Has it ever crossed your mind to teach English abroad in a far away exotic land? Great! Before you set off on your romanticised journey, there are some things that you should be aware of, as it’s not an easy-peasy fairytale job:
- You need to be patient
I really can’t stress this enough, but if you’re going to be a teacher, especially in a school, then you definitely need an abundance of patience, because kids will test you to your very core. I heard a story about a teacher throwing objects at kids in a classroom out of frustration. Thankfully, this incident was caught on camera (yes, there are actually cameras in some classrooms) and the teacher was immediately dismissed, although I don’t think anything more serious happened to that teacher, unfortunately. I also know of another incident where a teacher had reached their wit’s end and cried in the classroom because the kids were out of control. If you feel as though your class is spiralling out of control, don’t bury your head in the sand hoping for things to get better. Try and think of good classroom management strategies or ask other teachers about how they are managing their classes. And just a note for anyone thinking of teaching in Latin America, you won’t be having a teaching assistant like most probably would do in Asia – You. Are. On. Your. Own.
It can be frustrating when your students didn’t do their homework, or when they didn’t study for an exam because they had to go to a party the night before, or even when they’ve seemed to have forgotten a topic that they very recently knew and understood. You just need to learn to keep your cool and think of a way to improve that situation.
Also, here’s another tip, if you’re planning on teaching in a school, liking kids helps as well.
- It’s a lot of hard work
Some people have this idea in their mind that they are just going on an extended holiday, and as such they don’t act responsibly in their jobs. Teaching involves a lot of late nights, lesson planning, marking, grading and teachers’ training meetings on your days off as well, not to mention all the other stuff that you need to do as well. Teaching is not a walk-in-the-park type of job; do bear that in mind.
Did you know that when you become a teacher, you are not just a teacher? You are a counsellor, a decorator, a police officer, a mother and father, an entertainer, etc.
Also, I know that life happens and opportunities come up, but if you can, do try to stay in the job for the full school year. Think seriously before you decide to leave a position, as it’s a pain in the arse for schools to find English replacement teachers.
- You need to be able to improvise
Despite all the hours of planning that you do, sometimes things just don’t go to plan. So if you do find yourself in this kind of situation, you need to be able to think on your feet. The more teaching experience you accumulate, the faster you’re able to think of a back-up plan. If you’re not so much of an improviser, then just try to think of alternative activities just in case your Plan A fails, until you get the hang of improvising.
- Kids can be brutally honest
Some kids, especially younger kids, haven’t quite learnt the art of social sensitivity and as such, some children really have no filter for what comes out of their mouths sometimes. So you need to be prepared for children to be brutally honest with you. I had one student come up to me and say, “Teacher, your face, has lots of water on it, I can see the light on your face.” They didn’t quite have the vocabulary to express that I had an oily forehead. Thanks for the reminder, kid.
Another time, when all the teachers were instructed to wear jeans on this special day, a student approached me and said in broken English, “Teacher! Your legs! Boosshhhh!!!” He proceeded to tell me how wide (fat) my legs were by extending his hands far, far apart, making some kind of explosion sound effect, while his eyes popped out of his head. Thanks kid.
- Transmittable germs (and other living things)
Let’s be honest, germs spread around the classroom very quickly and easily. Kids are in close proximity to each other all the time. And an impending cold is particularly noticeable when you see it in the form of boogey – the sticky, gooey, long kind that just hangs out hides back in the occupant’s nose – taunting you because you’ll be next to be hit by this cold as kids splutter what they have all over the classroom. Hand sanitiser is your friend.
A similar type of incident I encountered was head lice. This is something that’s quite difficult to manoeuvre around as since I’ve mentioned before, the concept of personal space doesn’t really exist, especially among younger children. Fun times.
- Strong impression
Lastly, and this is almost my most important point, despite all the negative points I mentioned earlier, you’ll actually discover that teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world. You sense that when you see a spark in their eyes when they understand something. You can see that you’re making a positive impact on their lives by helping them with their self-esteem, by improving the way that they interact with others, by encouraging self-reflection. All of these moments, and more, make teaching worthwhile.
And no one really mentions the emotional bond that you form with your students and that at the end of the school year you’ll feel a whirlwind of emotions (happiness, relief, sadness, etc.) because they won’t be in your class again.
So if you’re thinking about being teaching abroad, or even about teaching in general (although this is a whole other ball game with A LOT more responsibility), then go for it – I highly recommend it, if you think you can handle it.