I have been an ESL teacher since 2014 and I am in no doubt that it is the best decision I have ever made. The job has helped me fulfill my dream of becoming fluent in a foreign language, it has taken me to France, Spain and China and most unexpectedly, led to a love of teaching.
I'm going to go through a couple of initial doubts and myths I had about committing to a move abroad as a teacher. From my experiences both in and out of the classroom I discovered that a couple of these three myths are not completely true!
Firstly, I would never have seen myself in charge of a class of kids. This was my big doubt before stepping foot in a classroom. I was terrified that they wouldn't listen to me, they wouldn't want to learn, and I would have no control!
There are a few things I'd suggest to any teacher worried about the prospect of being a kids' teacher.
TEFL: Before stepping foot in a classroom, take a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course. While it won't get you 100% ready for the classroom, it'll give you a really clear idea of what to expect with tips and hints which I still use to this day.
Make the most of training: Training helps a lot, with EF there is a full training schedule before starting and on-the-job which lasts for weeks.
‘Borrow' ideas: The most useful part in getting used to teaching kids is observing more experienced teachers work their magic. If you're part of a solid teaching team there's always an opportunity to ‘borrow' an idea from another teacher, particularly when it comes to classroom management!
Just go for it: A couple of weeks in with my 3-year olds I started to realize the biggest obstacle to overcome was singing with the class. Lose those inhibitions and just go for it!
In my case, I grew to love working with children and in fact one of my favourite classes turned out to be with a bunch 4-year olds – looking back, my 20-year old self would never have believed that! And I'd recommend teaching kids, but in countries such as China where English is so sought after by everyone, if the kids' classes really aren't for you, you have the option to teach adults too.
To be honest, back in 2014 when my teaching adventure began, I didn't consider teaching abroad to be a long-term option. I said to myself OK this is the chance to do a fun ‘gap year' and travel a bit before putting on my shirt and tie back home in the UK a year or so later to focus on a serious career.
Six and a half years, three countries and a couple of thousand classes later I still find myself working in education. Why? I feel I haven't missed out on anything! My personal route has seen me work as a teacher, director of studies, teacher trainer and recruiter. The way I see it, I'd recommend it whatever your career goal – if you are looking for a year abroad and want to see the world before starting another career… great! If teaching is your passion and you're looking to make a career out of it… also great!
As someone with a love and fascination with languages, one of my key motivations for teaching overseas was not only to teach English, but to become a local and learn the language. Having now taught abroad in four cities in three countries I discovered that it is doable if you have the right attitude.
It's up to you and what you do. Firstly, make the most of EF's free weekly Chinese lessons! But also, be aware that you don't just learn in the classroom, you have to go into the real world. This is where you need to just go for it (as mentioned in myth number 1!). Ordering fruit in the local market in Mandarin, striking up a conversation about football in a bar in Spanish and generally being curious about French history. Some of my closest friends are people I met in those situations, and my language skills are so much better than before.
If you would like to find out more about the exciting reality of teaching abroad (and maybe debunk a few of your own myths about the life of an ESL teacher), check out the EF website!