TESOL: One teacher’s reflection on why he chose this career path
by Cary Bertoncini, TESOL Graduate
There are many reasons behind why students choose to earn a Certificate in TESOL at City University of Seattle. This quarter, we would like to feature Cary Bertoncini, who has recently earned his certificate in TESOL. Like many who have chosen to teach English as a foreign or second language, his journey has had many interesting twists and turns.
Thinking of a career in teaching English abroad or in the US? Enjoy Cary’s account of why he was drawn to this unique field.
Teaching by chance. . .
I began college wanting to be a marine biologist and therefore first focused on science courses. After trying business, marketing, and economics for a while, I took a break and went to Taiwan for two years, where I worked as an EFL teacher for the first time in private language schools. I don’t think I was a very good teacher at that point, but it did get me more focused on learning, and I returned to complete a double major in Asian Studies and English with a minor in Chinese. I completed most of a TESOL graduate certificate at that time, returning to Taiwan after graduation on a Fulbright, where I worked mostly as a teacher for the middle school English teachers of Ilan County.
Decisions!! Making a true commitment.
In my early 40s, I began to feel a bit lost, and with my physical abilities starting to fade, I went on a long backpacking trip in the high Sierra. At about 13,000 feet atop a craggy mountaineering pass, I considered my future and decided that I needed to do something that used my mind into old age. I realized that I needed to return to education and become a college teacher. A week later, I enrolled in a MA English program and began my first course about a week after that. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
I completed that MA and then a MFA in Creative Writing, and eventually moved to Korea, where my first job was working for a provincial government teacher-training institute where I was a writing instructor for K-12 English teachers. From there, I moved on to a university position. After three years in Korea, I moved to a university position in China, followed by my current position working at a really great university in Shantou, China. When I finish my contract this June, I will have worked at this position for three years.
Teaching is a tough business in some ways. We have to work pretty hard, and we don’t really get to see tangible results very often; our work – our students – move on from us, and often the effort we have made leaves with them, translating into benefits only later. TESOL often allows us to see more results – in a year’s time, our students usually show improvement in writing and speaking abilities if they are working at it, and particularly in Asia, they are almost always working at it. Working in TESOL has also been good for me because I need to be continually learning, and our field is complex and changing. Students are also unique, so every class, even if it is the same course, can be quite different. Finally, I think with teaching it is impossible to be perfect, so it’s a great field to get into for someone who likes to work at it, try new things, change and grow. While I do see a lot of teachers in other fields, particularly if they stay in their home cultures, get stuck in ruts, teaching the same courses the same way for many years, teaching TESOL, particularly when working abroad, seems to provoke more movement and change. We are allowed and often encouraged to be experimenters, tinkerers, lifelong learners.
So, for me, now with two AA degrees, two BA degrees, a minor, two graduate certificates, and in my third MA program, TESOL seems like a good field. I’m 50 years old, and I can probably continue to learn and grow as long as I continue to work in this field, which will probably be until I die. At the end of the day, there are not a lot of jobs where it would seem reasonable to say that.