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Reading any blog about getting into TEFL will surely tell you of a world of adventures. The opportunity to travel, get to know new cultures, and meet people from all backgrounds awaits you. Taking a TEFL course has never been easier and can provide you with many opportunities in the classroom and online.

Yes, taking a TEFL course can help you change your life. But you might want to also consider how you can use TEFL to help change the lives of others. You might not have thought of it, but using your English language teaching skills can truly help on the way to changing someone else’s situation for the better.

Why?

At the moment, English is one of the world’s most powerful, and most coveted languages. If you go to many countries in the world, English is learned as a second language. It is a language used in business, education, and travel. There are millions and millions of people across the world who dream of being fluent in the English language. 

A lot of people learn for fun and to be able to travel more. English is known as the current lingua franca of the world. If you don’t speak the local language, then using English will likely help you communicate with others. If you encounter two people from different countries who don’t speak each other’s languages, they will most likely use the English language with each other.

For some people, learning English is even more vital than using it for travel purposes. Learning English can help them get into higher education or get a job. Tourism is a big field in many countries and English can really help people work in this area.

Not only can learning English help people in their own countries, but it’s crucial for those who seek a new life in an English-speaking country. Many refugees and migrants heading to the UK and Ireland in particular, to escape things that we could never imagine. 

Since the 2022 war started in Ukraine, it is thought that nearly 7 million refugees have fled the country with another 8 million displaced within the country itself. These 7 million have left for neighbouring countries or further. This is the largest European refugee crisis since World War II.Online teacher with laptop

A lot of us are very lucky to have never had to experience this situation, and most likely never will. Leaving the home you have known all your life, your belongings, and even family members, not knowing if you will return or not. Now, add integrating into a new environment to this mix.

Whether or not they settle in an English-speaking country, learning English will greatly improve their chances of finding employment and communicating with others. It is estimated that up to 100,000 Ukrainian refugees have arrived in the UK and Ireland alone with this number predicted to rise. 

Although the Ukrainian refugee crisis is prominent in the news at the moment, there are also many other refugees needing help. Nearly 7 million Syrian refugees have left the country in the last 10 years, most seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Approximately 6 million Venezuelans have been displaced since 2014. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, nearly 1 million refugees were recorded despite the country itself receiving many refugees from other countries. The list above is by no means an extensive list of ongoing refugee crises (there are many more and continuing to rise) but it shows how this is something that affects the whole world. 

How can you help?

I’m sure none of the above information will be new to you. We know that English is a very popular language. We know that there are migrants and refugees displaced all over the world. But where do you come into this situation?

In a world where learning English can make a real difference in someone’s life, TEFL teachers can play a pivotal role in this. There are many organisations that match teachers with refugees who are looking to study English. This may be so that they can get a job using that language or to help them settle better into life in English-speaking countries. Since the pandemic, more and more organizations use online learning to facilitate this. This opens up even more access to both TEFL teachers from different countries and students.

Young English teacher giving online lessonsWhat does this usually involve?

The conditions may be different from organisation to organisation but in general, volunteering requires you to teach one student. This is for 1-2 hours a week and normally for a minimum period of 3 months. The organisation may provide you with materials or you may have to prepare the lessons yourself, based on the needs of the student.

Very often, the classes, via zoom, skype, etc,  will be conversation-based as speaking skills are the most urgent to learn. However, there may be students who want to prepare for an exam and need help in this area too. The important thing is that the needs of the student are being met so this will vary depending on who you teach

A lot of organisations provide some sort of training. This might involve training using the materials and how to conduct the lessons. More often, the training might involve how to work with refugees and migrants, whose needs may differ from the students you have taught before. If the organisation focuses on working with a particular diaspora, you may also have training in the background of their home country and the factors which may have led them to leave.

There are also in-class volunteering opportunities. These are likely to be bigger time commitments and involve daily lessons following a course for a number of weeks. These might take place in English-speaking countries for refugees and asylum seekers. You may also see vacancies for volunteers in refugee camps, such as in Greece, where the teacher will travel for a time period to provide classes. 

Things to consider before you volunteer your time

-Time commitment: of course, you are giving up your time voluntarily to help. This often means that teachers don’t remain very dedicated and give up after a few weeks. This is not helpful to the organisation or the students you will teach. If you can’t commit to the time that they ask you to (3 months for example), then be realistic with yourself about this.

-Working with refugees and migrants: working in this context can be more difficult than working in a school job. There are many factors that can affect the classes: social, psychological, political, and the list goes on. It’s important that the teacher understands this. There may be topics that the student does not wish to discuss. 

classroomFurthermore, most organisations also offer some form of mental health service or have contacts. Of course, as the teacher, you are not solely responsible for your students but you should also take an interest in their general welfare.

-Technology: you will find that a lot of students in this context do not have their own laptops or proper equipment to carry out the lesson. Many will use their phones to connect to the class and there is likely to be background noise. It’s important that, as the teacher, you can adapt to this and do your best. This can be very frustrating for the teacher but the student will be grateful for the time in the class, even if it is via their phone.

-Guidance: Volunteering your time can be great if you are relatively new to teaching. It can be a worthwhile way to build up more hours, especially in the online classroom. Most organisations will accept newly qualified teachers. They will likely guide you on the type of class they teach and they may have resources for you. 

However, their priority is not to train you as a TEFL teacher. As may be the case if you get your first job in a school. You should be aware that, although there is support that varies from company to company, teaching refugees can also be a very independent job. The focus is on helping the student, not training you as a teacher.

 How are TEFL organisations helping refugees?  

-The TEFL Institute of Ireland is offering 120-hour TEFL courses to host families. Those who need help on how to communicate with any Ukrainian refugees they are currently hosting. Furthermore, any Ukrainian people who have a good level of English and wish to pursue work in TEFL can also take a course with us.

Everywhere English.eu is currently conducting a 4-week English course for Ukrainian refugees upon their arrival in Ireland. This course aims to help Ukrainian professionals improve their English in order to get a job in Ireland or elsewhere.

online teacher with students

RefuNet is an organisation based in the UK that pairs TEFL teachers with asylum seekers and migrants who are based in English-speaking countries (mostly UK and Ireland). Pairs conduct online lessons every week and are catered to the needs of the student.

Paper Airplanes provides tutoring for Syrian refugees and other people affected by conflict in this area. Teachers are paired with a student and conduct the lessons online. Many of the students aim to take exams, such as IELTS.

If you are interested in using your TEFL skills to help others in an ever conflicting world. There are lots of organisations that would welcome your help. You can find many more than the list above by just googling “TEFL teacher volunteer opportunities”. You see how globally your TEFL skills help reach and how you can get involved. 

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