As much as we would all like ESL teaching to be as simple as showing up and explaining to our students how the English language works, there are a number of other social factors that need to be considered when working as a teacher in a foreign environment. These are the kinds of things you really only learn through travel and work experience. Nevertheless, I will do my best to prepare you for them ahead of time in the paragraphs that follow.
Local Disciplinary Practices
When teaching children, there is almost never going to be a time when every single student perfectly behaves. Because of their naturally rambunctious personalities, or occasionally even intentional maliciousness towards the teacher or other students, there will be those unavoidable moments where one or two students can interrupt the learning environment for everyone present. Obviously, in the interest of education, this cannot be allowed to go on for long. But you have to remember that the way you would otherwise choose to deal with disruptive students is not necessarily how the organization employing you chooses to deal with them.
Every country and every institution will have an enormous number of creative (sometimes downright unfathomable) ways of instilling discipline. As their employee, you are usually not in a position to argue with these policies. If you are not comfortable endorsing or following through with these discipline practices, you need to be very careful about who you agree to work for.
Local ESL Curriculum
If you really want to learn about a culture, become a teacher within it. The more places you teach, the more you will see just how quickly, and sometimes arbitrarily, the standards of education can vary. You might have already worked out a seemingly logical and efficient teaching method and the proper breadth of English knowledge you think is necessary for the students in your care.
However, the reigning authorities (political or organizational) might have different ideas entirely. They may have almost no guidelines for what the students should be learning and at what rate, or they may very strictly enforce an intensive schedule of required material, followed frequently by standardized testing to ensure the students have memorized the information long enough to regurgitate it back up again shortly after. In these situations, much of the personal influence you have as a teacher is overshadowed by the demands of the higher-ups above you.
Local Customs and Manners
Does the country you want to teach for have a totally different way of greeting people than what you are used to? What about the tone of voice you are allowed to use when talking to someone older or younger than you? What is their view on physical contact with strangers, spouses, or students? How much skin are you allowed to show on the job or in public (either as a man or a woman)? Most importantly, what are the consequences you may face if you break any of these cultural customs and manners?
There are so many details that go into making up the experience of a new culture that no travel guide or book could ever give you a truly adequate understanding before you arrive. This problem is compounded when you choose to work as a teacher in that culture, especially in places where teachers are highly respected. You are aren’t just agreeing to teach English- you are agreeing to embody that culture’s idea of what an English teacher is supposed to look and act like. This can be a lot more burdensome than you may realize ahead of time. Choose your destination wisely.
BIO: Tom currently writes for LAL Schools – he enjoys sharing his experiences as a language teacher and exploring new methods of educating.