GoAbroad Interview

Kenneth Arnold - Course Director

Kenneth Arnold - Teacher Trainer

Kenneth Arnold has degrees in education and English and has worked in TEFL teaching and training since 1997. Originally from St. Louis, he completed his higher education with the Shenker TEFL certificate in Italy and the Cambridge DELTA. Kenneth has taught English in various countries including Malaysia, South Bohemia, Italy, Spain, and the U.S. in many academic settings. When not teaching or training, Kenneth enjoys sports, reading, and spending time with his young daughters.

What is the most important lesson you hope each trainee learns?

I think the best thing we can impart to the new teachers is a sense of dedication to the profession. I really think that if you try to do a good job teaching, put in the hard work necessary to do the job well, you will be happy with your life. If you take the job seriously, you’ll find life abroad much more pleasant and rewarding.

TEFL Worldwide Prague Staff and Trainees in between TEFL classes

TEFL staff and trainees having fun in between classes.

TEFL Worldwide Prague graduates have gone on to teach in almost every country in the world. What advice would you give to a recent graduate deciding where they should teach?

Hard to say. It really comes down to personality and what their motivation is. I usually give trainees advice based on their needs. Are they in this job for the long term, or do they want to teach for a year or two? Are they more interested in lifestyle or making money? Do they want to live in a place where they will meet a lot of like-minded people in similar situations, or are they interested in being more isolated and going off the beaten path? There are so many things to consider. The only real mistake is not giving it a try.

The Midwest is slightly notorious for being home to people that tend to stay in the Midwest most of their lives, but as a St. Louis native, gone global citizen, you have shattered that stereotype. How did you first decide to pursue a life teaching abroad?

That takes me back. I think where I come from, people don’t tend to leave. I’m a real black sheep in my family. But then of course, I have met many other Midwesterners who are living abroad as well.

I always had a sense that I wanted to try some other places as I was growing up, but I never met anyone with similar interests. In fact, I didn’t even know that ESL existed. I’d never met anyone who had lived abroad and taught English. The entire concept was unknown to me. Finally, in my last year of university, I started interacting with some of the foreign exchange students, who told me that I could teach English abroad. So I bought a one-way ticket and landed in Europe, having never even heard of TEFL. When I look back, it’s amazing that I’m still here.

TEFL Worldwide Prague is open about the fact that their course is challenging, but also very fun. What is an exercise teacher trainees do that merge the two?

I think that new teachers often approach grammar with fear and trepidation. I like them to concentrate on ways to use the grammar correctly in normal conversation. One activity we try is the “Lying game.” In this activity, the students ask each other a list of questions beginning with “Have you ever … ?” Their partner must answer, “Yes, I have.” Then you ask follow up questions to determine if the person is telling the truth. Afterwards, we look at the grammar you utilized, switching from present perfect to past simple. It helps put the grammar into a natural setting for the trainees, and therefore, is less intimidating. Then we can discuss how to use the activity to help students practice the target grammar effectively.

Why did TEFL Worldwide choose to be located solely in Prague, Czech Republic?

I like the fact that we don’t have too many distractions. We can focus on just making our school the best it can be. In the past, I’ve worked for training centers with multiple locations and it always seemed that the successful locations were keeping the unsuccessful ones afloat, which can be distracting for a business.

Teacher trainees of TEFL Worldwide Prague spend eight to ten hours in the classroom with local Czech students. Why is this portion of TEFL certification so important?

I think most trainees realize the importance of keeping the course practical. They will always tell you that the theory is important, but they need to be able to put it into practice in a realistic situation.

Our demos to students are very understanding with the new teachers. They are clear on the idea that our trainees are just learning, so sometimes things won’t go as smoothly as they could. 

Local ESL schools are happy to hire our graduates, because they know that the trainees have practice teaching authentic Czech learners of English. Sometimes that extra bit of local knowledge can tip the balance in favour of a prospective job candidate.

TEFL Worldwide Prague values one-on-one teacher to trainee time. What is the typical class size, and how does this individualized attention really help a future teacher?

Our class size can vary, depending on the season and the level of demand. I think the trainees enjoy the course a bit more when they have more peers to interact with. 

That said, I really enjoy the individual time I get to spend with the trainees, giving lesson advice and feedback. I think they appreciate hearing suggestions on how to improve their lessons. Because once they get out in the real teaching world, they will have to sink or swim based on what they were able to take away from the course.

After earning your TEFL Certification, you went on to earn your DELTA (Diploma in Teaching English Language to Adults) as well. What are the benefits of pursuing this additional certification?

Like any profession, an ESL teacher needs to stay current and meet new academic challenges, and the best way to do this is by furthering their education. I really don’t trust any teacher trainer who hasn’t pursued a DELTA or Master’s because this shouldn’t be a profession where you can just rest on your laurels. Any teacher should strive to get better.

I do warn trainees thinking about getting a DELTA about what a major commitment it can be. In my DELTA class, of the nine of us who started the year, there were only four left by the end of the course.

You have experience teaching English all over the world, and in all sort of environments, from university classrooms to teaching military English for NATO. Which of your many teaching placements do you remember most fondly? Which was most challenging?

I think it’s really important to keep yourself fresh in this job. One way to do that is to teach in a number of different settings. This way I feel very comfortable giving advice to trainees. From young learners, to business English, to University students, to English for special purposes, I feel like I’ve covered most areas a new teacher might want to try.

I’m not trying to be diplomatic, but I’ve found positives in every ESL position I’ve ever had. And each had challenges in its own way. Teaching for NATO, I had students for whom English could often mean the difference between life and death. Teaching university students, you had the pressure of students counting on your help ensure their academic futures.

You have been working in the TEFL industry for close to 20 years. What are some of the biggest changes you have witnessed in the last two decades?

The biggest change I’ve seen is that the new teachers graduating from training are so much better prepared to jump into the profession than I was as a young teacher. Twenty years ago, the standards expected of us as teachers were so much lower. Students didn’t expect much and often studied as a hobby. Nowadays, students are often counting on English getting them higher positions, promotions, etc. And they expect their teachers to help them.

It took me about a year before I felt comfortable as an ESL teacher. The people I train nowadays are so much better after one month of training than I was originally.

Would you rather teach abroad in today’s world, or that of 20 years ago?

Gosh, who knows? In a lot of ways, I feel like I’ve finished my big adventures teaching round the world and am happy to settle down. The world of Prague 20 years ago was amazingly different from what it’s like today. But, then I meet the new teachers who are preparing to go off into who knows where and have exciting experiences abroad in places I’ve never been and I feel that twinge of envy, reminding me that I haven’t managed to teach in all the places I’d like to.

What country would you like to see more TEFL Worldwide Prague graduates teach in, in the future?

Of course certain places tend to be more popular than others. It might be nice to have more teachers in South America. That’s a part of the world I don’t have any experience with. It would be helpful to get more info from trainees about that part of the world.

We’ve really got trainees in so many places. I’ve trained well over 600 teachers over the years and try to maintain contact with as many of them as I can. I try to maintain a Facebook page to help all of my trainees be in contact with each other, kind of a networking opportunity. Are you interested in teaching in, say, Southeast Asia? Here are some teachers who are living there right now. I’ve found that the TEFL Worldwide community is quite communal in its desire to help out new teachers. I really am happy to be a part of that.