Common Questions About Teaching Abroad
Contributing Author: Scarlett
Scarlett gets lots of questions about teaching abroad whenever she mentions her life overseas. Questions about teaching overseas can range from the logistical to the incredulous, but she does a great job of helping answer some of those common inquiries for us. If you’re considering teaching English overseas, read her thoughts here and then keep researching your options!
"What's it like to teach abroad?"
"I want to teach so that I can travel."
"Is teaching abroad right for me?"
"Wow, how do I even get started doing teaching abroad?"
"You're doing what? You're so brave for moving to a new country on your own!"
"Do I have to have a teaching degree to teach overseas?"
I had the same questions – and more – before I left to start my first overseas teaching job and I've been asked quite a few along the way as well.
It’s nearly two years later and, while I haven't loved every single day, I do love my life teaching abroad and I think it's time I answered some of these.
Reality Check for Your Questions About Teaching Abroad
If you're going to teach abroad, be prepared to change. If you're not prepared to adapt, then teaching abroad or living abroad is not for you.
This week, I realized I don't get angry about each and every little thing like I used to. I've learned to go with the flow both at work and in general.
While I always have a lesson plan for each class, I look at my students' mood before we get started and evaluate whether or not it's really going to work. Sometimes, I tweak the lesson just a bit as we are going and sometimes I scrap it until another time when they've got more energy and we do something different entirely.
When I got on two wrong trains in a row last week with a dead phone, I sort of just shrugged and told myself that was stupid. It was inconvenient but really not a big deal anyway.
Not being able to talk with a first-grader who can't understand what I want them to do helped me develop more patience...as well as creativity.
If my kids don't understand what I'm saying, I've got to come up with a way to show them. If "Clean up please" doesn't result in packing up of pencil cases and putting papers away, I have to mime the action or find words that are in their vocabulary.
At the grocery store (or anywhere else) it's entirely up to me to understand. I've still got to be the miming what I want because the other people aren't too concerned if I don't get my problems fixed.
Questions About Teaching Overseas With Different Age Groups
I won't say I love every single child that crosses my path while I'm out in the world now, but I love my students. They make me laugh, they annoy me some days, they give me a different perspective, they challenge me with finding something interesting for them to do that makes them want to come to class – not that they get a choice.
They are really great kids and every day they blow me away with things they come up with and how much English they know.
For me, the 1-4 graders are great because they are excited about (nearly) everything I could bring them. Coloring? Great! Singing? Great! Learning new words? Great! Playing with the yellow ball I bring to class? Great!
The older kids are more challenging, especially older kids who are not fluent. It's really hard to bring something interesting for them that they can also feel confident in and really do well.
I have this issue with a couple of classes from the upper levels and these are, by far, my hardest classes to plan for.
Around 5th and 6th grade is extra challenging because they aren't excited about everything but they haven't learned to be as nice about it like 7th and 8th grades. Sometimes I get "Scarlett, this is boring...we don't want to do this...why are we doing this...let's do something else." So those days are always a bit tough.
I can always tell when the 7th and 8th graders aren't so impressed, but at least they don't tell me they're bored!
Should you teach abroad?
I want to teach abroad so I can see the world. I have been to 20+ countries since leaving the States, so yeah, I get it. But that's not every day.
The bulk of my time here is spent in the classroom or alone in my flat. I'm the type of person who needs to do well at work to feel satisfied. I don't need praise or congratulations or anything like this, I need the satisfaction of a job well done or I can't feel okay with myself.
I just give a shit, I care if my students learn something, I care if I influence them to like or not like English, I care if they like or hate coming to English classes because of me, I care what my students and coworkers think of Americans because of their experience of me.
From my perspective, all ESL teachers can't truthfully say those things.
My point here is that teachers influence lives and kids can tell whether or not someone likes or values them.
It's not fair for kids to have to be taught by someone who doesn't care just so that someone can see the world.
So it's okay to be motivated by travel, but don't forget that there's a bigger picture.
How can I teach abroad?
Questions about teaching abroad generally start with the how.
If you're someone who didn't go to school to be a teacher, it's still pretty simple. Sign up for a course in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) to take either online or in person.
Online you can work at your own pace and finish it as quickly or slowly as you'd like.
In person, they generally run about 6 weeks I believe and tend to be more pricey that way, but if I did my certification over again, I'd do it in person.
In person, courses are typically in a different country and hands-on with students, which I see as a huge advantage over how my online course went.
After that, it’s likely the company will have resources to help you find a job. Otherwise, head over to Dave's ESL Cafe or any number of other similar websites and you'll quickly have more jobs in front of you than you could ever work at in one lifetime.
After that, it's a matter of applying and deciding what's the best location and option for you. My TEFL is the only teaching certificate I have. Most countries require some combination of a certificate and/or a Bachelor's degree.
Every teaching job is so entirely different, even comparing my time in Hungary to Hong Kong. Language schools, private lessons, primary school, secondary school, just a conversation teacher, a full grammar teacher...the list goes on. It's a good idea to know what exactly the job description is before signing any contracts.
Didn’t find the answers to the questions about teaching abroad that you're wondering about? I'd be happy to answer those, too. Please leave a comment and tell me what you're wondering. (: