Teaching English Abroad: Top 10 Tips For Surviving Inside and Outside of the Classroom

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Author: Chris S. Published on: March 21, 2019 Expected Reading Time: 7 mins


So, you're finally taking the plunge. You've got your TEFL certificate, you've got your bags packed, and you've got your plane ticket. Now all that's left to do is to jet off into your new career teaching English abroad.

It's no surprise that you're feeling pretty excited about this big, new adventure. After all, this is your chance to travel, to explore whole new countries and meet a whole new group of fascinating people, all while getting paid.

Talk about living the dream, right?

Still, let's face it:

As exciting as it can be, teaching English abroad can also be fairly daunting if you're doing it for the first time, or even if you've been at it for a while but find that things aren't quite going the way you'd planned.

Feeling a little trepidation about your first TEFL gig? Stuck in a foreign country where teaching English doesn't seem to be all that you hoped it would be?

Don't worry, that's why we're here.

Today, we've tasked our top TEFL experts with putting together the following ten tips designed to help you thrive and survive both inside and outside of the classroom.


1) Pay close attention to the Ts & Cs

We're all used to skipping over the terms and conditions when we get a new iPhone or sign up to Netflix, but when it comes to your teaching contract, it pays to take this stuff seriously.

Before you do anything else, read and re-read your contract so that you know exactly what you should expect.

For example, many TEFL jobs will provide teachers' accommodation or at least some level of housing stipend, but this is by no means a given. The last thing you want is to assume that your new school will have somewhere for you to say only to arrive in a strange country and find yourself homeless.

Your safest bet is to assume that if it isn't in the contract, it isn't included, meaning you may have to contact the school and ask about specifics such as housing and paying for flights.

It also pays to look for any terms and conditions relating to early contract endings. Sure, you may be certain now that you'll see this through to the end, but unexpected things do happen, and if you have no choice but to leave a job early, you don't want the nasty surprise of finding that your contract demands you pay back 70% of your earnings.


2) Brush up on cultures and customs

You're a kind, compassionate and sensitive person who would never dream of deliberately offending anybody. Yet as program providers Adventure Teaching point out, what may not be a big deal in your home country could be highly offensive in other countries, particularly those with highly religious sensibilities.

Before you head off, read up on any customs, traditions and cultural norms in the country you're traveling to. That way, you'll not only keep yourself out of trouble, but you'll also find that you have an easier time integrating into your new home town.


3) Be prepared for different ways of working

It isn't just the differences in society as a whole that you'll need to be aware of.

In an article for overseas program directory Go Overseas, teacher Richelle Gamlam recalls how teaching in China meant getting used to frequently-changing schedules, impromptu events, and unplanned lessons, none of which she was given any notice for.

So, while you might be used to navigating your school system back home, be prepared for things to be very different abroad. According to Richelle and other TEFL teachers, the best approach is to simply go with the flow and expect the unexpected.


4) Keep yourself healthy

Speaking of the unexpected, we don't always know when we're about to get sick or suffer an injury, but we can certainly do all we can to prevent such things from happening.

Make sure you eat healthy foods, particularly choosing dishes you're familiar with, and be sure to take some form of exercise, even if it's only taking a walk a few times a week.

Sure, this is pretty good advice at the best of times, but when you're in a foreign country you may find it tough getting the help you need, especially if you only have a minimal grasp of the language.

Getting set up to see a medical professional and particularly understanding what a medical professional is saying if they're not used to working with non-natives can be tough and only prolong your suffering.

On a related note, be sure to only take medication if you're absolutely 100% certain you know exactly what it is.


5) Learn the local language, even if you don't have to

Most schools will prefer that you only speak English when you're on the job as this will help your students pick up the language faster.

However, you may find that it really helps to get at least some grasp of the local language in order to build better relationships with your fellow teachers and navigate your way through life outside of the classroom.

You may even find that a native teacher would be up for engaging in a kind of language-swap with you in which you teach them English in exchange for them helping you learn their language.


6) Network with other TEFL teachers

In larger cities, you'll probably find that you aren't the only English teacher in town. This can be good news as seeking out and connecting with a group of people in a similar situation can be really helpful if you find yourself dealing with feelings of being lost and lonely in a foreign land.

Together with your new group, you can help each other not only navigate through day-to-day life but also discuss the kind of teaching methods and strategies you've found most helpful for working with students in your country of choice.


7) Hand out name tags for the first few weeks

Students are far more likely to feel valued, and far more likely to want to engage in learning when they feel that they have some form of personal connection with you, and being able to address each student by name can go a long, long way to helping you develop that connection.

So, no matter how much of an ace-pro you might think you are at memory games, follow the Reach to Teach blog's recommendations of encouraging students to wear name tags in your first few meetings with them.

That way, you'll remember everybody much quicker and build those personal connections. You could even have students make their own name tags as a fun way of introducing phrases such as "I am..." and "My name is..."


8) Be prepared for challenging students

Nine times out of ten, students will love having a native English teacher in the classroom. They'll cherish the opportunity to get to know all about you and what life is like in another country and will jump at the chance to engage in the learning process.

Yet every now and again, you may encounter one or two students who aren't so enamored with the idea of learning English. Some may simply choose not to engage, others might be outright confrontational or disruptive.

When you're standing in front of the classroom, managing these students without neglecting those who are motivated to learn can be a little scary, leaving you feeling flustered and thrown completely off your game.

It doesn't have to be this way.

From changing up your learning styles to building themed lessons, there are a number of things you can do to help inspire and engage even the most challenging of students.

See our recent post on how to do just this for more tips and suggestions.


9) Don't forget to pay your taxes

Again, this comes down to that teaching contract which, by now, you should have read, re-read, and read again.

In most cases, you'll likely find that your school has contracted you as a self-employed teacher, meaning it's your responsibility to ensure that your taxes are paid.

Before you travel, be sure that you understand exactly what you need to do to pay taxes in the country you're living in. If you're from a country such as the USA, then you may also have to file a tax return back home if your earnings pass a certain threshold, so it's important to take the necessary steps there too.


10) Consider alternatives during the summer months

Writing for the Irish Times, English teacher Joshua Burns notes that many teaching contracts -particularly those in Europe- run from September to June. This leaves a big gap in the summer months where you could find yourself out of work.

Of course, this is an ample opportunity to use some of the hard-earned money you've saved throughout the year to indulge in some more traveling, but if you'd rather be earning, consider looking for summer camps that require ESL teachers or teaching online.

This latter option is particularly helpful as you can still travel while making money at the same time.

Have you taught English in a foreign country? What top tips would you pass on to our readers? Let us know in the comments below.


P.S. We are currently hiring teachers who would like to relocate and teach abroad. Check out all of our current openings here


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