How do you know if TEFL is for you?

Teaching English as a foreign language isn’t for everyone, so how do you know if TEFL is for you?

Many times I’ve suggested to my wife that she becomes a teacher.

“We could have the same holidays, you’d only have to work four days a week. You’d love it,” I often say.

“What me? Teaching children? Standing at the front of the class? No way!” is her standard reply.

If you’re pondering on whether you could become a TEFL teacher then hopefully this blog can help.

Are you patient?

Despite what most ‘normal’ teachers say, teaching English as a foreign language is a demanding job. The working week is long, you have a lot of names and faces to remember, and students fire out streams of awkward questions.

If you lose your rag easily, can’t stand people who don’t pick things up quickly, or could get annoyed if your hard work doesn’t go as planned, then look for a different career. In a class of fifteen, maybe three or four will always be attentive and get everything you say first time. The majority won’t. English is a complex language to learn, and teach. 

To be a good TEFL teacher patience is key.
Are you sociable?

Teaching is a sociable job. You’re not only communicating with a group of students, but you’ll have to get on with your boss, fellow teachers, and probably the reception staff.

In class you’ll be chatting with students about their weekends, family, holidays, and views on life. They’ll want to know about you and might ask personal questions. When I was in Ecuador I was asked several times if I’d had sex with an Ecuadorian woman.

Depending on the school or academy you work for you may need to interact with other teachers on a daily basis, share ideas and thoughts, and even go for a beer at the end of the week, not to mention the Christmas do.

Being sociable is an important asset of teaching English.

Are you a good listener?

Teaching English is not only about speaking. You need to be able to listen to your students; not only to their needs in class, but also their pronunciation problems. You’ll be listening to conversations and opinions, and will have to absorb a lot of information throughout the day.

Last night I was chatting to my wife about people’s eye colour (what does this have to do with listening? Bear with me). She has an excellent memory for people’s eye colour. I don’t.

“Don’t you ever look at people’s eyes when you speak with them?” she asked.

“Of course, but normally I look at their mouths.” She shrugged. “It helps me teach.”

I find it easier to listen to student’s when I watch their mouths, as well as spotting pronunciation weaknesses.

This didn’t help when I had a student with a cleft lip as she thought I was staring at her mouth. She had blue eyes.

Can you cope with being a foreigner?

At the moment I’m a guiri – foreigner in Spanish, and at other times I’ve been a farang in Thailand, and a gringo in South America. I love being a foreigner. For me it’s exciting to be different from the locals. I have my days when it drives me mad: perhaps I’ll be short changed in shop or charged an extra beer or tapas in a bar.

In South America and Thailand the students loved the fact that I was British, some had never spoken to an Englishman before. In Spain, however, they don’t seem that fussed, the novelty has faded away. They’re more inclined to gossip about me before class or if I run out to do some extra photocopying.  

In most of the countries I worked in I mingled with the locals and tried to integrate, but no matter where I go, even now after living almost seven years in Spain, I’m still a guiri, and proud.  

Do you like words and grammar?

Teaching English as a foreign language, believe it or not, means that you’re working with your language. If you hate the thought of learning more about English so that you can teach the difference between a verb and a noun, or when to use present perfect simple or continuous, then be warned.

When I first started teaching my level of grammar was rubbish, and even for the first three years I struggled to teach grammar. I still panic if I have a high level adult group because I know they’ll ask me ‘why’ for everything.

As an English teacher you have to love, or at least partially enjoy, language. If you get a buzz out of new interesting vocabulary or enjoy the way English is constructed then this career could be perfect for you.

Are you a little bit nuts?

I’ve met a lot of teachers on my travels, and most of them are a little bit mad; you have to be in this job.

“We’re just glorified clowns” a good friend of mine used to say, which, in part, is true. We might not have to wear the red nose and baggy trousers, but we do have to entertain and keep  a crowd engaged.

Sometimes I feel like I’m a high street entertainer, especially with the little kids. They want a fun teacher who can sing along, act out funny expressions of adjectives, or get on the floor and pretend to be a tiger. It’s all good fun, but if you’re not a bit mental then maybe TEFL isn’t for you. (Photo by zoonabar)

Which of these can you relate with? Do you think it’s more important to be patient or sociable? Maybe you have something to add. Leave a comment, just to show me you care, or don’t...

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