Spotlight: TEFL Online…The Tutor!


Welcome back, faithful readers!  As you may recall, we had a spotlight on a recent graduate of our 120-Hour course to give you all some real-time insight regarding what you can achieve from the certification and how it prepares you for the unknowns of international EFL teaching!

Well, we’re back with the other side of the story!  Meet Marisa Brooks, a tutor and, until recently, our head CELTA trainer!  She is one of our most seasoned trainers in the EFL field and we are proud to now provide you her insight into the online course and teaching abroad!

How long have you been teaching English?

I’ve been teaching since 1983!

Why did you decide to become an EFL teacher?

My major was English, but my study abroad experience gave me the bug to travel, so I went to Japan right after college, thinking I’d only stay 2 years and then come home and teach English in a US high school.  I loved Japan so much I stayed a total of 9 years and have been teaching in some form or another ever since.

Can you tell us about your first experience as an EFL teacher? Do you remember how you felt the first day of class?

I was scared to death.  I walked into a room of 23 Japanese junior high girls, all with sailor uniforms and their hair tied back, and none of them spoke English and I didn’t speak a word of Japanese.  I was jet-lagged from my trip and was not able to move into my apartment because it wasn’t ready yet, so I was feeling very displaced.  The school gave me a stack of pieces of cardboard with pictures glued to them, pointed me in the direction of my classroom, and I was on my own.

How did you get your first teaching job?

I went through a church organization and went as a “missionary associate,” which basically means a short-term missionary rather than a “lifer.”  I applied for jobs in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan – and I was given my first choice because I happened to have a BA in English when the requirements were simply a BA.

What did you learn during your first year of teaching?  Did you learn anything that really surprised you?

I learned a great deal about learning, about teaching, about Japan, and most of all, about myself.  It was an incredible experience, and I truly feel I learned more than my students did.  I gained confidence as a teacher, I learned a lot about our language, and I especially learned that I didn’t know much about our language even though I am a native speaker.  I worked with pronunciation, writing, speaking, and listening.  These were all challenges for the students who did not have exposure to English outside the classroom, so I felt I wasn’t making a lot of progress with them.  But the longer we worked together, the better everyone got, including me!

What were your best and worst moments in teaching English?

There are too many moments to choose a best and worst one, but my best ones involve seeing that light bulb go on over students’ heads when they finally “get it” and can progress more quickly.  It’s a great personal and professional satisfaction knowing I was part of that process.  I think the worst moments are when I have students who have great potential but are simply lazy and do not have the motivation to work up to that potential.  Of course, there were other moments when my Japanese girls made me cry – I guess those moments were pretty bad, too!  But I learned so much from the bad moments, that I have to be thankful they happened.  Otherwise, I would not have grown nearly as much as a teacher.

What is the most challenging part of teaching?

I think this is different for everyone – for me, it is finding topics that motivate my students.  In a monolingual class, this is a bit easier, but in a multi-cultural class, what is interesting to some students can be really boring to others.  When I have to follow a textbook, it’s a bit easier because the topics are chosen for me, but making the boring ones interesting can be a challenge as well!  It’s also challenging to help students with their individual pronunciation problems.  Again, this differs between monolingual and multi-lingual classes.

Do you have any tips for TEFLOnline students?

My two favorite philosophies of teaching are “Never miss a good opportunity to shut up” (keep your TTT down), and “Never do for the students what they can do for themselves” (let them take responsibility for their learning – let them figure it out rather than spoon-feeding them)!

Would you do anything differently if you had to do it all over again?

I don’t think so.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have many different roles in this field – teacher, trainer, program director, curriculum coordinator.  Each of these jobs has been very interesting and I’ve grown both personally and professionally with each one.  Now I’ve come full circle and I’m a classroom teacher again, and I love it.  It always comes back to the students.  No matter which job I’ve held, it’s always been about the students, and it always will be.

Are there any books you would recommend to TEFLOnline students?

For a reference book on teaching, I would recommend Jim Scrivener’s Learning Teaching.  There’s a new edition coming out in April.  I have lots of other books to recommend, but two of the most useful ones are Penny Ur’s Grammar Practice Activities and Celce-Murcia’s Teaching Pronunciation.  They give very hands-on, useful activities to help students learn.

How do you connect with your TEFLOnline students to make the experience more personal?

I send out a welcome letter which asks students about themselves so that I can get to know them better.  I also make sure my responses are personalized so that students know I really care about their experience on this course.

What advice would you give to a TEFLOnline student in order to get the most out of their course?

For new teachers, it’s not always easy to see how the info in the modules will be useful until they are actually in a classroom.  So I would say put some thought and effort into each of your answers – the more you look into the topics, the more you’ll get out of the course.  It will all be useful in your future classes.