Time flies in the TEFL world
In the blink of an eye, life has moved in fast forward, but the one thing that has remained the same since 2005, is my career teaching English as a Foreign Language. 2005 seems like yesterday but in 2005, I was getting my TESOL certificate online in preparation of a family move to Malaysia.
So, what have I learned teaching English over the last 13 years? Wow, that would likely take more than 1000 words! Instead, let me give you my top tips, or advice, based on my experience.
First, let me break down my experience, and from there, I’ll give you some advice from the things I’ve learned.
- I worked as a volunteer in the ESL classroom of the Elementary School of ISKL (International School of Kuala Lumpur). Because of that, I created relationships with the children and their teachers who recommended me as a private tutor and launched my private teaching for the entire time I lived in KL.
- I joined the ESL department of TPM-Technology Park Malaysia working with Mainland Chinese students in an intensive English program that prepared them for university-level work in English. I also planned and executed a summer camp for ages 6-26 and worked with all entrants to the school who were not primary English speakers.
- In 2008 I returned to the U.S. and found myself in Charlottesville, Virginia where there was a large refugee community. I volunteered in the adult education program for refugees.
- In 2010 I had the opportunity to go to Puerto Jimenez, Costa Rica to work as a classroom teacher in a small, private, bilingual elementary school. There I worked as a regular English teacher, environmental science, and social studies for grades 2-6.
- In 2010 I returned to the U.S., this time to Salisbury, Maryland where I began my online ESL teaching career which I have continued since.
- Since 2010, I have worked as a content creator and teacher for some of the largest online ESL schools in the world. I was a team leader and trials leader for more than 100 trainers worldwide, worked as a corporate trainer and became one of the first tutors for the CIEE TEFL certificate course.
Which brings me to today and my life in Merida, Mexico still teaching English online. 13 years and more than 35,000 working hours later, I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two about this world of teaching ESL that still holds my joy and passion!
My Top 10 Pieces of Advice
I know, you started reading this for my advice, so here are my top 10 pieces of advice for those of you who are just starting or have already started this wild, wonderful journey teaching TEFL. I often told this to my trainers and to those going through the CIEE TEFL certificate course and I do listen to my own advice!
1. Even though teaching English is a great way to see the world, a better way to think of this is that teaching English gives you the opportunity to experience the world and experience cultures from the inside while you are changing lives including your own.
2. SMILE. Every day, no matter how tired, how frustrated, how overwhelmed, or how OVER it you are. It will change your attitude and help you continue to put one foot in front of the other until you are back on top of the world. And yes, it will help change the attitudes of your students as well!
3. You don’t need to know everything. Yes, it even means that you don’t need to be a grammar guru! Oh, the sweaty palms we have when we realize that many of our students have a better grasp of English grammar than we do. When you don’t know an answer, turn it around. Either give your students the tools to find the answer or make it a teaching experience and get everyone involved.
4. Take every opportunity to get involved in the community you are living in and, when you are teaching online, take every opportunity to get to know your students personally. They will remain your students for years, and ultimately be your friends.
5. Put English into context. Make it matter to their world. When a student connects words to their life, they remember them, and they are excited by them and the opportunity to learn more. Have fun, be silly, tell jokes, laugh!
6. Remember that everyone learns differently no matter what their first language is. Find out what makes your students tick to find out the best way to teach them.
7. Enthusiasm is contagious and linked to #2.
8. There is always more to learn about teaching English, about the people and the cultures you are teaching, and about yourself. Embrace change because in the TEFL classroom, no two days, heck no two classes, will be the same.
9. LISTEN! Don’t rush through the class or through life. Listen to your students as they struggle to communicate and then listen to them when they need a shoulder. Listen to your colleagues who need help and listen to your colleagues who have something to teach you. Listen to the sound of the rain, the traffic at 2 am, the dance party that is still going at 4 am when you have to be at the school at 7. And listen, to yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when your voice tells you, you need it.
10. Don’t plan for B, plan for Z and know there will be days where you come back through the alphabet. You will go home feeling like you plowed a field by hand, but you will have learned that you can, indeed, survive almost any situation when you are teaching. Who knows, you may find out that you are far more flexible, resilient, and awesome than you ever thought possible!
So here I am, 13 years and 35,000+ hours of TEFL experience later. I have made friends, who are now some of my best friends, around the world. Many of those good friends I have never met in person! In this world of the internet, I have worked with other trainers around the world and I have taught students from more than 50 countries. I know that I can travel almost anywhere in this world and connect with someone who has taught me about their life, their country, their hopes, and their dreams. They have taught me more of who I am and have given me far more than I could hope to have taught them. They have shared weddings, births, deaths, new jobs, their successes and failures.
Each Friday, I turn off my computer, exhausted, my voice almost gone, and my mind complete mush. I don’t want to think about correcting one more essay or reminding someone for the 100th time that the ‘S’ in English is not pronounced ‘esuh’. But then, something happens. I get a text, or a baby picture, good news, or a comment on Facebook from a student that says I will always be their favorite teacher. And then, I smile, and remember that I am the lucky one. Each week I get to travel the world, and every day I have the privilege of helping create connections in a time where we need to remember what makes all of us the same. Monday comes, the camera goes on, and I SMILE.
Finally, I’ll share this with you. For almost 20 years, my email signature line has been, “Life is an adventure-take detours”. I live my motto, and TEFL allows me to do that every day. It is a passion, and I am the lucky one.