If your current job is getting you down, or maybe your life circumstances have changed and it's left you daydreaming for a chance to branch out and find new opportunities. Often one of the first things that people look at changing when they feel this way, is their job. The second thing is location. Depending on your situation, one option that opens up both of these life changes is ESL teaching. With courses ranging from a few weeks to a few months or years, gaining accreditation to teach TESOL overseas is relatively easy, Packing your bags, taking of for new experiences and the realities of the job however can sometimes be a more difficult situation to handle. Lets have a little look at the basics and see if you are cut out for ESL teaching.
TESOL is an acronym that stands for - Teaching English to Speakers Of Other Languages - TESOL/ESL students are people from non English speaking countries, who are endeavouring to learn the complex English language. TESOL teachers are the people who help them do that usually by modelling natural English speech via the use of activities , games and learning materials.
ESL students could be any age and level and be found learning English at facilities encompassing kindergartens, primary schools, middle schools, high schools, universities, places of employment, private language schools and maybe even private homes in which they are tutored. These learners need authentic English speakers to help them learn the finer points of speaking our language more so than the grammar drills.
Anyone who has spent considerable time learning a foreign language in their own country should already know that finding native speakers to practise your new second language with can be difficult.... and practising pronunciation, listening and conversing with a native speaker of that language is extremely important. Time spent alone with your head in the books...well... it just isn't going to be any replacement for digging in to listening and speaking in real situations with real people. There are many stories about students learning a language for many years who "technically" excel and pass all their written exams, only to find that when they arrive in the new country, they can't understand anyone and have a lot of trouble being understood. This is a very real difficulty facing many English learners in non English speaking countries. Little to no opportunities for them to practice what they learn, means that the role of a TESOL teacher often plays a significant part in many language students lives.
Whilst jet setting off to many countries and cultures can be extremely exciting, being an ESL teacher is not easy and definitely not as glamorous as it may sound. The reality is that bundled in to excitement and new adventures is a lot of very hard work.
Everyday work and life as a TESOL teacher, right from the very beginning, starts in a rather chaotic fashion as you begin about packing up your life as you know it into a suitcase, selling things to fund your journey into unknown territories and say good-bye to your family and friends... This all takes a lot of courage... not to mention the work and funds involved in gaining your ESL certification, time spent deciding what country you will go to, finding a suitable job (dependent on what age you want to teach), signing a job contract and organising visa's, passports and health checks. You would think that finally getting on the plane should be a relief, but venturing into the unknown could leave you feeling a little like I did...I still have very vivid memories of sitting on the plane thinking "What am I doing on this plane? and then closely followed by "what the heck am I doing in this country? Arriving at the airport can be dizzying and confusing especially if you still have to travel from a major city to actually make it to your final destination of a smaller city or town. Trying to find your connecting flights, trains or coaches can see you having to face your first experience of trying to communicate using your new countries native language. It only takes a few minutes to realise that what at first may seem exciting, very quickly can become terrifying. The good news is that personally I faced that anxiety educing experience, front on, in a totally foreign non English speaking country... and in return it gave me the opportunities I needed to grow in so many different ways.
Depending on the contract that you sign, your working conditions including working (teaching) hours, time spent at your workplace (when not teaching), living conditions, class sizes and ages can all vary. Be very careful when signing a contract that you don't take on more than you can handle. When you initially see job advertisements touting "no more than twenty teaching periods a week" you may scream with delight, but be warned...twenty teaching periods (which in Chinese public schools are usually 45 minutes in length) may sound like a luxuriously short working week, you also need to consider these things-
1)You have to prepare your lessons - You can't just walk into the classroom with nothing to teach. This can take many extra hours on top of your teaching hours of scouring the internet and teaching materials for fresh and interesting ideas. To successfully prepare lesson plans you need to take into account the students different culture, meaning make sure you check for things like:
- Taboo subjects - things that you should avoid teaching or even talking about because of cultural differences.
- How willing to participate your students are (most Chinese kids are extremely shy)
- Is the content age and level appropriate? - anything too difficult and you will lose their attention as they lose their ability to concentrate and vice versa.
- Planning lessons becomes even more time-consuming if you are teaching a few different age groups, all needing different level appropriate material.
- Does it have a fun aspect to it? - You are not the students core subject teacher. You have to make your lessons enjoyable, otherwise your life will become very difficult and miserable. Being faced with a classroom of up to (in my case) 60 children, who don't want to be there...I can guarantee is not fun.
If your character type can take on board these next couple of basic tips, maybe you'd make a great TESOL teacher.
1) The most important tip is to "Learn To Adapt". From adapting your whole lifestyle to adapting games and lessons in the classroom... teaching TESOL gives NO shortage of chances to practise thinking on your feet, rolling with the punches and coming through the other side all the better for it all.
2) Keep A Level Head - Having an ESL certificate to teach does not necessarily mean you can teach well or are a great teacher. There are good teachers and there are bad teachers and to be one of those great teachers takes a lot of patience, resilience, hard work and the ability to accept the fact that you are indeed a visitor in your chosen country of work, who is (like it or not) representing your own country and it's people. Always remember that your students, work mates and new friends are highly likely to draw conclusions about your country and nationality as a whole, that is based on YOUR behaviour and work ethic. In China your visa will say that you are a "Foreign Expert". From my experience that is not the case until you can prove your worth as a teacher and part of the community. There is a fine line to draw between acting too aloof and becoming unapproachable or on the other end of the spectrum, not caring about your job and responsibilities whilst visiting a country. The important thing to remember is that when you are teaching anything, you are holding a position with responsibilities. On the end of the scale don't look at your job too unrealistically. Unless you already teach in your home country, you most likely haven't spent many years at teachers college nor are you likely holding a specialised degree in education, so stick to the job you are employed and contracted to do which essentially for a TESOL teacher is usually helping students primarily with Speaking English more naturally and getting students used to listening to native speakers of English.
3) Stay healthy by eating well (not easy to do in a new culture), get plenty of rest and relaxation, keep in contact with friends and family to stay grounded, make new friends and totally absorb all the wonderful new things in your new surroundings.
Teaching TESOL can be an amazing job. I turned my TESOL adventure in to an Asian teaching career for 8 years, which in the process led on to my own business designing Power-Point Games, lessons and activities that are all made specifically to make teachers lives easier and students lessons more fun.
Taking on such a massive life change undoubtedly leads to equally huge personal growth. Learning to adapt, survive and take on challenges is one big learning curve, which if you treat with the up most respect will enable you to gain a whole new set of life skills, new friends and even a new language to bring on home with you.
How To Become Certified
If you think you've got what it takes to be an TESOL teacher, you can start your journey by joining a TESOL accreditation course at one of the many online companies. I personally am affiliated with and totally recommend ATA (Australasian Training Academy).