Teaching abroad is a great way to understand other cultures.
Like gum on the bottom of your new travel shoes, misconceptions will leave you stuck before you even enter your first classroom. These damaging preconceived ideas have the potential to slow your progress as a new teacher or even deter you from continuing all-together. However, remember that misconceptions are simply misunderstandings.
Researching the educational style of the country you would like to teach in is a good place to start; however, your teach abroad experience does not need to be confined to your (or other's) expectations. The following will bring truth to light for several common misconceptions about teaching abroad:
#1. I need to know the country's native language well in order to teach students my own.
It may not sound like it initially, but this is a form of self-doubt. Questioning your own language proficiency is the first place you'll want to run to, but we can use it to debunk the first misconception.
Remember, this isn't about teaching the students their own language, it's about teaching them yours. While having some knowledge of the native language could help you explain difficult concepts, it isn't always necessary. Often times the less a teacher may know in a language, the more room there will be for growth with the student, as well as the teacher. By not using their native language while teaching, the students will be forced to be more attentive and thus more likely to retain the information.
Set aside time for the students to ask questions or help them look up words they may not understand in the dictionary. Demonstrating to the student that you are learning too will make them feel more comfortable, and in this way, both you and the student will learn something new.
Additionally, if there is a difficult concept you want to discuss with the class, look up the words in their native language ahead of time. If the students struggle to understand an idea, then try using a few of the words in their language to help guide them back toward the lesson's main point.
#2. They're not going to understand me.
New teachers may feel that their students won't understand them if they only use English. However, there are many ways to increase the students understanding. First, remember to slow down. No matter what the level of English the student may have, slowing your speech will give them more time to listen and process what you have said. They may not understand every word, but by speaking clearly and slowly, the odds of them understanding will improve greatly.
Avoid slang and idioms when teaching. While idioms like "it'll be a piece of cake" or "we're all in the same boat," may seem fitting in the moment, they are confusing for students. If you notice yourself using them frequently, create a lesson-plan that involves the most popular idioms or appropriate slang from your own country. It's a light and fun topic for students, and also can eliminate confusion in the future.
Communication isn't only based on word choice. Try using facial expressions and hand gestures to help explain your point. While it may seem like charades at times, this non-verbal communication will also help students understand what you are trying to say.
What will your new classroom look like?
#3. I haven't studied English in years... I don't know grammatical terminology for it either!
This is yet another misconception that stems from a lack of personal confidence in ones abilities. Remember, you're the expert. Whether you've studied it recently or not, you practice it on a daily basis at home. You may not know how to identify an indirect object or dependent clause when first entering the classroom, but the important thing is that you can both speak and write in English. This is something your students lack and you can assist them in learning.
If you are concerned about grammatical terminology, try picking up a light paperback guide-book to help you. Often times, websites will also provide valuable information. Owl Purdue Writing Lab is a helpful site that includes grammar exercises and explanations to help you brush up on your skills.
#4. I've never had any experience teaching in a classroom; I won't be prepared.
Although you may not have had experience teaching abroad, it is likely you have been in similar positions in the past. Whether you may have been a camp counselor, group leader of a project or an older sibling, you will have had some experience teaching something to someone else. Don't discredit these previous roles. They will all contribute to effective teaching while abroad.
If you still feel unprepared, try designing a lesson plan. Browse the Internet for trending topics for the age range you will be teaching, and try to organize lesson-plans to help gain some insight. Remember when designing your lesson-plan, keep in mind the age of your students and what their English level may be. If possible, bring one or two children's books from home. Begin by teaching vocabulary that may appear in the short story and end with asking hypothetical questions in regard to the story. Also consider pursuing certification as an ESL teacher through an online TEFL course.
American teacher Stacy with her 30+ year old student, Ricky.
#5. I have to teach to children.
While many teaching jobs focus on elementary-age children, there are also adults who are looking to learn English. In business, English is utilized worldwide in business, and many professionals seek one-on-one tutoring. If you are interested in teaching adults rather than children, begin by brushing up on business vocabulary. Someone who may have studied business at the university level would be the ideal candidate for this type of job. Look for companies who may have English-speaking business partners, and advertise your expertise to them through direct contact or a letter.
However, if you aren't interested in a business focus, consider pursuing a conversation partner abroad. While this may not be a paid teaching position, it can be an opportunity to teach English to a student of your age and gain practice, as well as learning about their language and customs.
While you may have been hung-up initially by several of these sticky misconceptions, some of these teaching ideas should have left you with a skip in your step, that's ready to put you into the next classroom abroad.
#1. Be prepared! 10 things you should know before teaching abroad.
#2. Try somewhere new and exciting! How to Choose Where to Teach Abroad.
#3. Not certified yet? Check out our official guide to getting your TEFL.