ESL Teacher Training Programs in the DC Area

One of the wonderful things about Language ETC is that you don’t need formal teaching credentials to teach here. Fluency in English, plenty of energy and enthusiasm, and a desire to help your fellow humans are the key qualifications for volunteers. LETC offers us short training workshops, but we mainly learn through experience in the classroom. Still, I thought it would be interesting to talk to some of our volunteers who have done formal teacher training to see what those courses are like, what they demand in time and money, and whether they’re actually useful in the classroom.

Such programs are usually called TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). The three main types of programs, in descending order of time and cost, are master’s degree programs, university certificate programs, and commercial certificate programs. Georgetown University and American University each offer both a certificate program and a master’s program, and you can roll credits from the former into the latter if you decide to continue. Other area universities and community colleges also have programs. Among commercial schools, two that stand out are LADO and Oxford Seminars.

Though you don’t need formal training to teach at Language ETC, or in most ESL programs where the teachers are volunteers, you usually do need it to get a paid teaching job. Most ESL teaching positions in this country and abroad require at least a certificate, and some require a master’s. So if you have aspirations to someday teach ESL on a professional level or use your teaching skills as a ticket to see the world, training may be a necessary investment.

I talked with two LETC volunteers who took the Georgetown program, one who took the American University program, and one each who took LADO and Oxford. AU is holding a fall open house for its TEFL programs on Wednesday, October 10, and Georgetown will have an information session on Saturday, November 10, so you can check out their offerings.

Georgetown University TEFL Certificate Program

Georgetown’s Center for Language Education and Development offers a TEFL certificate program that combines online and on-site classes. You take a 19-week online course and then do a five-day practicum on campus that includes classroom observation and teaching practice. The practicum is taught either over five consecutive Saturdays or in one week-long session. The program is held in both the fall and spring semesters, and tuition is $3,920.

At least two of our current volunteers have taken this program: Liz Werner, who teaches 3B on weekdays, and Theresa Schlafly, who teaches 4A in the evening. Theresa and I taught together on the Advanced team last spring.

Why did you take the program?

Liz: I’d been teaching at LETC for a few years, and I kind of felt like I hit a wall. I thought I was a pretty good natural teacher but I had no real teacher training. I took the course to improve my own teaching and to learn more about the process of language acquisition.

Theresa: I didn’t have any formal teaching experience, so I wanted to get some background in teaching methodology. The program requires several classroom observations. I did one of my observations at LETC, and signed up to teach here the following term!

What was the course like, and how much time did it take?

Liz: This is a comprehensive course that covers the theories of teaching English as a foreign language and gives a good deal of actual teaching experience. The first few months are online, and after that the class meets for five full-day Saturdays at Georgetown for the practicum. During each day of the practicum, students bring in a prepared lesson plan and spend several hours working with the instructor and classmates to revise it. Students then teach a two-hour class in the afternoon while a professional teacher observes and evaluates.  Following the class, students meet with their evaluators to discuss their teaching. As a final project, each student creates an online portfolio with a biography, objectives, and lesson plans.

Theresa: The program is slightly longer than a single semester. It’s hard to estimate the number of hours per week because it varies quite a bit. The online environment means that you can work ahead, and because there are no synchronous meetings during the main part of the course, you can arrange your work to fit your schedule, which is nice. The practicum weeks are quite time consuming, though.

Liz: There’s a good deal of homework every week. I probably spent 10 to 12 hours a week on the program. It’s a big commitment. Many programs require less. (Liz later added that her husband said she worked 20 hours a week!)

How were the instructors?

Theresa: The instructor, Dr. Sherry Steeley, is excellent. She has extensive teacher training experience in the US and overseas. She’s extremely well-organized, which is especially important in an online environment, and very helpful and encouraging in the practicum stage. My practicum observer was also very good. It was great to get immediate feedback.

Liz: Dr. Steeley is incredibly helpful and committed to her students.

Have you been able to use what you learned?

Theresa: In my teaching at LETC, I often find myself drawing on what I learned at Georgetown. For example, I learned a number of strategies for encouraging student interaction rather than relying on a teacher-centric approach in the classroom. I recently conducted a needs assessment survey with my 4A class, which was inspired by my TEFL practicum experience.

Liz: I believe the course helped me become a better teacher. I’m much more comfortable with lesson planning and accurately assessing how long each activity will take. In addition, I’ve become even more aware of the importance of a creating a communicative classroom and how best to achieve that goal. Formal TEFL isn’t necessary for volunteering at LETC. However, the Georgetown certificate is highly respected and would be very helpful for getting a paid job as an ESL teacher.

Any caveats?

Liz: You have to have time for it. People with full-time jobs were going nuts. I can’t stress enough how intense the program is. If you don’t have time, you shouldn’t take it because it’s really a commitment. I wish there had been more in-person interaction in our class, but the way it was structured did make it possible to combine the program with travel and work.

Theresa Schlafly (front row, center) with her Advanced class at Language ETC last spring.

American University TESOL Certificate Program

AU’s TESOL Certificate Program is available either during the academic year or in a Summer TESOL Institute. Classes meet in the evening. The academic year program consists of 15 credit hours at a cost of about $1,500 per credit. Elin Harm, a new weekend volunteer at LETC, completed the AU TESOL program in May 2012.

In a separate program, AU also offers a graduate certificate in teaching ESOL in grades K-12. This confers a license for teaching ESL in the DC Public Schools, with possibilities for reciprocal certification in other states.

What was the course like, and how much time did it take?

