7 things they don’t tell you before you start teaching English as a Foreign Language

What nobody told you about teaching English

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Teaching English abroad is one of the best ways to travel, earn money, make friends from around the world, experience a new culture and well, completely avoid the real world!

After long, hard, and ridiculously expensive years of completing a college degree; many of us are ready to start our first ‘real’ job bright eyed and bushy tailed. To take on the working world and climb that corporate ladder. While on the other hand, some of us are ready to board a plane to the other side of the planet, recite the ABC’s all day, and touch our heads, shoulders, knees and toes, like we’ve never done before!

The following are seven things that nobody told you about teaching English as a foreign language:

1. Qualifications and Experience: Optional

There are very few industries where a qualification and experience are entirely unnecessary. A blank CV will get you hired. Training is sub-standard or non existent. Your entry level salary is higher than those that have been there for years. And you get excellent incentives and bonuses…..Oh, if you fit a certain look and demographic profile.

2. You Are a Qualified Clown

Do those hours of selling your soul to complete a thesis flash before your eyes as you get ready to ‘shake your sillies out’ each morning? Are student loans haunting your Wheels on the Bus performance?

We’ve all been there at 9am on a Wednesday morning, putting ‘our left hand in and our left hand out’ wondering just what is it all about; and how exactly we came to be in this situation. Your commerce degree is no good to you now as your learning how to become an ‘all singing, all dancing, English entertainment machine’.

Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. You might be feeling like you wasted four years and two million dollars obtaining a university degree, but without it you wouldn’t have had the pleasure of spending every day with the cutest up-and-coming English learners of the world!

3. English be Hard!

Most of us can wing our way through the ABC’s, we all know ‘C’ is for cat, I can confidently name all of the fruits and vegetables in English… but take me to a 12th Grade English Grammar class and my face is red!

Sure us TEFL teachers are native English speakers and we’ve got those elusive university degrees, but explaining the rules and reasons of English grammar is no easy task.

How many times have you answered your students questions with “it just is” or “you just have to memorize it”? Why are there more exceptions to the rules than verbs that kindly follow the rules? Am I the only one who pretends that I’m testing the students knowledge to figure out the answer? And let’s not forget the classic, “good job! I made that mistake on the board on purpose to see who was paying attention….”

4. None of Your Students Will Ever Fail

Most TEFL teachers are thrown into the deep end of teaching English. You might not have a clue what to do as dozens of eyes stare at you and all you can do is wait anxiously for the bell to sound so you can run back to your desk and hide.

You soon figure out that your anxiety is unnecessary, you’re doing a great job because the whole class is getting straight A’s, if you’re teaching at an Asian school anyway. English academies are big money makers in Asia and run strictly as a business, not a school. If kids aren’t getting A’s then they’re pulled out and sent to another academy.

The solution is very simple; kids are told the answers to the quiz or their wrong answers are erased and replaced with the A+ answer.

5. Your Teachers Were Not What You Thought They Were

Have you ever stood in front of a class still feeling the effects of the previous Saturday night and wondered if your teachers were hungover too when you were a student?.. The answer is yes!

When you become a member of the teacher club, a lot is revealed about those kind and professional people who were responsible for your early education. At the tender age of 25, they seemed like such mature and responsible grown-ups. Fast forward, you’re now the age they were, and all you care about is the weekend!

6. Stickers Are Life

Forget the stock exchange, precious rocks, gold or silver; the most valuable commodities in your world now are stickers. You can heal wounds, tame tempers, have spellings memorized in minutes, and start classroom wars with the quiet mention of a simple sticker.

What kids do with these stickers in unknown and their love for stickers might never be explainable. A set of stickers in your teaching arsenal is all you will ever need.

7. Looking Like An English Speaker is Easy

When your job is simply just to, let’s face it; ‘look European or be a native speaker’, your mission is complete before the morning bell rings! This takes a lot of work related pressure off of your shoulders and leaves a lot of space for you to have fun with Asian babies! Spontaneously bursting into dance, finding out who in the class can make the most ridiculous face, and showing the students the Elsa impersonation you’ve been working on become the norm’. Oh, are the Elsa impersonations just me?

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About Kim Gregson 1 Article
An experienced English teacher who has taught in Asia and now Europe.