5 Common Annoyances Teachers Face Abroad

Teaching English abroad can reap many benefits and can be a really life changing experience for the teacher. But let’s be realistic, there are few jobs that come without its challenges and ESL teaching is no exception to this rule. Being prepared for these challenges is our first line of defense against giving up and going home.

We’re not the same

Different Strokes The first challenge that many people face are the cultural differences between what you are used to in your own culture and what is the norm in your new culture. You may waltz into the classroom with an I-know-how-it’s-done attitude handing out discipline like you would at home in a very direct way, but in certain areas such as Asia this is not the norm.

In fact in Asia indirect communication is really big, and can sometimes be quite frustrating for the teacher. This stems from the notion of saving face. If you single a student out in your classroom for their bad behavior or lack of concentration then that student may lose face with their peers. You really don’t want to be embarrassing a student so why not instead try adapting your teaching style. Try speaking to the student one on one or use some simple indirect control such as going silent (this unnerves students into attention), or moving over into their personal space, your presence can be powerful.

You really want to make sure that you get along with your co-teacher and your boss; cultural differences can flow into these two relationships. One thing I have noticed from teaching English in Taiwan is that rewards for being a good teacher are different than back home. When a teacher is doing a good job here, they are rewarded with more work and more classes, as opposed to back home where you are either given a bonus or time off. My advice here is to take this as it was meant, a compliment to your awesome teaching, if you get angry about it you could seem ungrateful.

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Where are my sticky balls?

This section is related to resources, or the lack of them. Picture this; you land that ESL teaching position you were gunning for, you have worked so hard and you are excited as a firework to really get your claws into planning your first class, and when you turn up to the school you are handed a mere text book and sent on your merry way to perform miracles.

Often schools do not have an abundance of materials or teachers guides and a lot of it has to come rather creatively from the teacher. This can involve creating your own worksheets or arts and crafts materials, in some cases you may want to buy materials to make your classes more colorful. A good tip is to bring realia with you from home, things like food menus, newspapers or magazines.
To clear up any confusion, a sticky ball is a great teaching tool that can be used for an array of games in a number of ways.

Shh, stop it, sit down!

This of course relates to discipline and classroom management, something that all teachers face whether big or small. Sometimes you can be teaching large classes or teaching young learners, two areas where bad behavior can become present, so your teaching will have to alter to suit the class. Work ethics and child behaviors can vary from country to country, so it is important for a teacher to be able to adapt to these differences.

Teaching English in Bali and teaching English in Taiwan gave me two very different types of students; in Bali I was dealing with not such a strong work ethic but a high, creative almost cheeky energy, as opposed to Taiwan where the work ethic is very strong yet students can be a little shyer in comparison.

In Bali I used their boisterous and cheeky attitude in the class to my advantage, using very active ESL games. Here in Taiwan the strong work ethic means a willingness not to fail, this can be turned to your advantage in dealing with classroom management.

I don’t work Saturdays…oh wait! I do

Stressed out

I remember when I found out that I would be working Saturdays, “this is a joke, right?” I said as my boss handed me the contract and pen. I was shocked, I was appalled, I was outright offended. In ESL teaching you will more than likely be working hours that you are not used to. Say ‘goodbye’ to the 9-5 Monday to Friday weeks and ‘hello you’ to the Saturdays and irregular work weeks.

This is something that many teachers complain about, because back home its usually the norm for the weekend to be our leisure time, you have to get this way of thinking out of your head as it isn’t like this all over the world. Once you just accept this atrocity you can move past it and start planning your weeks around your new schedule. You knew there would be differences, so hey, here is one of them, enjoy.

What I have come to learn is that this can actually be advantageous in certain areas. Lets say that you are teaching English in China, think about how overpopulated the place is, you then release the population from their office buildings at the weekends for them to all enjoy the city you are in. The result: a huge city wide game of sardines and a 5 hour trip to get milk from the shop meters from your house.

Having 2 days off that aren’t Saturday and Sunday can work wonders in places like this, the streets are less busier and you are able to get around to actually see and do stuff without having to crowd-surf your way around.

You’re on your own

Ok, so not entirely on your own, but the support you usually receive back home may be slightly different than what you get whilst teaching ESL abroad. Don’t expect a team of counselors, motivational speakers and people on hand to speak about issues. In fact, don’t even expect your boss to be around all of the time.  What you can find is that usually a lot of communicative support has to go via email, and you can sometimes be hard pressed to have a manager around all of the time.

Similarly this lack of support may be felt when dealing with unruly children. In the west every child fears the ‘I will send you to the principal’s office’ threat. However what I have found teaching in Asia is that this is not the norm, in fact you are expected to be able to deal with bad behavior on your own and not involve the principle.

This is something that has to be accepted by everybody and in the long run will make you more of an independent teacher. Of course this doesn’t happen in all schools and areas across the globe, some you will be watched very closely. If teaching English in Korea you can sometimes expect CCTV cameras in the classroom. Think of this as a good thing, if somebody tells you that you did something terrible in the classroom, you have the evidence to say you didn’t.

Still want to teach English abroad? Congratulations, you are what the ESL world is looking for. Let’s face it, nobody said this was going to be a walk in the park. You have to accept that there are going to be things that happen that differ to what you are used to, and in reality all of the amazing and great things that happen during your time teaching abroad far outweigh the five things mentioned above.

 

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