Ticket to work around the world: UH Hilo students prepare well earning certificate to Teach English to Speakers of Other Languages

Throughout the U.S. as well as overseas there is a strong need for people who can teach English as a second language. With a TESOL certificate aiding a baccalaureate degree, employment possibilities are endless.

By Mikayla Toninato.

TESOL, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, is a certificate program offered by the English department at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. It gives students the ability to teach English as a second/foreign language to a variety of language learners. The course work goes over general linguistics, the English language, and teaching English as a second language methods and materials.

Bela Conley-Ramsay
Bela Conley-Ramsay. Photo courtesy ALEX program.

“What everyone should know about this program is that you could get a job after you graduate,” says Bela Conley-Ramsay, TESOL program coordinator, citing the main reason students should join the TESOL certificate program.

The TESOL certificate program requires 18 credits in total. However, for English and linguistics majors they’ll already be taking the majority of the required classes. There are no prerequisites for the certificate; anyone from any discipline is allowed in the program.

Conley-Ramsay describes how the only thing all the teachers have in common is personality.

“You need to be kind,” she says. “You need to like people. You need to be open-minded and respectful of cultural differences. You need to be interested in people and their stories and their ways of life around the world.”

Beyond these characteristics, there is no requirement of what it takes to enter the TESOL program.

It takes a community

Conley-Ramsay teaches a practicum course for UH Hilo TESOL students to learn and practice their teaching skills. However, there was an issue in finding students that wanted to learn English. The perfect solution was found in Hilo’s local community, which includes a lot of immigrants and children of immigrants who have a hard time speaking and learning English.

“I didn’t know where to get the students who wanted to learn English,” she says. “I was putting up this sign at Starbucks and this lady grabbed me and said, ʻI’m the head of the new Catholic Charities Immigrant Center, can I send our contacts to you?’ Then at our first class we had like 80 students show up from the community. I had to grab four classrooms just to have enough room, it was crazy.”

Three photos of students in TESOL class. 1) Two female students talking in front of a chalkboard. 2) Two male students looking at papers. 3) Male student posing for photo in front ot world map.
Students in TESOL class.

Conley-Ramsay can offer these classes for free simply as a way for her UH Hilo students to gain hands-on experience in teaching English as a second language.

Conley-Ramsay says the original group of community students enjoyed the class so much they continue to come back. “The classes are free for the community because our students are practicing on them,” she explains. “I have [community] students that have been coming for more than five years.”

Conley-Ramsay says the motivation for these students to come back is always strong. “It’s awesome, you know why? Because they’re not paying for it, they’re coming because they want to come. That tells me my kids are doing something right.”

Serving the local community’s needs

Students from the community can completely self-direct the practicum class as well. Conley-Ramsay explains, “[Community] students tell us what they want to learn and we try to create lesson plans around that.” This way, it allows for community students of different levels of expertise with English to get a more personalized lesson in what they might need.

However, the pull of students from the community has been slipping ever since Catholic Charities lost their grant for running the Immigrant Resource Center. Ever since this connection was lost, the number of students has decreased, although efforts have not halted to gain new students from the community.

“I place an ad in the newspaper each year, but it seems to spread more by word of mouth.” Conley-Ramsay always encourages her UH Hilo students to tell their friends and families about this free class for the community. She states how there is no limit to the number of people they can take into the class and that she will always create room for more.

There are currently about twelve students from the community partaking in classes. UH Hilo students are able to co-teach these classes on a rotating schedule. Each class has about three lead teachers and everyone else partakes as a teaching assistant helping out in the classroom.

“We have some no-English people in the class, it’s really, really hard,” Conley-Ramsay explains. She says working with people of different levels is a great way for her students to see a wide variety of teaching methods.

“We feed them language. We just start with, ʻHi. My name is Bela, what’s your name?’ and then we do that over and over. It doesn’t take that much for them to be able to get those formulaic kinds of things. Then we use pictures with vocabulary words. I’ll glue pictures with words so they can keep them as vocab cards.”

Three students sitting at desks, talking with each other with papers in front of them.
TESOL students prepare teaching materials.

Regardless of a person’s home country or political beliefs, Conley-Ramsay sees language simply as a tool. There is no one language to be used, nor right or wrong language to speak. “I’m going to give you this tool, and you use this tool in the way that it best benefits you, and I am going to step out of the political arena.

TESOL certificate is a ticket to work around the world

After graduation, a student that leaves with a TESOL certificate will be well set for finding a job. Conley-Ramsay says this is the biggest factor that should bring students to the certificate program. “There are not enough TESOL teachers.”

Throughout the United States as well as overseas there is a strong need for teachers that are able to teach English as a second language. With a TESOL certificate aiding a baccalaureate degree, the possibilities are endless for finding a place of work.

“Overseas you have lots of opportunities, there’s international schools all over the place, lots of my students are doing online programs,” Conley-Ramsay explains. The certificate is recognized globally so it truly has the power to take teachers all over the world.

Earning this certificate also acts as a great way for students to travel around the world, teaching classes as they go. Conley-Ramsay describes students who now live in Europe and are able to teach English online, making enough to travel the world while they are doing it.

“The greatest benefit of this is that your bachelor degree becomes the foundation underneath the certificate but without the certificate you would not be going overseas and you would not be getting that job,” adds Conley-Ramsay.

For those looking to travel, work with others, and to have a strong opportunity for employment after graduation, the TESOL certificate is a great way to go.

Conley-Ramsay says “anyone can learn” how to teach English as a second language. With nothing but patience and a positive attitude, this opportunity is open for any student willing to try.

Story by Mikayla Toninato, a junior completing a semester at UH Hilo through the National Student Exchange program. She is a writer for UH Hilo Stories. She’s majoring in journalism with minors in graphic design and digital media studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.