A TEFL Volunteer Talks about His Experience

This is a story from PCV Shaun Neshium

As a TEFL volunteer (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), our primary work is the teachers in our schools. Thus, our lives are intertwined with theirs up to the point when they start thinking about what has to be done outside of school.

Whereas all TEFL vol-unteers live in the same community that their school is in, many teachers often have a forty-five- minute commute or longer every day; this applies to half of my teachers. Throw in additional, non-mandatory English courses, in which many teachers choose to participate, and the realistic expectations of working for the full day quickly diminish.

That being said, there are many English teachers who want to diligently work, learn, and become better teachers. In my particular school of 850 students, I have five English teachers, of whom four are motivated to use me as a resource to improve their teaching abilities through modeling, trainings, and one-on-one practice.

Teaching is exhausting work. To stay energized, my breakfast consists of bread, bananas, an apple, and two cups of guayusa tea (think tea with half the caffeine of a cup of coffee).

To make planning efficient, I work with one teacher per morning in the classroom and, in the afternoon, plan with another teacher, whom I will work with the following day.

As everyone arrives at seven in the morning, the Teacher-of-the-Day and I review our plan, make any necessary last-minute changes, and ensure that we have all the needed materials (this often includes a trip to an internet café the night before to make copies, print off pictures, and/or buy additional supplies). As we progress through the morning, we make changes to classes if needed as the day goes on.

On any given day, I work with teachers who have five to seven classes. Most will have a break before recess, which is after the fifth period in a nine- period day. Again, during their break, we’ll go over any changes that need to be made, but mostly it’s a short time to relax.


The 45-minute recess after fifth period is my second-favorite part of the non-academic day (right behind lunch). After a little bite to eat, recess is the best time to chat with the students. Connecting with them during this time is my way of showing the students that I care about them as people, which hopefully translates into them caring about English class, if not their studies as a whole.

After recess, we finish up the last couple classes of the day (or I’ll lead the basketball club, if it’s Thursday or Friday), and we’ll get lunch at the start of the afternoon. As recess is the best time to connect with the students, lunch is the best time to personally connect with teachers.

Half of my work is co-teaching with the teachers during the day to show them what a classroom should look like, either by demonstrating how to ex- plain grammar or vocabulary, to assess the comprehension of the students, or to execute any variety of activities. The other half is after lunch when a teacher and I plan the classes for the following day.

Each teacher has three or four different classes to plan per day which take between fifteen and twenty minutes each to plan. This averages to about an hour of planning per teacher.

I work with four teachers who all have varying personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and experience, with English, so working with each one is a different experience every day. All of the teachers are excited to try the new things I suggest to them, but this mutual trust came from a year of inquiries, responses, and demonstrations. The phrase “Actions speak louder than words,” truly expresses its dominance in this domain.

With these four teachers, I assign each a day with whom to work, Tuesday through Friday. Mon- days are Peace Corps days or preparation days. On Peace Corps days, I’ll fill out any PC documents or forms or coordinate with other volunteers on other projects if necessary.

Preparation days in- clude everything under the sun from planning a train- ing session for the teachers to getting materials for classes or talking with the school staff about things that I need done or any- thing that they need me to do. My Monday schedule varies week to week.

TEFL5To not do all the work myself and in order to leave behind sustainable critical-thinking skills, the planning process is a series of questions posed to the teachers for each class.

Some typical questions that are asked are as fol- lows: What is the objective of the class? How will any new vocabulary be taught (while avoiding translation if possible)? How will any new grammar be taught? How will you reinforce what was taught? What activities will you do? Do the activities support the objective? What resources do we need? Such is an attempt to instill a logical thought progression for the teachers while planning their classes when the volunteer is not available.

The main purpose of the TEFL program is to leave the teachers with enough skills and ideas to be effective teachers on their own. Thus, each volunteer strives to be needed less and less in their schools. Although it will eventually put us out of a job, it is the desired, yet bittersweet, ending in our work towards sustainable education improvement.

At the end of the day, I like to get my food shopping done (occasionally running into students on the street), go for a light run, and settle down with a nice book.

1 thought on “A TEFL Volunteer Talks about His Experience”

  1. I enjoyed reading the account of your day or days! I have never really known what a TEFL PCV does except for “teach English” and I was a PCV in the first group to got o Ecuador in the 1962-64 years! We did not have TEFL then! Thanks for the very interesting account of your work. Great job of telling your story! Con carino! Rhoda
    P.S. Our book “The Barrios of Manta'” was the first memoir ever written by an RPCV…it is now available as an update to the original, in eBook format at: http://bit.ly/NARTUF

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