If you know any teachers of English as a foreign language, you might have heard them say that TEFL is not a job, it is a way of life. While this sounds like a very bold statement, it can be true for many TEFLers out there. Many will tell you that they are living the dream, and they wouldn’t be lying, but only few will share the struggles they faced and how they managed to overcome them.
Let’s see what challenges you might encounter while living and teaching abroad and, most importantly, how to defeat them.
- Culture shock is often underestimated, but it can have a huge impact on your experience abroad and, as a result, it could negatively influence the way you work and the chances of progressing in your career. It’s important to keep in mind that you don’t need to move to the other side of the world for culture shock to affect your everyday life. Before you travel to your exciting destination, learn as much as possible about it – its culture and traditions, unusual and unwritten customs, and people’s typical behaviours in different situations.
- Understanding your learners is perhaps one of the most difficult tasks for any teacher. This is especially true when your learners come from different countries and don’t share the same cultural background. You will soon notice a pattern in your students’ classroom behaviour. Some might be eager to participate and talk over one another, while others will only speak when they are directly spoken to. Some are open to expressing their opinions, hopes and dreams, while others will prefer to keep quiet. As a teacher, it is necessary that you notice these patterns and amend your lessons to foster a learning environment. A way to keep the dominant and talkative students at bay is to assign specific ‘quiet’ roles when working in groups, like listening and notetaking. On the other hand, give your shy and quiet students roles that require them to speak, like reporting and sharing information.
- Routine can kill anybody’s enthusiasm, and this is true inside and outside the classroom. Variety is the spice of life, and it is also a teacher’s best friend. Alternate different types of activities: quiet ones, that might involve reading and writing, and more active ones, like discussions and debates; individual work and pair/group activities. Don’t be afraid to include one or two quick yet purposeful games in your lessons to keep the engagement levels high.
- Occasionally, lessons will go wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Even if your lesson is carefully prepared to meet the language needs of your students, there might be something that just won’t work for them. It could be that the topic doesn’t interest them, there might be too much unfamiliar vocabulary, or the learners don’t work well in the groups you had planned. The only way to fix this problem is flexibility. Be prepared to chop and change bits of your lesson to make it work.
- Lesson aims, or learning objectives (LO) – as they are often called, should be established before planning your whole lesson. It is possible that you find some reading or listening materials that would work exceptionally well for a specific LO, but it would be more beneficial for your learners if you identified what area they need to work on first. Only then can you design a lesson specially for them.
In a nutshell…
Working abroad as a TEFL is an incredibly fulfilling adventure that allows you to experience different cultures while travelling the world and meeting amazing people. As with any adventure, teaching abroad is very exciting, but it can also be challenging. Think about learning about your destination before you set off and remember that to make your lessons a success, you need to know your learners, avoid routine, focus on the lesson aims, and embrace flexibility as well as (occasional) flops.