Teaching English As a Foreign Language: 5 Dos and Don’ts for New TEFL Teachers

Authored By:


From preparing for what is likely a new profession to navigating the process of moving to a new country, there are many things to consider when teaching English abroad.

As a new TEFL teacher, you'll soon be responsible for the education and well-being of your students. Not to mention, you’ll need to tackle the in-depth process of moving abroad, which can require complicated visa applications and upfront costs. 

But while teaching English abroad can be a huge undertaking, it doesn’t have to be! If you're considering teaching English as a foreign language, this list of essential things to know will help you prepare for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. 

5 Dos for Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Here are some essential things new TEFL teachers should do before they teach English abroad.

1. Do Your Research and Plan Ahead

Planning and doing proper research is an essential first step in your teach abroad journey. Advance planning helps you understand what the process entails as well as sets realistic expectations for what is needed to move overseas and apply for ESL jobs.

Some of the essential things that new TEFL teachers should consider include: 

  • Which TEFL certification is best. The best TEFL courses feature highly qualified tutors, 120 hours or more of training, accredited course material, an in-class practicum, and access to helpful resources. 
  • The best teach abroad destinations, so you’re equipped with the information you need to choose the right place for you. 
  • Teach abroad job requirements for where you’d like to teach in order to prepare your resume accordingly and better your chances of landing your dream job. 
  • The cost of living in your desired country to affirm that your teaching salary should be enough to live on.  
  • The teaching responsibilities and workload to expect in your new job, so there are no surprises when you walk into your new classroom.
  • The admin and costs of teaching abroad to help minimize stress and potential missteps throughout your move abroad.

Read more: How Much Should a TEFL Certification Cost?

Photo for blog post Teaching English As a Foreign Language: 5 Dos and Don’ts for New TEFL Teachers

2. Do Get TEFL Certified 

Getting TEFL certified is one of the most beneficial things new TEFL teachers can do before teaching abroad. Not only is it a typical job requirement in the industry, but a TEFL certification provides many benefits to aspiring teachers. 

It offers formal, professional training in leading teaching methodologies, classroom management styles, lesson planning, and everything else needed to teach English as a foreign language. Not to mention, TEFL can help you advance your career abroad, earn a higher salary, and network with fellow English teachers. 

Read more: 10 Challenges of Teaching English That a TEFL Certificate Can Help You Overcome

Photo for blog post Teaching English As a Foreign Language: 5 Dos and Don’ts for New TEFL Teachers

3. Do Come Financially Prepared 

As exciting an opportunity it is to teach English abroad, it's essential to assess your finances before making the leap and carefully consider how much English teachers earn abroad. The average income for new TEFL teachers is typically $800-$2,000 per month, depending on the country. Confirming that this salary will be enough to support you and your financial needs before moving abroad is imperative.

Additionally, most teachers only receive their first paycheck after their first month of teaching. So, arriving with savings ensures you can support yourself the first few weeks in your new country and for emergencies. 

Not to mention, there are start-up costs associated with teaching English abroad. From the TEFL certificate, visa and immigration fees, and living expenses while getting settled, moving abroad can be expensive. Preparing financially by researching these expenses and saving money in advance can make your move less stressful.

Read more: How Much Does it Cost to Teach English Abroad? 

Photo for blog post Teaching English As a Foreign Language: 5 Dos and Don’ts for New TEFL Teachers

4. Do Prepare for Cultural Shock

Culture shock is an inevitable part of living in a new place and is something everyone experiences. For first-time expats, it can be confusing! Because as exciting as the chance to travel around a new country is, you will have moments of loneliness, confusion, and frustration at the things you don't understand. 

While no one can fully prepare or avoid culture shock, arriving with a strong sense of cultural awareness and a surface-level understanding of cultural norms can help. Looking to fellow expats, friends, and family as a support system is another excellent way to alleviate homesickness and culture shock while abroad.

Photo for blog post Teaching English As a Foreign Language: 5 Dos and Don’ts for New TEFL Teachers

5. Do Put Effort into Assimilating into the Local Culture

As guests in a new country, English teachers abroad have a responsibility to put effort into learning about the local culture. Small things like learning the language, trying the food, and attempting to understand why things are the way they are, can go a long way. It can help you feel more comfortable overall, and locals and your co-teachers will greatly appreciate it. 

