Teaching English as a foreign language has become a popular way to earn a living while travelling. It’s no secret that I love to travel, so in 2018 I enrolled in a teacher training course and dove into the world of TEFL. For a while, I fell in love with teaching- so much so, that I didn’t even go abroad.
I spent most of 2018 teaching English to adults from all corners of the globe in my own beloved Cork city. For me, teaching English was a rewarding and formative experience, and an opportunity to be creative. During my time as a teacher, I developed skills that I still use everyday at work, in college and in my social life.
Whether you teach for six months in Asia, or six years in your hometown, there are many wonderful things to be discovered in the English classroom. Here’s a preview of some discoveries you may have if you choose to become an English language teacher.
1. Native English speakers don’t know much about grammar…but we can learn!
I know folks, it’s hard to admit that we’re all slightly terrible at our native language (points for seeing what I did there), but we needn’t be intimidated by the world of grammar. With a little time and effort (and some help from Michael Swan), we can all become competent grammar teachers. Plus, in the era of digital communication, good grammar is becoming a real advantage in the workplace. If you decide to move on from teaching later on, you may be very glad you know what an uncountable noun is- I know I am!
2. Not all Netflix is a waste of time.
OK, hear me out. Even the best textbook will become boring if it’s the only tool in your teaching kit. TV shows and movies can be a great way to bring humour, fun and variety to a lesson. I found that students really enjoyed TV and movies when there were learning outcomes attached to the viewings.
Below is a piece of my own work that I had great success with in the classroom.
This is a clip from one of my favourite sitcoms, How I Met Your Mother.
I usually began by introducing the characters and having my students do this vocabulary exercise, to help them understand the clip. Then we watched the clip, and the students completed this listening exercise during or after the viewing. You can follow up with some conversation about annoying habits.
Be aware of your students’ backgrounds and level of proficiency when using activities like this. Not all humour is universal!
3. Good listeners make effective leaders.
As soon as you set foot in a teacher training course you will learn the significance of TTT- teacher talking time. Well, I’m here to confirm that your teacher trainers are not exaggerating. You do not want to spend a 30/40 hour work week constantly talking! Not only will you be exhausted, but your students will be less engaged.
Learning to lead with your body language and your enthusiasm rather than your voice takes a little practice, but much like improving your grammar, it’s a valuable skill. Since working as an English language teacher I am much more comfortable leading groups, because I know I can do it without being bossy, or running myself into the ground.
4. Quiet doesn’t mean shy.
This is a big one.
Have you ever found yourself being very quiet in a work or classroom situation, despite being the loudest, funniest character in your family or your group of friends? Why are you more likely to open up in some situations than in others?
I think we often don’t share the brightest, most confident part of ourselves because we don’t feel comfortable enough, or inspired enough to do so. Working as a teacher taught me how to bring people out of their shells and create opportunities for every personality to shine. I learned how to make a team out of people who don’t know each other, and don’t speak the same language.
The ability to lead with energy and create a positive atmosphere is invaluable, and teaching English is a great opportunity to hone this skill.
5. It’s good to experiment: sing songs, play games, and be funny, or just straight up ridiculous.
While the students were coming out of their shells, I was coming out of mine.
Once I was confident enough to experiment a little in the classroom, I discovered that most students will sing, act, play and interact with just about anything you throw at them. As long as it’s fun and they feel like they’re learning, your students will be grateful that you’re trying to create an interesting lesson, even if it’s a little outside the box.
One of my highlight moments in the English classroom was creating this fill in the blanks exercise to George Ezra’s Shotgun. The song was extremely popular at the time and the students loved the activity. When we had completed the exercise, we had a lot fun singing the song together. Several students thanked me specifically for that lesson, because they were “so happy to know the words for the pub tonight”.