Teaching English Abroad: A Typical Day

What is a Typical Day for an EFL Teacher Overseas?

What is Teaching English Abroad like?

Teaching is enjoyable work if you enjoy people. Like any occupation, each specific job can vary greatly. It depends on what type of school or company you work for, the country you work in, and the ages of your students.

Adults or Children

The teaching of adults is often less-structured than the teaching of children. They are, usually, more motivated, have a reason for taking the class, and already have some English speaking skills. Kids, on the other hand, are often in class because their parents signed them up, have short attention spans, and need a lot of activity to keep them interested.

New Teachers

New teachers tend to teach children’s classes, though this is not always true. Everyone has their own preference – some people love to teach kids and even kindergarten – some prefer to teach only adults. Perhaps because of the more structured lessons, new teachers are more frequently assigned to the very specific routines that younger learners need. That’s not to say that teaching kids is easier – I think it is more difficult!

Teaching Kids

Language schools often hire EFL teachers for kids classes. These classes are usually after school and will involve teaching the basics in a very interactive format. Note the stress! Kids need action! This is not a lecture class. Songs, games, activities and imitation drills will provide the basis for these classes.

Sometimes these classes will be 30-45 minutes instead of 50-90 minutes more typical of adult classes. Often, you would teach four to six of these classes in one day, with from six to fifteen kids in each class.

Adult Classes

These are sometimes called “conversation” classes where adults come to sharpen their already existing basic English skills. While this sounds like a “chat” class – you would still be expected to provide instruction, some activities, some error correction – and a lot of encouragement.

These classes can vary, but typically are 50-60 minutes – and you might teach three to six of them in one day. Sometimes, due to adults’ working schedules, you might teach very early in the day, or late in the day, and sometimes both!

Adults tend to be easier to teach (IMO), but you can end up with some difficult work schedules to accommodate your students.

University Classes

Particularly if you already have a masters degree, you might find yourself teaching at a university or college. High status – maybe – but you might also find yourself teaching 30-100 bored students who are required to take the class. In my experience, a class of less than 25 is hard to come by.

I once taught a reading class with 100 students in it – and have heard from another teacher who taught 150 students in one class. Don’t attempt this kind of teaching until you get a little experience under your belt. Typically, you will teach fewer classes per week, but you can see from the numbers that preparation is critical – and any kind of home work will lead to piles and piles of work – that you will need to do at home.

Most classes will be 60 to 120 minutes.

Middle and High School Students

These classes, tend to be middle of the road, lecture a bit: language principles, grammar, pronunciation, etc., then an activity. Sometimes these too can be large classes of students who may not be highly motivated. If you are teaching at a public school, classes can be quite large, in a private language school, classes will be smaller.

Corporate and “Company” Classes

Some companies will hire you to improve their workers’ English skills. Classes will tend to be small, but often at odd hours to work around your students’ work schedules. Student attendance may be erratic. I personally enjoy these type of classes, but many teachers don’t, as students are often quite tired after a hard day of work and just want to go home. I can’t blame them! These classes tend to focus on “Business English” and the language of the workplace.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Expect just about any combination of the above and you will not be surprised!

TED’s Tips™ #2: Your “typical” day may well be very different from anyone else’s typical day. Take it all with a grain of salt, keep an open mind and as always, stay flexible.

Cultural Differences: Teaching English Abroad

How to Survive and Thrive Working Overseas

Cultural differences:
When Yes = No
How you can get very confused!

Your new country isn’t your old country. How people behave and respond can be quite different.

When “Yes” is better than “No”

Western-style assertiveness is not so common in the rest of the world. A story to illustrate: In the summer of 1993, I was teaching at a university’s summer program (socking away a little extra cash while I was on paid vacation from my college!). The weather was very hot and sweaty – and the classrooms had no air conditioning. And I mean HOT and SWEATY – we were soaking with sweat.

A Coffee Shop

The students suggested that we have our class across the street in an air-conditioned coffee shop – a great idea! Only about eight students in the class, so we would easily fit in a big corner booth. I asked the supervisor if it was okay – and he said, “Yes.” A few minutes later he said, “So you are not having class today?” I replied, “Of course we are, we are going to meet in the coffee shop – as the students requested. That’s okay, isn’t it?” He said, “Yes.”