Additionally, there's a good chance you'll be one of a few, if not the only, foreigners at your new school. So staying flexible and putting effort into learning the work culture is another excellent way to mitigate culture shock while fostering a positive work environment. 

5 Don’ts For Teaching English as a Foreign Language

Now that we’ve covered the essential “dos” when teaching English as a foreign language, here are some things new TEFL teachers should avoid when teaching abroad! 

Photo for blog post Teaching English As a Foreign Language: 5 Dos and Don’ts for New TEFL Teachers

1. Don’t Overlook Teach Abroad Programs

When considering teaching English abroad, there are a few different ways to find ESL jobs. For example, new TEFL teachers can search online job boards and forums, apply for government-sponsored opportunities, or participate in established teach abroad programs.

While all are viable options, newbie teachers can benefit immensely from applying to an established program like CIEE Teach Abroad. CIEE Teach Abroad participants enjoy perks like job search assistance, 24/7 support abroad, and a helping hand throughout the application and move abroad process. In addition, CIEE offers teaching placements in popular destinations like Spain, South Korea, Thailand, and more! Plus, if you’re in need of a TEFL certification, some of CIEE’s Teach Abroad programs include enrollment in CIEE TEFL's 150-hour TEFL Certificate course.

Learn more about CIEE Teach Abroad Programs.

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Step Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Living and working in a foreign country is an exciting opportunity to grow in ways that wouldn’t be possible at home. And a big part of that learning experience is stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying new things. By doing so, you'll be able to immerse yourself in the culture, build relationships with new people, and gain a deeper understanding of the world around you.

Additionally, stepping outside your comfort zone can help you develop valuable skills such as adaptability, resilience, confidence, and cultural sensitivity, which benefit you personally and professionally. New TEFL teachers can step outside their comfort zone by joining new clubs and groups, participating in local activities, and visiting cultural landmarks and events.

Photo for blog post Teaching English As a Foreign Language: 5 Dos and Don’ts for New TEFL Teachers

3. Don’t Expect the Locals to Cater to You

When you teach English abroad, you are a guest in a new country. That means it’s very important to try your best to adapt to the local culture and respect cultural norms and expectations, even if you don’t fully agree or understand. Are you expected to know everything about your new home? Absolutely not. However, it's not the responsibility of locals to adjust their daily life to make you comfortable.

Photo for blog post Teaching English As a Foreign Language: 5 Dos and Don’ts for New TEFL Teachers

4. Don’t Overpack and Overplan

When moving abroad, it’s normal to fear the unknown and worry you won’t have access to your favorite things. But overpacking or overplanning is not the answer. Most items will be available abroad. And if not, it’s easier than ever to find and order almost anything online. And when you eventually move back home, you'll wish you had more room in your suitcase for all the new treasures you’ve picked up throughout your experience. 

Not to mention, following a strict, pre-planned agenda is boring! While it's essential to be prepared, it's just as important to arrive willing to be spontaneous and with an understanding that even the best-laid plans go awry. 

Photo for blog post Teaching English As a Foreign Language: 5 Dos and Don’ts for New TEFL Teachers

5. Don’t Forget that Teaching English Abroad is a Job

It's easy to view teaching abroad as simply a paid opportunity to travel. However, participants shouldn't lose sight of the fact that teaching is a job, and it’s not always an easy one! Ultimately, you’re responsible for the well-being and education of students, both young and old.

And in some places like South Korea and China, teaching English can come with a heavy workload that includes hours of lesson planning, extracurriculars, and more. Looking into a typical workload and your contracted number of hours per week ensures you arrive with the right expectations of what your life will be like.

Learn More About CIEE TEFL’s 150-Hour TEFL Certification

CIEE TEFL's 150-Hour TEFL course is a fantastic jumping-off point for your professional career teaching English abroad. It's an essential requirement for most TEFL jobs and a must for learning the ins and outs of teaching English as a foreign language. It's especially beneficial for those who wish to teach English without a degree or lack professional teaching experience.

CIEE TEFL’s 150-hour course features:

Learn More