A Failure’s Guide to Teaching English Abroad

The vast majority of people teaching English abroad and dedicated and professional. But bad apples are out there. Beware!

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Teaching English abroad is like any other business; occasionally a dud slips through the cracks. These tricksters, who pretend just long enough to get a plane ticket and a visa, can cause real problems. They can pull other teachers down with them and make the break room and shared living spaces uncomfortable. While the vast majority of TEFL certified teachers are smart, creative and focused on the job, the slacker set does exist. So be aware. And be sure to ignore the poisonous things they whisper.  

What Failures Say About Lesson Planning

“I never lesson plan! My students just want to talk about my life. They’re always asking me about my weekend, who I’m dating, a million questions about home. All we do is talk. It’s great. Conversation is all they want. And they’re learning. So, why should I waste their time with grammar, phonetics, blah, blah, blah.”

They are NOT learning. Students ask teachers personal questions specifically to avoid learning. They know that the more time they can get teachers to spend rambling on about themselves, the less time they will have to spend studying grammar, vocabulary, reading comprehension, etc. And these conversation sessions aren’t conversations at all. The teacher rambles and the students occasionally answer direct questions. There is no learning objective and thus no opportunity to learn. The talkative students might polish what they already know and everyone else will simply tune out.

What Failures Say About the Importance of English as a Subject

“I don’t know why you try so hard. We are glorified babysitters. The students expect English class to be fun. And we are supposed to be funny. It’s all a show. Rich parents paying for extracurriculars. Do the dance. Leave the teaching to their real teachers.”

TEFL certified English teachers ARE real teachers. Today, more than ever, the acquisition of English as a second language is vitally important. If you teach your students how to learn a language, if you get them excited about language learning, they will continue progressing until they have reached fluency. And as fluent (or near fluent) English speakers they will have opportunities. They will have the opportunity to attend University in an English speaking country. They will have career advancement opportunities, travel opportunities and self learning opportunities. Can their history teacher give them that? Their science teacher? Their social studies teacher?  

What Failures Say About Preparedness

“You know what I love about this job? Nothing is all that important. It’s a do whatever lifestyle. Last night, I stayed out until 4am. I was so hungover this morning we didn’t even open the book. We just played games. The students don’t know any better. And I doubt management is paying attention.”

The students noticed. Kids are emotional sponges. If you are happy and enthusiastic, they will be happy and enthusiastic. If you are disciplined and under control, they will be disciplined and under control. If you are disinterested and unfocused, they will be disinterested and unfocused. Being prepared is about more than lesson planning. You have to walk into the classroom, everyday, ready to inspire whether you feel inspired or not. As for management, they noticed too. They didn’t say anything because they were busy preparing a written warning and scheduling interviews with replacement teachers.

What Failures Say About the Program

“This place is a joke. Getting the visa was a nightmare. The textbooks are terrible. They pretend to be strict about lesson planning and educating the kids, but you know they’re just in it for the money. Speaking of which, do you know how much they charge? What they pay us is a crime!”

Those that criticize the program immediately and adamantly are generally blaming others for their own shortcomings. The visa process was hard because they didn’t have everything ready to submit. The textbook is tested and proven but any textbook is difficult to use when you open it five minutes before class. They can’t be asked to plan a lesson, and yet, they want to fill their pockets with the money set aside to pay the support staff, buy additional resources, pay the electricity bill, etc.

Teaching English abroad is an incredible job. It is a job that changes lives; both for students and for teachers. TEFL programs and language schools work hard to weed out anyone entering the profession for the wrong reasons. But they can’t catch them all. You’ll meet a few tricksters. Help them improve if you can. Ignore them if you have to. And teach as well as you possibly can. Shine bright and maybe they’ll scurry away.

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