Congratulations! You’ve scored what many might consider to be their “dream job.” You’re teaching English abroad! You get to live in a location you’ve always dreamed of, you meet new people every day, you get to travel to exciting destinations on the weekends, but…you don’t want to be an English teacher.
I’ve met countless people who have found their home away from home while teaching English abroad, but they’ve also discovered that this teaching English thing is just not for them, and the most frustrating part is that for native English speakers abroad, working as an English teacher is often the only option.
While I don’t have all of the answers to search out the immigration loopholes in whatever country you’re looking to relocate to, I have over five years of experience of making my living (or at least part of it) as an English teacher despite the fact that my heart lay in the field of psychology. The secret to working at a job that you’re less than enthusiastic about, in this case teaching English, is about putting things into perspective. Don’t ask yourself what you can offer to the world of English teaching, instead ask “what can this job offer to me?”
1) Improve Your Communication Skills. The majority of your work day will be dedicated to talking and listening. You’ll learn how to clearly relay your message, and find multiple ways to get it across in order to ensure that your students understand you. It will also help you to become an expert in active listening skills. You’ll find that it becomes second nature for you to look for verbal and nonverbal cues to check comprehension. As a therapist, I need to apply these skills on a daily basis and I know that all of my experience teaching English has given me the opportunity to sharpen them. Even if your future career won’t involve much person to person contact, you’ll find that these skills will help you in your personal life too. Everyone likes feeling like they’re being listened to.
2) Gain Entrepreneurial Skills. This is especially true for teachers who are going to be teaching private classes (tutoring). I saw English teaching in an entirely different light when one of my friends pointed out to me “you’re not just an English teacher, you’re an entrepreneur.” By trying to build your clientele (i.e. students), you’ll have to work on branding, sales and strategy. You’ll need to become a self-starter, able to effectively organize your time to plan and teach classes. These will be great skills to help sell yourself to future employers, and who knows, maybe this experiment in entrepreneurship will inspire you to take the leap into continuing as an entrepreneur when your stint as an English teacher comes to an end.
3) Network! What do you enjoy doing? What are you passionate about? If not English teaching, what possible careers ARE you interested in? Your adult students and fellow teachers are valuable resources as they may have connections with people working in this field in your new country of residence. Get their contact info and treat them to a coffee so that you can pick their brain about the ins and outs of their field of expertise in that country. Who knows, they may even have connections in your home country! They also may be able to connect you with an internship or volunteer opportunity. I got my foot in the door in the psychology department thanks to connecting with a professor there who offered me a chance to come volunteer.
4) Expand Your Social Circle. Many of my adult students have turned into my friends. I often look forward to going to my weekly class with them, much in the same way that I’d look forward to a coffee date with a friend, because it means we’ll have the chance to “catch up” (i.e. practice their speaking and listening skills). While I’ve never actually spent time with my students outside of classes, I have many friends who have invited their students to social gatherings such as Thanksgiving dinner or their birthday parties. When you spend week after week conversing with someone, it’s very natural for it to end up turning into a friendship.
5) Increase Your Competency in the Local Language. Most English teachers know that the key to effectively teaching English, especially when working with children, is to speak strictly in English. However, you’ll find that many of your students will still communicate to you in their native language. If you’re teaching kids this means that you’ll quickly improve your listening skills in order to understand what they’re hurriedly trying to get across. You’ll also find that some of your colleagues who are from that country will be eager to teach you (this is not always the case though because many of them will see your presence solely as a chance to practice English). Your adult students will probably want to improve your proficiency in the slang of their native language and your teenage students will without a doubt want to teach you swear words.
6) Get Paid to Learn. Use your classes as an opportunity to increase your knowledge about new topics, or prepare lessons based on topics that are of special interest to you. Incorporate your favorite TED talks, blogs you follow, or a newspaper article that’s caught your eye. Dedicate a class to introducing your students to Instagram, Pinterest or other social media sites that they’re not familiar with. If they become interested it can be a great topic of conversation to start off future classes. I once devoted an entire class to explaining to a student how “Tinder” works. I have other students that keep me up to date on the best websites to find good travel deals, while others fill me in on the most important world news headlines. And I’ve learned a great deal about stuff that I’d probably never study on my own. Like the fields of finance and engineering. Or the rules of soccer and the way the World Cup works.
7) Plan Your Travel. This is related to #6 and particularly true for your adult students. Many of your students may be interested in learning English because they’ll be using it for business or pleasure travel. You can get inspiration for future places to visit based on where they’ve been and ask them for hotel/hostel and restaurant recommendations. They may even have pictures to show you which can serve as a great visual for them to practice their speaking skills (and good eye candy if you’re a travel enthusiast yourself!) And even if they’ve never traveled abroad, it’s likely that they’ve seen a lot of their own country. Take advantage of their knowledge! Ask them about the top destinations worth visiting in their country and write down places they’d recommend eating at. Locals are a wealth of invaluable information when it comes to traveling. One of my best trips was a weekend in Asturias, Spain that I planned out during a conversation class with one of my students who’s from this region.
8) Blog Material. By improving your knowledge of the English language, you’ll also be improving your writing skills. If you write a blog this is great news for you! It will help you immensely in your ability to proofread your posts. And your teaching experiences are bound to provide you with a ton of material to write home about (i.e. write a blog post about). Some possible ideas: commonly misused words by students in the country you’re living in (i.e. Spaniards can’t differentiate between the use of “fun” and “funny”), faux pas you’ve committed yourself while in class, 10 things you never thought your students would share with you, poll your students…the possibilities are endless!
9) Playtime. As adults we spend far too much time checking off to-do lists, responding to emails, thinking about our five year plan…we need to spend more time playing! And if you teach English to kids you’ll have no choice but to do just that! You’ll get the chance to reminisce about your childhood by introducing your students to your favorite songs and stories, and you’ll become reacquainted with Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, BINGO, Heads Up-Seven Up and all your old childhood favorites you’d forgotten all about. Games are a great way to help your students learn. I’ve even been known to alter drinking games to make them kid friendly (a modified version of King’s Cup is perfect for teaching English).
10) Boost Your Creativity. This is especially true if working with kids. I frequently have days where I find myself dragging my feet to teach English to children. It can be physically and mentally exhausting. But I always try to remind myself that by working with kids, I’m forced to get out of my linear, productivity-obsessed mindset. As we get older we often forget to think like children and this comes at a great cost to our creativity. By spending time with children we get the chance to think outside of the box. Their creativity is contagious!
And, if all else fails, Keep Your Goals in Mind. What can you do with the money that you’re earning from your English classes? Travel? Save? Spend it on trying local cuisines on the weekend? Maybe teaching English is giving you the chance to work less and devote your free time to exploring your passion and pursuing your hobbies?
Remember that providing a quality English class will absolutely require you to prepare materials in advance, and that your main objective is for your students to improve their English level. But the beauty of English teaching is that in order for your students to improve, a great deal of conversing is required. Use that in your favor and you’ll find that even if it’s not your dream job, the hours you spend with your students don’t have to be a waste of your time.
Are you teaching English abroad? How else can people make the most of the experience if it isn’t their dream job? Include your answers in the comments section!