Is Teaching English “Incredibly Easy”?

Wishful Thinking on the Web . . .

There are a few myths about teaching English out floating around on the Internet that should probably be addressed here.  I responded recently to a discussion topic over at Lonely Planet where someone stated – exactly this:

[Teaching English is] . . . incredibly easy because it’s your first language (I’m assuming) and your students will have very poor language skills so any knowledge you can give them will help.

I felt a need to respond and wrote:   I will be the first to admit that teaching English is not rocket science, but is work and is not always “incredibly easy” just because you speak it as your native language. AND – not all students have “very poor” language skills. Some are counting on your help to get into quality and even prestigious universities in Western countries. If you don’t know what you are doing – you can, in fact, inflict a fair amount of damage on someone who has paid you – often generously – for your help.

The same poster also wrote:

I choose to believe that people with the dream to travel will succeed.

Now, that is wonderful thinking and I like to think that way too, but I wrote this in response:
I really like that, but teaching English is a JOB. It is WORK. It is not travel. It does pair well with travel and seeing the world, but first and foremost it is a job. There are responsibilities that go with it. Namely, that there is usually a classroom of students who have paid good money to sit in a room with you. Often, what is for them a LOT of money. Suggesting that it is easy to meet their needs and help them succeed – by virtue of wishful thinking – only hurts the students and potentially gives future teachers some bad guidance on which to make a decision to move to the other side of the world.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Some marketing organizations that are trying to sell you TEFL training even have TRAVEL in their name – some don’t even mention teaching!  TEFL is a job first and foremost.  It can be a super wonderful job that affords you the opportunity to see the world.  But the job and your students need to come first.  As Zig Zigler’s famous quote goes: If you help people get what they want,  you will get what you want.  And in TEFL, that is very very true.

Teaching Internships in China


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.