Elin: It’s a classroom program consisting of five 3-credit courses. Most courses meet one evening a week for two and a half hours. In addition, there’s a significant amount of homework, observation, teaching, lesson planning, and so forth, to be done outside of class. The certificate program is designed to be completed either in a single summer or in two consecutive semesters. Since I was doing TESOL along with my undergraduate coursework, I completed the program in three semesters over two years. I received a certificate, but most people in AU’s TESOL program are working toward a master’s degree.

You take three required courses and two electives. The first required course is Principles of Linguistics. They could also it call it “Everything you think you know about English and other languages but really don’t.” Really a fascinating course. The other required courses are the first and second levels of English Language Teaching, which combine practice and pedagogy. Students are required to either teach or tutor during the course so they can apply what they’re learning in class to their own practice. Finally, every semester a variety of electives are offered. I took Language Assessment and the Structure of English and loved both of them.

AU is not a cheap date at roughly $1,500 per credit. Luckily for me, I had enough flexibility in my schedule that I could fit TESOL into a normal course load (and my undergraduate scholarship). That said, for anyone interested in the master’s program, AU TESOL offers many scholarships and fellowship opportunities. Also, if you happen to be an AU graduate you can audit courses for $100 each.

How were the instructors?

Elin: The quality of instruction is extremely high. All my professors were highly accomplished academically and well known in their respective fields of TESOL and/or linguistics.

Have you been able to use what you learned?

Elin: I just taught my first class at LETC on Sunday, but I can say already that I noticed the benefits of being TESOL-trained. These ranged from having basic knowledge of how to run a classroom and create a lesson plan to using the most effective methods for error correction.

Even though AU TESOL has great professors and a good curriculum, its greatest strength is the students. Certificate students take classes alongside master’s students, all of whom have taught before, some for many years. The experience and insights they share during class are immensely valuable, especially to pre-service teachers like me.

Any caveats?

Elin: At times the course load was overwhelming, but since the program is designed for the graduate level, that’s to be expected. Also, the program has grown in popularity among undergraduate and other pre-service students in the last few years, so some kinks are still being worked out in terms of how best to incorporate these students into the AU TESOL community.

LADO International College TEFL Certificate Program

LADO was established in 1977 by Dr. Robert Lado, former dean of the Georgetown University School of Languages and Linguistics. The DC location is on Wisconsin Avenue NW in Glover Park, and there are satellite locations in Silver Spring and Arlington. LADO offers both TEFL training to teachers and ESL courses to students learning English. To earn a TEFL certificate, you can choose either the full-time four-week program or a part-time program that meets on three evenings and Saturday each week for 10 weeks. Cost is $1,850 plus the cost of three textbooks. Alyssa Jacobsen, who teaches at LETC on Saturday afternoons, took the program in fall 2011.

What was the course like, and how much time did it take?

Alyssa: I took the semi-intensive course, which lasted two and a half months. We met Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings from 5:30 to 9:00 p.m. and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The course is based on Dr. Robert Lado’s methodology, with a strong focus on listening and speaking. The instructor, Vance Blankenbaker, was amazing. From the beginning he told us to imagine what it was like to not understand much of anything, and to de-complicate our English and instructions at every step of our lesson. We started teaching in the second week of class, so I got used to the feel of it and got valuable feedback. It was a deep-end immersion approach, but I got my certificate with over 12 hours of teaching experience under my belt, more than most people coming out of a university program.

How were the instructors?

Alyssa: Really good. Still, because we all had such diverse backgrounds and contributed different ideas, sometimes our lessons were rushed or we didn’t get to cover a topic.

Have you been able to use what you learned?

Alyssa: Yes and no. The LADO program had us create our own lesson plans and materials. I do use realia and dramatic expression and encourage conversation in my classes. I also use techniques where I stand or sit in relation to my students, and I slow down my “teacher voice” and use simplified speech.

Any caveats?

Alyssa: The LADO method is great for LADO schools. On the other hand, at LETC I can mix up various teaching methods and tailor the lessons to my students. I also think that because the LADO program is for-profit, they had to accept a couple of people who really shouldn’t have been there, and it became evident that their strengths did not include teaching.

Oxford Seminars

This certificate course is offered in over 100 cities across the US by a company based in New York and Los Angeles. In DC, the classes are held on the campus of George Washington University. The course consists of six full days of classes plus 40 hours of online work, at a cost of $1,195. Upcoming dates in DC are in November and January. Randi Rubovits-Seitz, an LETC volunteer, took the course in May 2011.

What was the course like, and how much time did it take?

Randi: We were in the classroom on Saturday and Sunday, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., for three consecutive weekends. Then there was an online grammar module. We learned general teaching principles and techniques for teaching reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

How were the instructors?

Randi: There was one instructor, and she was excellent.

Have you been able to use what you learned?

Randi: The course was intensive and highly structured, well planned and well taught, and it included a lot of material and resources. I feel that what I learned is generally applicable to teaching in LETC classrooms. I learned how to promote student language production in all the modalities.

Any caveats?

Randi: None I can think of.

Thanks to Alyssa, Elin, Liz, Randi, and Theresa for sharing their experiences. Very helpful for all of us.

This entry was posted in Community Resources, Teaching Tips & Resources. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to ESL Teacher Training Programs in the DC Area

  1. Marsea says:

    This is very helpful, thank you!

  2. Excellent post – I’ve been considering a certificate and this is so helpful to have it all in one place! Another one I found out about that interested parties might want to check out is a non-credit certificate program through Northern Virginia Community College’s Workforce Development program.

  3. Susan Joseph says:

    Really helpful; although I have taught for years I’d been considering taking some special training for ESL.

  4. Pingback: Empowering Students as Teachers | LETC Teachers' Corner

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