A few minutes later he – again – said, “So you are not having class today?”

Well . . . we went through this cycle several times before I got a bit upset and told the supervisor, “If you don’t want us to meet at the coffee shop – just SAY ‘NO’!” Needless to say, everyone was upset. But, it didn’t need to be that way – I really should have picked up on it the first time – or at least the second time the supervisor asked if I was not having class.

Get it?

Many cultures are not as direct as our own. You’ll need to pay attention and listen for underlying content – all the time! You can make your coworkers and supervisor very uncomfortable if you make them confront you, or if you become confrontational. It can really stress your relationships and sour your work situation. Be careful, listen, interpret.

If you really don’t understand

Ask your supervisor in the context of a culture question. You can say, “I am a bit confused here. In my culture my boss would say ‘[fill in the blank]’ – are you wanting me to ‘[do or not do something]?’ Please help me understand.” This kind of a statement takes the heat off the situation – and saves “face” for everyone involved. You can even have a good laugh about it – instead of everyone being upset.

Develop a little finesse

in dealing with cross cultural communications – and your life will go much smoother overseas! It’s all part of learning to be a skilled expatriate.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Pick up some intercultural skills and be proud of them.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t let cultural arrogance lead your career to ruin. Other cultures often have even better ways to solve problems. And if you are operating in that culture, be flexible and open to learning those new methods.

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Culture Shock: Teaching English Abroad

Dealing with Culture Shock while Working Overseas

What is Culture Shock?
Will I get it?
If I do – what can I do about it?

Yeah, you’ll probably get it. But sometimes I think “shock” is a bit of an overstatement.

You can expect to feel euphoric (I finally made it!),

Angry (Why can’t I make things work, like back home!),

Depressed and disappointed (Everything isn’t exactly like I wanted/expected it to be!),

And isolated (I don’t really know anyone here).

It’s okay – this is normal. After all this is a very big time in your life – of course you will have some strong feelings about it!

Natural Reactions

These emotional reactions are all natural responses to the situation you will find yourself in overseas. How to deal with it? Get busy – personal projects, work, travel, making friends, even volunteering. But, also take a little time and just recognize the feelings for what they are.

One of the best articles about dealing with Culture Shock is at About.com Culture Shock: by About.com

Don’t forget that you can have problems with your job, boss, landlord, and friends back home too. Don’t blame it all on your host country!

Know that once you have lived in several countries, the effects of culture shock diminish as you learn to have more realistic expectations, and as you just naturally learn how to deal with it.

Surviving Uncertainty

Part of the issue with culture shock is also the uncertainty of your new situation – how it is going to evolve – and your general feelings about it. Follow the same course of treatment for culture shock! Quit moping around the house and get busy!

Check the chart below for a better understanding of what goes on and your choices:

TED’s Tips™ #1: Pay attention to your moods and general temperament when living abroad. If you find yourself being more emotional than usual, recognize it for what it is and figure what is going on.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Take action! Get involved, meet people, get out and about. As you increase in experience, the effects of culture shock will diminish with each new country you experience.

Guaranteed TEFL Employment

Guaranteed Job with TEFL Course?

Another great topic offered by a reader:

Do you know anything about the (Name Removed) TEFL School?
They have a guaranteed job offer if you pass with a high enough grade. They also offer corporate English courses for local businesses, which might be a good place to be able to put my previous experience to use.

I am usually wary of schools that offer “guaranteed” employment as the guaranteed jobs are often paid less than if you had obtained a similar job yourself, thus you are paying for the job by virtue of getting a lower income. And some schools (in some countries) will be getting a “kick back” for providing you at a lower wage. BUT, with the program you describe if the placement is dependent on your good performance on the course, then it might actually be okay. I am not familiar with that specific school though. Use the free checklists offered at www.TEFLprogram.com to help you evaluate the program and you should do okay.

You will almost always pay more – sometimes a LOT more – to take a course that “guarantees” you a job. Why? Because you are paying for people who took the course and were not successful. How can anyone who has never met you, guarantee you a job? The idea of basing such a guarantee on your performance at the school is better than most.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Be wary of and thoroughly investigate offers of guaranteed employment when they are attached to a TEFL Training school.