8 Lessons I Learned as a Teacher Abroad

person_outline Tommy Walker
Mar 27, 2018

folder_open Teach

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Teaching English is one of the most fulfilling jobs you can do. The amount of countries that are crying out for English teachers is enormous and if you’re a native speaker then you’re in with a whole lot of luck! The even better news is that depending on where you go, it can be easy to earn your TEFL/TESOL certificate and become a qualified teacher. 

I had always thought about teaching English abroad. I felt it would be in some way of giving back, especially to those who are less fortunate than me. I still believe that teaching English is giving those ‘a ticket to the world’. What I mean by that is, English is spoken in an ever growing list of countries. If it’s not your first language it’s most nations’ second. This means that if you speak English you have increased opportunities for seeking a better job, increasing your international relations, earning more money and better options for moving abroad. Learning how to speak English can be a huge door opening opportunity for non-native speakers. Right now, I’m currently teaching in Hong Kong, but way back in 2012 when I first dipped my toes in - I volunteered in Laos, a beautiful but lesser known country in Southeast Asia.

One of the poorest countries in the region, Laos opened my eyes to the world that little bit more. Not only did it make me realise how important learning English is for these places, but also just how desperate these countries are to get more of their citizens fluent. My first volunteering experience was amazing, although it wasn’t one without laughs, cries, blunders and embarrassments. That’s what teaching can be. I was teaching an age range of 6-8 year olds.

(Note, there is both volunteering and paid teaching opportunities available depending on what country you wish to go to and how long you can commit)

My Introductory Question Wasn’t The Best

After I had written the date on the board the normal teacher of the class provided me with some simple paper pictures. They included pictures of an arm and an eye. Not knowing what English the kids knew in advance I decided to bellow out to the class by pointing to the one of the pictures…

“What’s that?”

Their response was “What’s that!”

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Lesson Plans Are Essential

Knowing bits about the class and having some form of lesson plans are essential. As my last point stated, I just intrinsically assumed the class to be able to answer what picture I was pointing too, but in this case, their English was at such a low level they just copied my words. In my defence, the whole volunteering thing came quite quickly with little time to prepare. Yet, having some idea is essential so you can get the best out of the class, and help the students really learn something.

Local Teaching Assistants Help

During my time volunteering, especially in the school, having a local teacher to assist me helped immensely. When the class got preoccupied they started speaking amongst themselves in their local tongue. The assistant was there to help with that by ordering their attention. It really depends on the level of the class you take but in cases like mine it really helped having someone in the background to keep us on track.

The Good, Bad & Naughty

As I stood up in front of the class, almost instantly you can tell which children want to learn and which are easily distracted. The clever and well-behaved students are quiet and listen. Their

handwriting is careful and they tend to be less agitated by other students. Where as the students who are the more naughty ones will mess around, not pay attention and have a lack of interest. Every class, at least in public schools, will have the good, the bad and the naughty. Being aware and prepared for the troublemakers is important, how you include them in the lessons counts considerably towards how much the other students learn.

My Singing Voice Was Awful But It Worked

I sang the ‘Wheels On The Bus’ at the end of the class by singing it out loud and writing the words on the blackboard. Although my voice was dreadful and I felt no-one would surely be paying attention to the words, the sound of the tune actually helped. The more I sang the more students understood. You might think what you’re doing is silly but it can help teach and sink in to the students. This was definitely the case - don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone, you’ll most likely have to!

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Some Schools Really Appreciate Your Help

When I first approached the school, I was keen to only do a few hours of class. When the school discovered I was English and wanted to volunteer they were ever so keen for me to take more classes. Some parts of the world need more help than others, and Laos is one of them. Often facing competition from neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam for English Teachers, Laos gets a little left behind. If you want to volunteer teaching English, a good way to look at it is who needs it most? That’s where the real fulfilment lies!

Kids Want To Learn No Matter How Wealthy

Kids are kids, wherever you go. Some are fed with silver spoons others begin with nothing. But, if you show attention and the ability to want to teach them, kids will always want to learn. It’s what we as humans are programmed to do at that age, learn what is around us. Volunteering at underprivileged schools is just as, if not more rewarding than volunteering at closed door private ones.

Teaching Is Fulfilling

Knowing that you have just helped someone is a great feeling. But doing this on a grand scale for several students is an amazingly fulfilling feeling. That’s what teaching is. You have the opportunity to teach what you know and might have taken for granted, to people who are in need or maybe less fortunate than the kids where you’re from. Plus, it looks great on your CV/resume and with the right experience you can do this as a full time job!

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One last piece of advice. If you’re thinking of volunteering to teach English or you’re going to work as a teacher for the first time, the best thing is to just let go. Forget about what you think you look like or sound like and just relax. Enjoy the class and learn every step of the way.

The Global Work & Travel Co. offers a wide variety of both volunteering & paid English teaching in a host of interesting countries. Your ticket to get there is at the button below.

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Tommy Walker

Tommy Walker

Tommy is a British freelance travel writer and social media micro-influencer. He’s been on the road since 2011 and he’s travelled through Europe, Southeast Asia, South America, Africa and Oceania, including two Working Holidays in Australia & New Zealand. His favourite destinations (so far) are Melbourne in Australia, Lisbon in Portugal, Thailand and Ecuador! Find more of Tommy’s work on his travel blog The Wandering Walker.