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The TEFL Challenge

Allison with one of her young students.

The truth about teaching English as a second language.

Just as I expected, my last four months spent teaching English in Korea have been extremely rewarding in a number of ways. I’ve learned a lot, experienced new things, been to new places, tried new foods and met some wonderful people.

I’ve also had my fair share of challenges, though—the biggest of all being my job itself. Unfortunately, being able to read, write, and speak in English doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to teach it quite so easily—no matter how naturally it comes for you.

Teaching has certainly been challenging for me. I’m sure this is partly because I’m not a trained teacher. I’ve never studied how to teach, I don’t have a teaching degree, and the only prior teaching experience I had was three months of volunteer teaching in a village in Guyana.

Maybe it’s easier for people who have these things already. After all, they at least have some idea of how things are supposed to work. But as I’m finding out, teaching is about much more than just trying to help someone learn. There are a whole lot of other factors involved as well.

Teaching children requires a lot of patience, a lot of energy and a genuine desire to help others and to see them succeed. It requires a lot of hard work, dedication, and when necessary, the ability to discipline effectively. It also requires a love of children, and an ability to understand them and to connect with them in a very special way. Not everyone has the gift of a good teacher—someone who can reach out to children and get through to them.

If I’m being honest, I have to admit that sometimes I don’t feel like I meet all of these requirements. Some days, I question how I got here, what I’m doing here, and if I even have the right to call myself a teacher. Most days, I don’t feel like I’m doing the job justice.

Needless to say, my job hasn’t been all fun and games for me. I’d be lying if I said I’ve enjoyed every single minute of teaching so far.

The truth is, sometimes my students drive me absolutely crazy. Sometimes they’re noisy, distracted, lazy and just plain old difficult. Sometimes they don’t listen, and don’t want to listen. Sometimes they give me attitude. Sometimes (though fortunately this only happens very rarely!) I want to run out of the school screaming at the end of the day. Some days, I leave work feeling drained and very frustrated.

When Monday morning rolls around again, it can be a real struggle to get myself out from underneath my toasty warm blankets in my quiet, cozy apartment. Not being much of a morning person, the thought of venturing out into the cold once more to a school full of lively, noisy children that I’m responsible for teaching something to all day makes my groggy head hurt.

Why is it that the weekends always seem to go by unnaturally quickly, while the work week can feel like it’s dragging on forever at times?

Maybe there are some foreign English teachers here who really do think their job is the easiest thing in the world. Of course, it will depend who you ask, where they work and what their employer’s expectations are. Factors like teaching time, class sizes, working hours per day, teaching material and topics and the amount of preparation required can vary greatly—especially between public and private schools, but even from one hagwon (private school) to another.

Just to be on the safe side, though, I’d recommend preparing yourself for a challenge if you are seriously considering teaching English. And even if you somehow manage to find the job itself easy, it definitely won’t be boring! I can guarantee you that you’ll find something to laugh at, be confused about, wonder about, or question at least once every single day. To me, that makes everything about this experience worth it.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Allison Burney

A small-town Ontario native, Allison Burney studied journalism and human rights at Carleton University in Ottawa. Volunteering in Guyana sparked her desire to keep travelling and learning about different cultures. Interested in teaching ESL? Perfect! Allison lets us in on her experiences teaching in Korea.

Website: allisonburney.wordpress.com/

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