10 Pieces of Advice Every New TEFL Teacher Needs to Know
Many people around the world dream of moving abroad to teach English. It’s exciting, it’s life-changing and it can seem like a never-ending vacation. I have taught English abroad since 2015 in China and South Korea and together with fellow teachers with years of experience, I’ve compiled this list of 10 pieces of advice that every new EFL teacher needs to know.
1. Teaching is Actually Not That Hard - When You are Prepared!
So many people want to live abroad and a large percentage of these choose the path of teaching English. The demand for teachers is huge around the globe and you can find positions in virtually all corners of the world. While that’s great news, there’s one thing to keep in mind, being a native or fluent English speaker does not make you a great teacher. Many so-called teachers step into a classroom for the first time and are completely overwhelmed and don’t know what to do.
If you prepare yourself, the ride will be a lot smoother. Taking a TEFL or TESOL certification course will give you the perfect base of know-how to be able to lead a classroom abroad. Once you have got the basic skills sorted, you should find that teaching is actually not that hard.
Most new teachers receive extensive training at their school from colleagues and fellow teachers. A lot of schools also have set curriculums that make teaching even easier - and if they don’t, you will have learned how to plan effective lessons during your TEFL course so that planning your own lessons will soon become child’s play.
2. Patience is Gold
It’s also important to keep in mind that even if you have worked through your TEFL course and you have done tons of research about teaching, there are certain things that you will just have to learn along the way. Your first class might not be perfect and neither might be your second or third but as you continue your teaching career, you will get better at it and learn to develop your own personal teaching style.
Everyone teaches in a different way and while some strategies and methods might work for one teacher, they might not work for you. Be patient and you will figure out your own style as you go. How do you deal with the one kid that is constantly getting out of their chair? What do you do when a student doesn’t want to learn? How can you bring across a certain grammar point so that the students will understand it? The answers to these questions all depend on your individual situation and patience will give you the solutions in time.
3. All Kids Are the Same
The majority of teachers working for English schools teach children at some point during their career. This is because young learners are the biggest target group in the English education market worldwide.
After teaching English in China and South Korea, I have to agree with the statement “all kids are the same”. No matter where you teach, you can apply the same teaching strategies to young students all around the world. They love to play, they love interactive exercises and they love music and songs. At the same time, classroom management in a class filled with children works like a charm with a reward system. They love to get rewards like stickers, smiley faces or whatever it is that makes them feel that they are doing a good job. Once you understand that, teaching children anywhere around the world will suddenly become much simpler.
4. Don’t Underestimate Culture Shock
Chances are you have come across the term ‘culture shock’ when researching teaching English as a foreign language abroad. While it might seem like a ‘hard-to-grasp’ state of mind, it is very much a real thing and it can get to you.
Let me be honest with you. I’ve seen countless teachers who came to China or Korea, started their teaching job, and got up and left a week or two later. They just couldn’t deal with the change in culture.
So how can you make sure that this won’t happen to you? Well, there is no 100% guarantee that you are cut out for living in a faraway place with a culture that is very different from your own, but you can prepare yourself to prevent the effects of culture shock. Do as much research about your desired location as you can to understand the local culture. Read blogs of people living there, maybe engage with people from that country through social media or forums, read our ITTT country guides, buy books about the country, and even take a language course - the options are endless.
5. You Will Be Confused - and That’s OK
One of the effects of culture shock is that you will be confronted with situations you won’t understand and that won’t make sense to you. I was confused about the fact that teachers weren’t allowed to write students names in red at my school in Korea. Later, I learned that this had to do with a local superstition. This was far from the only situation that left me baffled at first and I am still sometimes confused about the way of doing things in different areas.
The best way to deal with this is to ask for clarification and to be flexible. Don’t try and place your way of doing things onto the locals, as you are, after all, a guest in their country. At the same time, stay true to your own values and don’t completely change yourself. It’s all about compromising and finding a balance.
6. You Might Get Sick
Yes, teaching English abroad is fun and many teachers only have one year to explore their host country before they head back home. You might have made plans before leaving home as to which festivals you will check out on the weekends or where you will go on your vacation in your new country.
While it’s always great to plan ahead, don’t forget that there is a chance that you might get sick. Will you have access to healthcare in the country you chose? If not, have you purchased adequate insurance for a long-term stay abroad? It’s also a great idea to pack a health kit with all essential medications you might need, such as painkillers, headache medicine, or allergy pills. Also think about things like birth control or contact lenses as you might need to purchase these in bulk to last throughout your stay.
7. Your Friends & Family Might Not Be Able to Relate
Moving to a different country, you will enjoy many new experiences and learn a lot of new things. At the same time, you might have to adjust to local customs and a different way of doing things. This is completely normal and a great thing - but your friends and family back home might not understand.
When I first moved to China, parts of my family just didn’t get why I would drop everything and just head to this strange place. When I call my friends back home and complain about some casual everyday issues living in Asia, most of them just can’t relate.
A lot of people might also ask when you are coming home and “get a real job”. Yes, apparently teaching is not a real job to some people. Especially when friends and family see you enjoying your time abroad through photos and posts on social media, they might not realize that you also do some actual work. And let’s face it: some of them are just plain jealous.
No matter what people say, don’t take it too personally. They don’t know what you are going through and after all, it’s your life and you can live it the way you want.
8. Read & Understand Your Contract
The bottom line is, teaching English is big business around the world and there are more vacant positions than teachers to fill them. After teaching for a couple of years, I quickly realized that there are two types of schools: those who actually care about their teachers and their students and those who only care about one thing: money. The latter often try to take advantage of teachers by bending the law and even setting up unlawful contracts.
How would foreign teachers know the local laws? This is what those scam schools think and prey on. Therefore, when interviewing for a job abroad, ask as many questions as you can about the employer and see if they seem trustworthy. Ask to speak with current teachers at the school and, most importantly, don’t blindly sign a contract just because you are eager to move abroad and start your new adventure.
The best way to avoid this is by going through a recruiter as they usually work with trustworthy schools and they are also able to help you with the contract and make sure it is lawful and fair. Most importantly, understand that the schools need you more than you need them.
9. You Might Not Go Back
I have to admit, when I embarked on my adventure of teaching English abroad and moved to China, my plan was to come back after a couple of years. Fast forward six years, and I’m still living abroad and have no plans of going back home. I still remember my mom saying “You’ll see, you’ll like it so much and stay. You won’t come back.” I didn’t believe I would stay abroad permanently, but now, South Korea is my home base.
There are many reasons why teachers decide to stay. It could be the attractive career opportunities for qualified EFL teachers abroad and some even open their own schools. Others, myself included, find love and settle and start a family abroad.
You just can’t predict the future.
10. You Won’t Be the Same Person
If you do go back home, you will quickly realize that you are not the same as when you left. As mentioned above, culture shock is real - and so is reverse culture shock. Yes, you heard that right. When living abroad for a long period of time, you change and adapt to your surroundings. Humans are programmed to do that. When you then return to your home country, you will find yourself having to adapt again.
A lot of teachers returning home also have a hard time realizing that relationships with friends and family might not be the same as before. Many think they will return to the exact same environment as when they left but the truth is, life goes on for those staying back home - even without you. Friends might get married, have children, or simply move away and won’t be available as they were before you left.
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