Teaching is not just a job: it’s a vocation, and it is also one of the most rewarding jobs out there. Teaching English abroad is even better: not only can you make a positive impact in the lives of your students, but you also get to experience first-hand their culture and country – far better than watching it in a movie!
Although exciting, leaving your familiar environment behind to step into the uncharted territory of teaching abroad can be a little scary, and while most people are somewhat afraid of the unknown, preparation is the key for success.
Every country has different rules and regulations regarding the hiring procedure of international English teachers, such as age restrictions, level of education and teaching experience. Therefore, it is paramount that you do your research about the country you want to move to. Overall, however, there are certain areas that can be challenging whatever the destination you choose, like what kind of institution – if any – to work for, what kind of classes to teach, and where you stand if you are a non-native English teacher.
Choose your employer
Wherever you go, you’ll find that the vast majority of work opportunities and techniques in the TEFL industry fall under the following institutions:
- Academies or Language schools: These are private schools that organise language courses for students of all ages at any proficiency level, often delivered in the evening or at the weekend. Teachers are hired as and when needed throughout the year, so the chances of getting a job in one of these schools is high. There, newly qualified teachers are welcome, as there is usually a strong support system that offers guidance and professional development on a regular basis.
- Public, private, and international schools: These offer different types of advantages that vary from country to country. Public schools offer stable work and support but salaries aren’t usually very high. In some countries, like Japan or South Korea, there are government-led programmes to recruit international teachers in public schools. If you are interested, take a look at The TEFL Org`s piece on Teach English in South Korea. Private schools usually pay very well and have up-to-date resources and technical equipment. However, they might not offer enough teaching hours to make up a full salary. Similarly, international schools offer great work conditions, but with fewer institutions of this kind, the competition to get hired is fierce.
- Universities: If you manage to be employed there, you will enjoy the best working conditions, the most generous salaries, and the longest holiday period. The English teaching jobs there are limited and the screening of the candidates is very selective.
- Private tuition: Although this might not be suitable as a permanent or full-time solution, it is an effective way to make some extra money while working for an employer. While this is common practice in many countries, some schools don’t allow their teachers to engage in private classes, so be sure to check your contract.
One-to-one or group classes?
Most teachers have a clear idea in mind on whether they prefer to teach group classes or individual ones, but this depends on the teacher’s personality because each option has some advantages and disadvantages.
From a teacher’s perspective, one-to-one classes offer considerable advantages. The focus is on one student only, so issues like mixed abilities and classroom dynamics are non-existent. In addition, this kind of classes are a more lucrative option. On the other hand, individual classes can be more challenging to plan. As the teacher often delivers these lessons at the student’s premises or their workplace, this can be a lonely environment for the teacher.
Many students believe that one-to-one classes can be more beneficial for their learning progress, and this might be true to a certain extent. The lessons progress at the student’s pace and the carefully picked materials are specific for their learning needs and interests. They have the complete focus of the teacher and they have plenty of opportunities to practise their language skills.
However, the student might feel under pressure to perform at the highest standard at all times, given that there aren’t any other students in the class. This also means that the learner misses out on peer learning opportunities and social interaction which they would have in group classes.
Teaching English as a non-native speaker
If English is the first language that you learnt as a child, then you are a native speaker. In the past, this gave TEFL teachers an incredible advantage over talented and qualified teachers who were non-native speakers. Nowadays, things have changed and continue to do so, perhaps since the number of non-native English teachers is in constant rise, surpassing that of native TEFL teachers.
With a few exceptions, most countries and institutions currently consider the following as the most important features of an effective TEFL teacher:
- qualifications – 120-hour TEFL certificate, university degree (preferred)
- language proficiency
- personal traits – cultural sensibility, the ability to adapt and think on their feet, openness to new experiences, eagerness to learn.
The learning environment
Another challenge in the day-to-day life of a TEFL teacher is how to promote learning and foster an environment in which students feel engaged and encouraged to learn. Due to previous learning experiences, many students might not be as enthusiastic about being in the class as you would expect.
Another aspect to consider are different classroom behaviours due to different cultures. If you teach a multilingual class, you will find that some learners are eager to participate and answer your questions, while others will speak only if they are spoken to. This could result in some students dominating the lesson and preventing others from speaking and practising. Promoting learning means that every student has equal opportunities to learn and practise.
One way to ensure this is to assign specific roles to each student during pair or group activities. The talkative students should have tasks that require listening and taking notes; the quiet students should be responsible for asking/answering questions and reporting information.
More advantages, less challenges
Teaching is a difficult but fulfilling profession, even more so if you are improving the lives of your learners by teaching English as a foreign language abroad. Finding the right school and the right kind of class to teach are important decisions to make, but choosing your destination will be fun. There is such a high demand for TEFL teachers and so many opportunities around the world that you won’t have any problems finding a country that suits you.