Teaching English abroad was one of the most wonderful times of my life. I learned so much about myself and about my world while doing this. As a TEFL teacher, you are able to choose where in the world it is that you would like to teach students English. No other job in the world has an opportunity like this one! Of course, every job has its drawbacks, TEFL teaching included. As much fun as it was, it also had its challenging moments. In this article, I share some tips that helped me during this time of my life. There are certain things I wish I have known before entering the classroom in a foreign country for the first time. Since I wished I had heard these tips, I think they will be helpful to other TEFL teachers out there who are currently teaching abroad or who are planning on teaching abroad in the near future.
When teaching English abroad, it is so important to keep in mind that there are going to be challenges in your new country: both in the classroom and outside the classroom. When I embarked on my journey, I was so excited that I had forgotten that challenges would occur. So, the first step is to acknowledge the fact that this will happen. one of the first challenges that I overcame as a TEFL teacher was homesickness. This was one of the most challenging aspects for me. The first 2 weeks were fantastic! I thought to myself “how could anything go wrong?! I’m in a new country, learning a new culture and a new language and doing my dream job!” But things can go wrong… You can become lonely and miss the comfort of your home country. This is a very normal thing to feel. You have to just give it time though. Everything requires patience, TEFL teaching included! Needless to say, when you are feeling homesick or a little down, your performance in the classroom won’t be as good as it usually is or as good as it should be. When you’re feeling this way, it’s crucial for you to take care of yourself before entering the classroom. Some ideas when you feel this way is to try to connect to yourself in some way. This can be through an artistic outlet, through journaling, through Skyping your friends and family, by cooking one of your favorite meals from home or anything else that may help your mental health. BE SURE TO DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING! By doing nothing, you’re allowing the homesickness to take over and that’s not fair to yourself or to your students. When you’re in front of the classroom, your students can read you. They can see when you are not yourself.
A second challenge to be prepared for is culture shock. No matter where you decide to teach English abroad, you’ll more than likely experience some form of culture shock! Whether it be the food, the driving or the way people treat each other. Some aspects of your new life will differ from your life in your home country, be able to adapt to this. My advice is to get a guide book and read up about the culture in your new home before embarking on the journey. Learn and take notes about some of the things that seem really weird and different from what you are used to. Then, when you see it happen for the first time, it won’t be as shocking to you in person.
Another huge aspect that I was not very prepared for is that students can be difficult. During my TEFL certification course, we focused primarily on the teaching aspect of TEFL. We touched on some classroom management skills, but no one ever flat out said: “students can be really hard to handle sometimes.” They talk back, don’t listen, play with their phones, walk out of the room in the middle of lessons for 5-10 + minutes, try to negotiate homework, tell you that you are a hard teacher and more. This can be difficult for a new teacher to get used to. I wish someone had better warned me about this because this aspect made my first few weeks of teaching a little more difficult than needed. Not only would I get upset in the classroom, but, I took this home with me, too. I would think about why my students didn’t like me or why they didn’t respect for hours after leaving school. That definitely was not good for my mental health
So, what do you do about “naughty” students? Sometimes, you ignore it. Other times, you set consequences. Let them know who is boss. It is my opinion that clearly stating and explaining rules and regulations on the first day makes things go more smoothly, for both you and your students. Also remember, that most of the time, you don’t know their language and they can view this as a weakness of yours. So from day 1 in the classroom, you must show them who is in charge. If you don’t do this, they have the ability to take advantage of you.
Lastly, one thing that is so important to do when first beginning this career, especially when abroad, is to trust yourself. Your gut instinct usually gives you advice without you asking for it and it is essential to listen to this instincts. You are in a new land doing a new job. Of course things are going to seem weird but through connecting with yourself, it will become less weird. You’ll start to understand things more and everything will begin to settle down in your new home.
So, there you have it. These are some of the biggest challenges I encountered when I first began to teach English abroad. Your experience may be different, but keeping these in mind may help a little bit during the transition period! Overall though, I wouldn’t change my experience at all. As I already mentioned, it was one of the best experiences of my life and I wouldn’t be who I am today with it! I learned so much and now teaching TEFL is a very enjoyable career, whether I’m in my home country or abroad.