Alumni Spotlight: Thomas McKinley

Originally from the US, Thomas got a taste for living overseas when he studied abroad in England during his undergraduate days. After graduating in the US, he returned to the UK shortly afterwards to earn an MA from the University of London. Seeking further adventure, he accepted a post as a Literature lecture at a university in the northern Chinese city of Shijiazhuang, and then spent the next 5 years teaching English, Literature, and Business in Nanjing, Bangkok, and Shanghai. Having spent the succeeding years as a sales manager, editor, and GM of a publishing company, Thomas continues to teach and tutor young adults through to business professionals. He has just completed a TEFL course in Cebu and is looking forward to being a better educator.

Why did you decide to get TEFL Certified with ITTT TEFL in Cebu?

Tom: Looking to re-enter the ESL industry full-time, I realized that it would be to my advantage to have a TEFL qualification. I began a web search of programs and encountered a few that seemed very “fly-by-night”, though fortunately I also found the tefl.corp site. This was laid out professionally and seemed very legitimate and trustworthy, and my initial questions about the course were answered thoroughly and promptly. As I was already living in Cebu, I lucked out that there was a program being offered here and in a convenient part of the city.

Teaching in northern China, 2000

Did you teach abroad? How did this TEFL Course impact your experience?

Tom: I began teaching abroad upon finishing my MA degree in 2000, and have been doing so, in both full-time and part-time capacities, ever since. Initially, I was teaching in northern China. Looking back, a TEFL course would have helped me immensely, for a variety of reasons. For one, I had never taught before, and a TEFL course really helps you to learn how to teach and to have confidence when working as a teacher for the first time. The course also instructed me in how to get the maximum out of my lessons – this of course benefits my students, but it also makes me feel that I’m doing a better job.

One aspect of the course that I found particularly enriching was the comprehensive approach to lesson-planning. One learns how to incorporate speaking, listening, reading, and also writing into each lesson, and how to introduce grammar instruction without losing students’ attention.

What is one piece of advice you would offer someone considering this TEFL Course and teaching abroad?

Tom: The main piece of advice that I would offer, would be for trainees to keep an open mind about teaching methods. I entered this course after five years of teaching experience and, admittedly, had somewhat fixed notions of how to teach. However, after a few days I was already embracing the new methodologies endorsed by my trainers.

One area in which I was somewhat out-of-date was in my views on using materials and technology. As I had begun teaching at rather under-funded universities in China back in 2000, I had learned to work without materials, as they were either too expensive or inaccessible. Nonetheless, we are now in an age in which there are abundant materials available online and in which schools and students are more technologically-enabled. I also learned that while a textbook is a very valuable tool (and in most cases, essential), it should not be relied on as the sole material for each lesson. There are ways in which the teacher can add to the material presented in the textbook, including the “warmer” strategy that we learned. In all, the course actually taught what goes into the making of a textbook, and I now feel qualified to pick and choose what sections from the textbook to use and which to replace with my own material.

Teaching rural students in Cebu province, 2013

What was the highlight of your experience?

Tom: There were quite a few highlights. One that sticks in my mind is seeing the enthusiasm and passion of my two instructors, Ace and Nancy. Both instructors serve as excellent examples of what the trainee hopes to become through the course, hard work, and motivation. They were also excellent guides and advisors as to how to construct practice lessons, and were always available to provide helpful advice and information.

Another highlight was bonding with the other students in the course. A TEFL course is intensive and requires quite a commitment of time and energy. It is a comfort, and indeed a pleasure, to have classmates with whom you can learn and work symbiotically. I am happy to say that I have formed some very nice friendships.

One further highlight was being given the chance to immediately start using the new methodologies and information. The TEFL course is far from being four weeks of sitting down to study theories. Rather, it is a practical, interactive program that forces you to learn what you have been taught. The Cebu program arranged for eight practice sessions with real students, and prior to each demonstration we had to do a dry-run with one of the instructors. There were ample opportunities to learn in a hands-on, practical manner and to see yourself develop as a teacher.