I completed this TEFL course last November with Hello Academies in Prague. I am now thinking of returning to Prague eventually after several months, and I figure it were time for me to give credit where credit is due and offer some suggestions for future trainees.
1. Before the course
I tried to sign up for the course at the last minute, while I was still working in India only a few weeks before the course, but the staff were very helpful and were able to interview me by phone in India and accept my application. Communications were clear in coordinating my arrival in Prague, although I wish someone had warned me about the taxi drivers' practice of overcharging foreigners. I ended up getting housing through Airbnb on my own, a place within walking distance to class. But the staff also volunteered to help me find housing in Prague. In retrospect, I appreciated having the Airbnb place. Even though it was much more expensive, I had the convenience of walking to class in 2 minutes and more privacy and peace and quiet than the shared-room group housing the program offered. The downside, however, was that in addition to the age-difference barrier I had with the rest of the class (I was much older), I was physically isolated in my living arrangements from the rest of the class and did not benefit from group discussions and peer feedback outside of the class, plus reminders about assignment due dates, activities and events, etc. that came with living with the rest of the class. If I were to do it again, I would still choose a private room over the group housing, but I would put in more effort to connect with classmates to be kept in the loop on the various details of the course and staying in Prague.
Other things I would do before the start of the class:
A. Make sure you have a good working laptop for word processing, spreadsheets, Internet connection, etc. Fix whatever problems your computer may have. You will need it throughout the course. Get to know how to navigate through Google docs. Piece of cake for most youngsters now, but I am getting a bit too old to learn new tricks. At least, not easily.
B. Come a few days before class starts to familiarize yourself with the city and its resources: where to get supplies, laundry, transportation, computer repairs, copy shops, stationery, etc.
C. Do some sightseeing to get the urge out of the way, so that you don't feel you have only this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do it, while the course is going at its intensive pace. If you are a procrastinator like me, you will still find an excuse not to do your work on time. But one does what one can to get rid of excuses. Prague is a beautiful city with many temptations. Enjoy, then study.
D. Spend some time to learn a little Czech, especially the phonetic aspects of it. It will help you understand the mistakes of your students in your practice teaching sessions and especially in analyzing the mistakes of your student in the learner profile assignment.
2. During the course
I had previously completed CELTA before taking this TEFL course and was only taking the course to get the TEFL brand name, which is better recognized in certain parts of the world, so I had a more relaxed, almost nonchalant attitude in the beginning, which quickly turned to my disadvantage. You need to take this course seriously, no matter how qualified you are already. Things could easily pile up with the intensive pace of this course and you need to be organized and be on top of it to not fall behind. Having a strong reason for wanting to succeed in the course and reminding yourself of the reason will help. You need to decide and know what you want before you come and not give up when you are here. The staff were consistently friendly, helpful and encouraging, but you need to be organized enough yourself to avail yourself of their help during class and office hours. Huge mistakes in my practice lessons could have been avoided, if I had asked for feedback more in advance.
One outstanding feature of the instruction part of the course is that the director of the program systematically goes through all the English verb tenses and their uses, illustrated with diagrams. This is something that was not quite covered in my CELTA training. I have gone through verb conjugations for a number of other European languages, so it was not such a big deal, but I still appreciated having it taught in its entirety systematically. For native English speakers, grammar would come naturally in speaking, but explaining the why's and how's of it to someone else is nearly impossible. This is where you get your money's worth. You learn to articulate the explanations to a non-native speaker.
That is not to say, I had no issues with the instruction. I have great respect for the director of the program, who was also the primary teacher of the course. She was evidently abundantly qualified, knowledgeable, intelligent, charming, helpful, and fair and effective as a teacher. I think she also truly wanted to help the trainees succeed and took her responsibility seriously. And I adored her British accent. Nevertheless, I still strongly disagree with her regarding the demise of the subjunctive in English. It still makes my stomach churn and my blood boil, when I hear people say, "if I was," when they should say, "if I were" in contrary-to-fact conditional statements. It's a losing battle against the tide of ignorance, but better to die a glorious death at the Thermopylae of the English language than to live a life without the freedom from boorishness that can only be won by the grace and elegance of subjunctives. At the very least, I think it should be made clear that there is still a difference between street (dare I say gutter?) English and acceptable academic or literary English. End of my preaching to the choir, if any still exists.
Another notable feature of the instruction is the introduction to IPA symbols. Although we did not have time in the course to become experts on the subject, the materials presented made me much more aware of the depth of the subject, the resources available and the necessity for me to work on this skill. The course did not cover the phonetics of contractions, elisions, etc. That is perhaps something that could be added to future curricula, so that trainees can be at least made aware of the concepts.
C. practice teaching sessions
Do not procrastinate like me. Prepare, prepare, and prepare way in advance. Use the office hours to get feedback in advance. However, mistakes you make are invaluable in helping you learn. The teachers were great in giving detailed, helpful feedback and the lessons you learn from these practice runs are the ones that will stay with you. Particularly useful was the videotaped lesson. You get to watch yourself as others see you. I never realized how distracting my hand gestures were, until I saw my own video.
3. Ancillary points
The course itself, though intense in its pace, was very enjoyable with the pleasant, friendly atmosphere. Our particular class of about 9 or 10 people had great camaraderie and was very mutually supportive. I had a great time cracking jokes to an appreciative audience, although the disruptions I caused were probably sometimes to the chagrin of the teachers. I got away with more than I should have, I must say with a guilty conscience. The teachers were firm, though, when they needed to be, so that no course content suffered as a result of shenanigans from clowns like me. The initial group lunch, the river cruise field trip and a couple of nights out at local pubs all served to heighten the group's camaraderie.
At the end of the program, representatives from a couple of English-instruction schools came to present employment opportunities with them and an agency gave a presentation on how to find housing and obtain necessary permits to work in Prague.
Overall, it was a very well-organized, substantive, thoughtful and, with its brief duration, efficient program, designed to give the trainees the basics of how to teach English in four short weeks and help them find employment immediately, especially in Prague. But I want to emphasize two points in particular. First, the old adage: you get out of it what you put into it. Second, learn beyond what is being taught in the classroom. For me, the warmth, friendliness, sincerity, professionalism, self-discipline and self-control, and balanced frame of mind of the staff and teachers may prove to be the most valuable gifts that I will cherish and hope to emulate from this experience. Not to mention the director's charming British accent and all those gorgeous Czech women in class, especially the grandmas (inside joke). OK, I had better stop before I get myself into real trouble. Just take the class. You won't regret it.