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Five Things Every TEFL Teacher Should Know

Five Things Every TEFL Teacher Should Know
Admin - Sep 25 2015

Our Academic Director has been a TEFLer for longer than he’d like to admit and in that time he’s picked up a few handy tricks of the trade. So we gave him a call over in Australia and got him to spill the beans on his top five tricks for people who want to teach English overseas.

1. Build up a Network

With over a billion people learning English worldwide – and with this set to double in the next decade – there are countless job opportunities. However, it’s estimated only 20,000 are advertised each month – it sounds like a lot, but it’s a tiny fraction of what’s actually out there.

The fact is most TEFL work isn’t advertised. Private schools start classes as soon as there’s demand, so they need a teacher next week - they haven’t got time to use the web to recruit teachers. Many are also wary of the anonymity of the web – they’d rather have someone recommended to them.

So build a network. It’s easy and your opportunities will expand exponentially. Here are a few useful tips on getting that network started…

  • Make a list of everyone you know with some connection to teaching or the country you’re interested in. Contact them. Ask if they know of any opportunities, and for details of anyone they know involved in teaching. Ask them to put you in contact.
  •  Use web forums such as Chalkboard or a teacher forum.
  • Ask the people you’ve met on your weekend course, EDI CertTEFL or internship.
  • If you’re in the country already, go to an expat bar. You’ll meet teachers within five minutes. Ask them what’s going.
  • Find out the name of the person at the school, and contact them directly. Suggest catching up on Skype if you’re overseas, or if you’re already in the country try to meet in person.

2. Research your School

It’s a huge life-change going to another country, so make sure you know it’s the right decision before you sign a contract. It’s easy to do.

Search web forums for the name of potential schools or employers. If there are any issues, you’ll find them. (Just take comments with a pinch of salt – bad experiences aren’t always the school’s fault. And ignore comments like ‘France is a rubbish country, all they do is eat garlic for breakfast lunch and dinner’!)

Speak to teachers who’ve worked there. You can ask an employer to put you in contact with a current teacher – not phrased as you don’t trust them, but rather you have some questions about teaching there.

Don’t worry, most schools are reputable! (Sure, some may be more focused on making money than education, but that doesn’t mean they’re a bad employer – and unashamedly commercial enterprises often mean more autonomy for you in the classroom.) But you want to make sure you’ll enjoy the working environment.

3. Dress the part

In many cultures, how a teacher presents them self is almost as important as how they teach. Teachers are seen as role models. One question a lot of locals in Vietnam and Thailand ask is ‘Why don’t foreigners dress for work?’

Also schools may see a foreign teacher as the face of the school – they may even ask you to greet students at the front gate so the public sees they have a foreigner!

Find out what teachers in a culture should wear (it’s not always a suit and tie, but it’s always neat and conservative). Probably better to ask the school or locals rather than expats – you may get dodgy advice. Certainly dress up for the job interview and your first day, and then suss out the situation once you start teaching.

4. Use a coursebook

Preparation is the bane of many teachers’ lives. They want to deliver great lessons, so they stay up till all hours preparing.

In fact, this is often counter-productive, not only are you exhausted, lessons with too many handouts and materials are chaotic.

Rather, exploit the coursebook using the principles of great teaching you’ve learned on your course. Bring in visuals and realia to introduce the topic in the unit. Get students to work together (by getting one student in each pair to put their book away). Get students to rewrite example sentences in the book to make them relate to their lives. Have students create posters to summarise what they’ve learned in the book.

You’ll dramatically reduce your preparation time – and teach better, more inclusive classes.

5. Get out of the spotlight

Students not only enjoy interacting with each other – practice is absolutely essential if your students’ English is going to improve. Therefore to create a great atmosphere, and to teach effectively, students should practice with each other as much as possible.

That means, the less time you’re up the front talking, the better.

If you don’t like the idea of public speaking in front of lots of people, that’s great, because a good lesson will be the students talking and you moving around helping them!

On your lesson plan, next to each stage, note down who’s doing the talking – the teacher or students? If it’s more often the teacher, change it.

Get students talking (in groups or mingling) within a minute of your lesson starting, and get away from the front. Plan how to make instructions as simple as possible so they only take half a minute. Get students to work out grammar rules themselves in groups, rather than lecturing them. Make sure practice of new language is at least half the lesson.

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