Getting started out for teaching English abroad: tips and tricks for new teachers

Inspired by the real world events of friends getting ready to depart for new and exciting chapters in their lives, I thought I’d write something quick with my own experience and advice. For sure it can be daunting, but hopefully I can help diminish some of that anxiety. Certainly, some countries may be different, but when all’s said and done, there’s a lot of overlap.

  • First of all, just knowing some words/phrases and/or the alphabet can do wonders. I know some languages are trickier than others, but having a foot in the door goes a long way. And your colleagues and students understand that learning their language(s) isn’t going to happen overnight. Heck, they may even try to teach you some stuff! As awkward as you may feel, the simple act of trying opens up plenty more doors than we think we could ever accomplish.
  • Look, it’s absolutely normal to feel like you’ve made a mistake in moving abroad to teach. Just give it some time, because law of averages dictates that a bad stretch isn’t indicative of the entire situation. Once you start teaching and getting into a routine, things become far easier, so just hang on.
  • You don’t have to be perfect from the get-go. Places are very accommodating, because they know that you’ve just arrived; it’s unfair to expect new teachers to be 100% perfect after fighting new time zones, anxiety, and the pressure of adapting to new locales. Even if you make mistakes, that’s fine-they teach you what works and what doesn’t. One mistake I made was not asking the experienced teachers for advice until it was too late. Don’t panic: you’re honoring them in seeking them out, plus they want you to succeed! Teaching English takes a village, but nobody is excluded. You’ll be fine!
  • Some days go better than others, and that’s okay. As much as we strive to consistently have those award-winning, killer lessons, the simple fact is that we’re human. Maybe explaining grammar was more complicated than we thought or maybe some students need more time. Don’t take it personally. Tomorrow is a new day to kick butt!
  • Don’t treat the job as a means to party and travel. Remember, you will make a discernible impact towards all these students’ linguistic skills, so blowing off preparation hurts many, many parties.
  • Talk to your friends and family back home: they are the people who are your number one fans who think what you’re doing is the bee’s knees.And after all, it never hurts to have shoulders to lean on.
  • And furthermore, seek out the local expats. In Moscow, there are plenty of sources for expats, and inevitably there will be someone with the same questions as you and/or someone who’s gone through a similar circumstance. Bottom line is, you’re not alone in this!
  • However, don’t just hang out with fellow expats. Make friends with the locals, as they can help introduce you to new things and experiences. This way, they help you break out of a reliance on your fellow Americans/Canadians/Brits/Aussies/New Zealanders/South Africans for staving off loneliness.
  • Dive into whatever your city/country has to offer! Want to try something new? Go for it! This field gives you the perfect chance to expand your horizons and become a brand new person.
  • Being nervous is okay. Case in point: the first ever lesson I had was 100 minutes of butterflies flying around in my stomach. Your students will also feel that way, if not even more nervous than you, so it’s not a one way street. Take a deep breath and focus on your worthy skills. You’ve got this!
  • Your TEFL training does come in handy. Remember, you’ve made it this far! You’ve had to go through a lot of planning to get here, which in my experience, was something I was able to draw on.
  • Regarding first lessons, I’ve found that a simple ice breaker game is invaluable. One thing I recommend is a game where you have the students try to write an adjective  (or, barring that, any plain word) that 1) describes themselves and b) starts with either the first letter of their given or surname. However, the kicker is that they’re trying to avoid repeated answers, so creativity is the key; if necessary feel free to jump in with some prompting. You can have plenty of fun like that, and it shows that you’re out to have the right balance of work and play.
  • Simply put, don’t forget that creativity is highly encouraged in this profession! If you’re working with kids, let them channel their youthful sense of joy and wonder. If with teenagers, they’ve got a surprising amount of talent that’s there to be used. Adults even can also surprise with their years of experience and interests, and trust me when I say that they’re children at heart.
  • Don’t be afraid to open up, to a certain extent. You want to maintain a position of control, yes, but not to the point of being a robot. Use your personal experiences as a means of seguing into a lesson or trying to relate to them. The caveat is that you need to maintain your distance of being too friendly, as that does tend to undermine your authority in the classroom.

One thought on “Getting started out for teaching English abroad: tips and tricks for new teachers

  1. Some great ideas and advice. I’ve been teaching English for 15 years and can relate to everything you’ve said.

    When I started to teach English it was a means to travel and party. Man I had some fun. Now I’m a bit older, supposedly more mature, married with two kids, and teaching English is my career.

    I teach in Spain, but I still get itchy feet. I’m hoping to go traveling as a family soon and maybe my kids will become teachers. I hope they find whatever job they are suited to.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    Barry O’Leary

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