What is the truth about teaching ESL/EFL in places far from home?
A great way to see parts of the world you would never have considered?! Yes.
Crying on your way home from class because you felt bullied?! Also yes.
Before getting into this job we were aware that teaching young learners would be a challenge. We have a great rapport with kids in hospitality settings and we’ve worked as au pairs but it’s another thing being a teacher and authority figure.
It’s not terrible, but there are times this year we’ve felt victimised and honestly like we were back at school being teased by schoolyard bullies. Then we realised it’s not just us. It happens to all ESL teachers. It’s also something you have to learn to not take personally to survive in the teaching world.
The Truth About Teaching ESL – Pitfalls
We said we’d always be honest so here goes. Here are real-life examples of what we’ve faced this year.
Classrooms of kids with zero respect and zero enthusiasm equals zero control. The work doesn’t get done and no matter who you talk to sometimes there’s a particular class who just won’t pay you any heed.
Dealing with parents
Parents who blame you for their kid not achieving the level of English they expect. Even if it’s only been a few weeks and they’re a beginner. Or they have a long day at school and you’re making them learn in their free time. Perhaps, they’re just not a fast learner. It could be various reasons, but if you have the training, you need to stand by your professional opinion. Do regular reports on progress and be as straight up as possible in the most professional manner to make your point if you have issues.
Physical abuse and name-calling
Name-calling and physical pain. In the last year, we’ve had kids hit us, throw things at us and call us names to our face or their classmates. It sounds like child’s play but it is hurtful. When you’re teaching and don’t know the language they really can take advantage of that. You need to be honest with parents and your school if this happens. Agree on a discipline strategy and stick to it.
Issues with your school and management
It may also be that the school you work for doesn’t give you the support or management you need. Another issue aside from in-class behaviour and parents is the school itself. Do they expect too much or they don’t have the resources, or maybe no personal support is given to their staff? This is why we always check potential employers online, reach out to former teachers where possible and go in with money to leave if it’s awful. Call meetings to resolve disputes, be professional and stand up for yourself and always have an email trail for written evidence.
The Truth About Teaching ESL: Pros
When you get kids who understand you, that’s when teaching young learners is a golden experience.
Good behaviour in class
Sometimes even terrible classes just need time to get to know you and understand what your vibe is. Our strict but laid back (when appropriate) approach normally helps. Have a way you run things and rewards for good behaviour and achieving certain goals. If you do this from the start, you will have set boundaries for the children, teenagers and even adult learners to adhere to. Rules like no mobile phones or eating in class are very useful.
When teaching privately you’re going to be around the parents a lot. This can work in your favour. Always give feedback and reports every so often and they love to feel involved with your plans. A lot of heat from parents normally comes when there’s been no progress report or things just aren’t said. Be straight up with parents and earn that respect. With adult learners, it’s also a joy when they walk away with more knowledge, as often they want to learn for a chance at a better career or to travel with more ease.
Most of the young learners we’ve had have been enthusiastic. Even when they’re not they have at least enjoyed the games and more interactive elements of learning English. That’s when it’s a joy to teach! Not every teacher wants to teach young learners, but they can be the most rewarding students as their progress is often more obvious. If you bring a positive energy, your students will appreciate that.
The Truth About Teaching ESL: Do they balance each other out?
You’re not always painted as the cool teacher, sometimes you are demonized, but even that can be worked on. We find that being truthful with employers, parents and young learners improves, and enriches our teaching lives.
We still get home and need a glass….or bottle of wine occasionally but we’re still learning ourselves and not at our most confident in front of a class.
One last word of advice from teachers
Whether you teach online or face to face, there will be issues, you will get unmotivated students and parents who have a thing or two to say. To this we say, don’t be a teacher for the wrong reasons. You should want the best for your students. Teachers who take time to prep lessons and are invested in their progress are what any learner deserves.
It’s not a job for the money, it’s a job for the love of language and learning, and this goes both ways. If like me (Jen) you have the motivation but are stricken with anxiety the pitfalls or cons can outweigh the good points at times. For an open and honest account about my struggles read my story about teaching with anxiety.
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