Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is an incredibly fulfilling career. It exposes you to different cultures while meeting many interesting people of all ages and backgrounds.
Watching their confidence grow as their language skills develop is what makes teachers get up in the morning. Knowing that you are making a positive impact in their lives is an added bonus.
However, TEFL, like any teaching job, can be challenging and demanding. Whether it is online or face-to-face teaching, abroad or not, there are some concerns that are common to most teachers. Stage fright?
Classroom management? Lesson ideas? Many of these issues can be solved by completing a 120-hour TEFL course from an accredited provider.
These courses have been specifically designed for potential teachers who have never had any teaching experience. They will cover areas such as language awareness – how the English language works – and phonology – the sounds of the English language.
You will also learn about planning your lessons, creating and adapting materials, and assessing and managing students. A TEFL course will help you stand on your own two feet in front of your classroom!
Another aspect that most courses will cover is related to cultural sensitivity and cultural differences. While learning about other cultures and teaching about yours is certainly fascinating, it can also be the cause of misunderstandings. This is particularly true if your learners’ culture is very different from yours.
You might be wondering about the criteria required to teach English abroad or online. This varies greatly depending on the country you want to move to or the platform you want to teach on.
Generally speaking, you will need a TEFL certificate and a proficient language level in all skills (listening, speaking, reading, writing); a university degree is desirable, but it is not necessary.
There are also some other restrictions, like maximum age, for example, but these are very specific for each country.
Luckily, there are many resources that can help you make sense of it all – check out this one from The TEFL Org.
Strictly teaching, however, here are a few points to keep in mind that will hopefully make your classroom life a little easier.
When you start planning a new lesson, your aims (or objectives) are the first thing you need to establish.
In a listening lesson, for example, you could focus on a) identifying specific information (listening skill), b) the past continuous (language awareness), and c) the /schwa/ sound (pronunciation).
Whatever the teaching environment you are in, young learners or business professionals, making your learners aware of what they are going to learn and why will keep them engaged and motivated.
In an ideal world, all the students in the same class would have the same language level and skills. In reality, this is not the case.
Some students might be at the same level but have strengths in different skills; others might appear very fluent but lack accuracy; or they might be very accurate but not confident enough to speak spontaneously.
For this reason, getting to know your learners is key. It will enable you to design lessons that target specific issues that your learners face.
As a result, personalized lessons will make them feel important and will speed up their progress.
As mentioned above, it is useful to understand your learners. For example, young learners love games, while adults don’t.
This might be true to a certain extent, but you will also find that some children might question the purpose of some fun activities, while some professionals would like something more active than the usual reading/listening/writing tasks.
Also, changing the pace of the lesson can keep learners interested.
After one or two quiet activities, remember to include a mingling or speaking task – this will surely keep their minds alert!
Fostering a Learning Environment
Because of their cultural differences, your learners might behave differently in the classroom. Some might be eager to participate and answer every question; others might speak only when directly spoken to.
The problem with this is that some students might end up dominating the lesson.
This is not what a learning environment is about: you want every student to have equal chances of participating in your lessons.
A very effective technique to manage this situation is to get students to work in pairs or small groups and assign specific roles.
For example, give your talkative students quiet tasks where they have to listen and take notes, and give your quiet students roles where they have to discuss or share information.
Chopping and Changing
In the classroom, just like in life, plans don’t always work. You might have a beautifully structured lesson with interesting materials but, for some reason, it just isn’t working.
There might be too much unknown vocabulary, or the level might be too difficult – whatever the reason, be prepared to adapt.
Flexibility is key: remove or replace a task if necessary, change the order of your activities if needed – do what it takes to deliver a useful lesson.
Accept Your Limitations
As a teacher, you might feel that you should have all the answers, but this is not always true. It is OK (occasionally) not to know or to be unsure about something.
Be honest with your learners, tell them that you need to check and get back to them.
However, make sure that you do let them know the answer, because they won’t forget about it.
Similarly, own up to your mistakes and correct yourself; they will appreciate your honesty and respect you more for it.
This is an aspect of teaching abroad that can have an impact on the relationship with your students.
If you find yourself struggling with cultural differences or feeling homesick, take some measures that might help. It is difficult to accept traditions without understanding the reasons behind them: find someone, a local teacher/staff member who can help you better understand their culture.
To avoid homesickness (or to keep it at bay), join an expat community and make time every week to keep in touch with family and friends back at home.
A Final Thought…
TEFL teaching is hard but it is equally exciting and meaningful, for the teacher and for the learners.
If you are planning on pursuing this career or you are looking for ways to thrive in this industry, remember that flexibility, understanding, and patience are the key to success.