GoAbroad Interview

Chris Foxwell - Trainer

Chris Foxwell - Trainer

Originally from Maryland, Chris spent five years teaching in Jordan, beginning his stint as a PeaceCorps volunteer for three years, before he found his way to Prague and joined The Language House TEFL team. While working as a TEFL trainer for The Language House TEFL, he simultaneously manages his own editing business and teaches at another school in Prague.

Prior to joining The Language House TEFL in Prague, you were teaching English with the Peace Corps in Jordan. How do you use your teaching experience in your role with TLH TEFL?

In almost every way imaginable! Looking back, it almost seems that my teaching experiences in Jordan were somehow designed to prepare me for my work at TLH TEFL.

One of the greatest obstacles to creative teaching and training in Jordan was the students’ and teachers’ adherence to a rigid and traditional style of learning. In searching for ways to introduce innovative teaching techniques, I was forced to break down (for myself), convincingly present (to teachers), and creatively implement (for students) the base elements of inductive teaching: prompting students to assemble new patterns and ideas on their own via hints and examples. My efforts and frustrations there taught me much, and culminated in my creation and leading of a teacher-training workshop implemented throughout one of Jordan’s governorates. This workshop, and more importantly the journey that lay behind it, served as an excellent primer for my role as trainer with TLH TEFL.

English teacher teaching students in Jordan

Teaching grade-school students in Jordan, with the Peace Corps

Key components of TLH’s methodology are built around the same inductive teaching concepts that I worked to introduce in the workshop, and which I further refined while training the incoming group of Peace Corps TEFL volunteers. I find that the techniques and strategies I was honing in Jordan are exactly those to which trainees respond most enthusiastically here in Prague.

What prompted your move from Jordan to the Czech Republic?

Simple desire for a change of scenery, both cultural and geographic. After five years in Jordan, three in the desert and two in the capital, I was ready for new adventures. I had always heard great things about Prague, and I have a passion for the history and culture of the region, so it seemed the natural next step in my (admittedly aimless) plan. I had not yet settled on teacher-training as the next step in my career, though; that came only after witnessing the strength of the TLH program, which attracted me on multiple levels.

Apart from The Language House, you teach at another language school as well as privately. How do you find time to fit everything into your schedule?

One of the best aspects of ESL teaching in Prague is that there are multiple teaching opportunities to accommodate any work style, from stable and settled employment at a school to the unpredictable and exciting hodge-podge/freelance approach. It is common for those teachers (including me) who prefer the latter style of work to be employed part-time by multiple schools, assembling a schedule that exactly meets their needs and desires. “Finding time to fit everything in” is thus merely a matter of careful scheduling, open communication, and flexibility.

In my case, TLH instructing forms the stable backbone of my weekly schedule, around which I place my private and school lessons; the more time-intensive part of my TLH work occurs in the evening, during the trainees’ practicum teaching, so there is rarely a conflict with other work. 

Chris Foxwell, The Language House TEFL trainer, laughing during a lesson

Observing a TLH trainee lesson

You operate a freelance editing business. How does your experience in operating this type of business help you in your duties as a trainer at The Language House?

There are several ways, both direct and indirect. Most directly, it has allowed me to improve some of the school’s literature and course writing, such as the trainee manual and various other documentation. It has also influenced my teaching of the writing methodology session, during which trainees learn how to structure and teach lessons focusing on students’ writing skills. I have found that the greatest carry-over benefits, however, make themselves felt more subtly, while troubleshooting various learning difficulties experienced by trainees.

One skill required of editors working in a cross-cultural setting is being able to identify and address problems of expression resulting from language/cultural differences. The “reverse-engineering” of such problems transfers well to teacher-training, in which the trainees are in a sense working to express themselves in a new language, in a specific format and methodology.

You have been living in Prague for more than two years. What makes Prague an ideal location to take a TEFL certification course?

Prague’s centralized “crossroads” location exposes our trainees to a more diverse cast of students, acquaintances, and experiences than do other cities. This can be helpful in preparing trainees to teach in a wide variety of countries. Additionally, most trainees have little to no experience with Slavic languages, and have only ever considered English from a Romance- or Germanic-languages point of view; the opportunity to examine English from and within a different linguistic setting helps to deepen trainees’ understanding of their own language, making them better teachers. Prague offers these advantages while remaining familiar enough to provide a comfortable training setting...and of course, Prague’s beauty, culture, and history are unrivaled!

Can you settle the age-old debate: on-site or online? Which one is better and why?

I think there’s a place for both in the world of ESL teacher-training, but in my opinion, the “learn by being involved” aspect of a hands-on training workshop is of paramount importance. Being immersed in the methodology you are being trained in, witnessing its effects on you as a student and then turning around and applying it as a teacher, live-fire and on-the-spot opportunities to engage with the methodology, these are crucial things that are unavailable in an online training course.

Students dressed up in a classroom

"Creative" teacher-training

What activities does The Language House TEFL provide program participants to help them immerse in the culture of Prague and the Czech Republic?

Before the course begins, trainees are invited to participate in a weekend-long orientation program featuring a tour of the various parts of the city (including the castle) and dinner at a medieval tavern. Trainees are also taken out to pubs and on other excursions, often including a trip to a nearby river or cultural site (depending on the weather and time of year). Additionally, on the first Friday of each course the graduates of the previous month’s course accompany the trainees on a social outing of their choosing.

What are some of the professional opportunities that become available to participants upon completing the TEFL certification course?

The most obvious such opportunities lie of course in the ESL field. It is said, often and accurately, that an internationally accredited TEFL certificate is the best and most flexible passport in the world; our graduates are proof of this, having gone on to use their training at The Language House in a wide range of teaching positions in many different countries. It is difficult to imagine a springboard better suited to launching a career in, or a temporary exploration of, international English teaching.

Yet, of greater importance than these concrete opportunities is, I feel, something intangible: an improved understanding of how people, both students and teachers, learn and express themselves, and learn to express themselves. It is difficult to overstate the value gained by insights of this nature.

Outlandish though it may sound, a strong background in TEFL teaching translates into real applied value for virtually any discipline, profession, or set of experiences.

How can The Language House TEFL program participants become a Language Ronin like you?

Simple! Just find a pretentiously over-the-top descriptor and see how long it takes for someone to call you on it. ;) No, but more seriously, I highly encourage the practice of reverse-engineering language barriers encountered while traveling and teaching. Each learner’s road to comprehension of English, successes, difficulties, and obstacles, sheds a different light on some of English’s peculiarities, and by focusing on these peculiarities from multiple languages’ and cultures’ points of view, a more and more complete picture of the English language comes into view.

In addition to deepening one’s personal command of the language, this practice equips one to better handle future teaching difficulties. Thus the term “language ronin”: the teacher is beholden to no one “master” take on the English language, and is able to operate more and more independently and confidently.

PeaceCorps volunteer teaching Jordanian teachers

Training Jordanian teachers

What do you like most about working for The Language House TEFL (TLH TEFL)?

Three things primarily: the strength of the methodology, the difficulty/standards of the program, and the people involved. As mentioned above, the methodology employed by TLH TEFL aligns well with my own instincts and self-taught approach to ESL instruction, and I immediately found myself at home with the educational environment. The course is not an easy one, which is a good thing; we demand a great deal of our trainees, but those who rise to the challenge, as most do, walk out of our program immensely satisfied and well-equipped to teach anywhere in the world.

Finally, any program flies or falls based on the strength of its staff and its success in generating passion for its material, and The Language House excels particularly well in this department. I am proud to be among such fine educators and people.