea is comfortable for me. I often say that it’s like being stuck in Korea Town in Los Angeles.

As an experienced teacher, do you have any advice for those who are new to TEFL?

Be respectful.  It may sound simple, but from my experience and from talking with many others, it can be very difficult.  Any foreign country has a culture and lifestyle different from a person’s home culture and lifestyle.  It doesn’t mean they are wrong; it’s just different.  Respect is important in relating with the owner, manager, coworkers, parents and most importantly students.  Showing students that you respect (and care) about them and their learning will definitely help in creating a foundation for a successful classroom.

If you think the IDELT may be the right fit for you, read our two part series on the course by an IDELT trainer (part onepart two).