Q & A: How to Excel at Teaching English Overseas

Woodley Wonder Works

Written by  June 8, 2015

Part three of a three-part online discussion panel on TEFL.

In the previous weeks, we've examined why recent graduates should consider teaching abroad, and how to find the best TEFL job overseas. 

In part three of our three-part panel discussion on TEFL, our online panelists give their advice on how to succeed once you’ve landed your dream job.

This month, our travel experts includes:

Aimée Chow taught English as a Second Language to pre-schoolers and elementary school students in Seoul, South Korea from 2009 to 2011. Today, Aimée works in Career Services with Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she coaches university students from all over the world on managing their job search process, including resume development, networking strategy, practice interviews, and building an effective LinkedIn profile.

• A graduate of Carlton University in Ottawa, Joanna Lane first taught English as a Second Language in Taiwan eight years ago. Since then, her international career has spanned from Singapore to Toronto. She now resides in London, UK, where she works in publishing.

Aclipse recruits adventurous university graduates to teach English in Asia, primarily in Korea and China. All of Aclipse’s recruiters have years of experience and assist applicants throughout every step of the application process.

Learning styles and classroom culture differs greatly from country to country. How can teachers best prepare for this?

Aclipse: Teachers can prepare for differing teaching styles by doing as much research as they can, talking to their recruiter and if they can speak to current teachers. One of the popular features Aclipse offers is “Connect with a Teacher,” which connects current teachers with prospective teachers. Our clients in both Korea and China offer training, which also tends to help the transition process.

Aimée:
• Watch YouTube videos of teachers in your destination country.
• Read scholarly or professional publications/resources/articles/blogs from current teachers or practitioners.
• Read about communication and learning styles specific to your destination country.
• Volunteer to be a language partner for a learner in your home country who is from your destination country.

Joanna: No matter what, it will take some time to adapt, but it's worth trying to seek out other former teachers to try and learn about the culture where you'll be going. North American culture is very different from Asian culture, for example. Asian kids are in school all the time and the expectation that they excel across a number of different academic disciplines and extracurricular activities is very high—it's worth bearing that in mind when it comes to trying to understand your students.

What are your top tips for first-time teachers abroad?

Aclipse: The best advice we can give to first time teachers is to read a variety of sources about living/teaching in the country, get in touch with current and former teachers in that country, join online groups to meet people before departing; be realistic about the challenges of being overseas, but don't blow them out of proportion; take classes in that language (it makes the experience richer and allows you to understand your students' struggles).

We encourage teachers to become understanding, tolerant and accepting of the differences. Once there explore and experience the culture, participate in local events. Finally try to volunteer teach (especially ESL) before departing to gain experience and a better understanding of the ESL teacher role.

The TEFL industry has been criticized as a form of neo-colonization, with a focus on hiring “native” English speakers. As teachers abroad, how can we best address this and ensure that we’re leaving any ethnocentric assumptions at home?

Aclipse: Teachers need to understand their positions of power in relation to their students and the citizens of the countries in which they teach. We encourage teachers to learn about the historical relations of the two countries from the point of view of the people in the less dominant country.

Remember these students might not choose to learn your language, if not for academic admissions and economic pressures. We advise the teachers to listen to what students wish to learn about the language and engage them in learning in the styles and methods used in their culture (as opposed to assuming the "native" speaker's assumptions about learning are best). Finally, teachers should introduce culturally relevant material, as it can be a great to connect what is being taught to the students' experiences and interests.

Aimée: I think self-awareness is key. Be mindful of your actions, beliefs, attitudes, and think critically about whether they are truly right or wrong, or whether they are a product of your upbringing and home culture. Ask yourself hard questions. Don’t be ambivalent. Be open to learning what other cultures do differently and better than your own. Know that “different” doesn’t mean “wrong.”

Be mindful that you are a guest in someone else’s country, and don’t let a false sense of freedom go to your head; mind your manners (and learn what good manners are in your host country) and be a good ambassador of your culture so as to avoid perpetuating any potential or unjustly negative stereotypes. Learn the local language, volunteer for a good cause, and participate in cultural activities as much as possible so you’re not just depositing your language in the country and heading home.

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Published in Editor's Desk
Jessica Lockhart

Contributing Editor

Although Jessica has travelled to more than 30 countries, her favorite place to throw down her bag is still her hometown of Cold Lake, Alberta. A freelance journalist, Jess has worked for international development organizations and tour operators. She’s conducted workshops in Vanuatu, perfected the use of a satellite phone in the jungles of Guyana and supervised teenage pool parties in the Dominican Republic. Although she's based in Toronto, Jess works remotely from all around the world.

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