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TEFL – Teaching English As A Foreign Language Abroad. What It’s Really Like!

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Today, I’ve got a quirky guest post written by Todd Squitieri about what really happens with TEFL – or Teaching English as a Foreign Language Abroad!

Say hi to @toddsqui on Twitter!

Funny because it’s close to the truth! Here it is!

Why The Bad Teachers Always Win!

I taught in South Korea and the Education Program in Korea (EPIK) typically held conferences and organized events for teachers within the country to meet others and learn from them. Some teachers, I observed, had more to offer than others. And I’m sure many felt the same about me. And as I interacted with them, I learned that there are many types of teachers in EFL.

School Mom or the Bookworm

She is very educational, almost like a librarian, very linear thinking, and follows a process. She unravels the lesson and guides the students along. She leads them from one point to another in a nice flow. The school mom is strict and maintains order in class.

Extraordinarily Beautiful Model

When I was in South Korea, it was largely speculated–I can’t confirm if this was true or not–that most foreigners teaching in the best cities of South Korea were young, beautiful women. But frankly, when I went to the meet up groups in these major cities, there wasn’t that much to look at. In fact, most of the guys had less facial hair.

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* Not an actual attractive teacher.

But I will say that there are some schools that do in fact hire beautiful, aesthetically pleasing, model-type teachers. Statistically speaking, I’m not sure there are statistically significant numbers of models than there are odious-looking foreigners, but this is perhaps a study to be done for the future. I am willing do the study as long as someone provides funding for these rendezvous.

I do know that for many businesses in Asia, employers do prefer to hire people who are photogenic. The teacher, in all of her objectified glory, becomes a promotional and advertising tool, a center point for social proof and upward mobility; a special brand of internationalism.

You can’t really blame the employers. That’s how they’re playing the game, and they wouldn’t be playing this game if it didn’t work. Everybody has a different way of doing business and how they want to be perceived in the marketplace. One tried and true way has always been—whether in China, the United States or parts of Europe– to hire beautiful people at a very low cost to be in promotional ads.

In Asia, with EFL, citizens do equate a good looking teacher with an effective school. On the flip side, many atrocious-looking people have also been hired for the exact same reason. So vanity is a worldwide issue, not just an American one.

So, you can’t really rail at the world and say, “All of these beautiful people are taking our jobs.” First of all, it doesn’t make sense, and second of all, everyone gets hired. Can’t you tell? But still, there is that level of superficiality in the EFL world as there is with everywhere.

The Jester

The teacher who goofs and jokes around, funny looking, and makes people happy even though he might not be quite the most effective teacher, pedagogically speaking. The students always associate him with just fun, games, silly tricks, and laughter.

There is a general consensus I feel amongst many teachers in the profession that teachers generally should teach “fun things,” which isn’t teaching but babysitting but in English.

The Histrionic

There were many teachers who on casual observation, you might consider lazy or indifferent, or even worse, colonial.

But even then, on the other side of the spectrum is the teacher who is a tad bit overly enthusiastic in a way that it seemed like maybe they considered themselves the beacon of hope for the country as if their teaching alone will lead to the mass rise up of people and elect them leader of the nation.

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Those who are too emotive, zealous, and just overly interacting with the students. You’d think that if they keep going, they might give themselves an aneurysm.

But at some point, in your teaching, you will encounter the type of teacher that goes against pretty much everything that you stand for. You’ll interact with some of them or observe them from afar. That teacher whose methods and style you just don’t jive with. He goes against your expectations, your pre-conceived ideas about teaching, the meritocratic system and the meritocracy that we live in, supposedly. The teacher that you just don’t understand.

It might not even be about pedagogy. It might just be about who he is and his mannerisms. That somebody who just doesn’t rub you the right way. You’re probably already imagining who that person is. He is what I call, the “bad teacher.”

The Defiant

You might even perceive them as the very worst individual on Earth. And think to yourself, “Why are they teaching English? They’re clearly drinking every night and going to frat parties and doing everything that would get a local shunned.” Guess being the life of the party has it’s perks.

And you just completely disapprove of their lifestyle.

I have found that the more trouble they are—not to the point where they’re spending time in jail or about to be deported. But you know being the hungover teacher who lets the kids run amok from time to time—the more exciting they tend to be for other students and other people, in a world where everything is so drab, commonplace, and boring. Where everyone conforms and is basically asleep most of the time, mentally, emotionally.

The Bully

They humiliate their students. Some teachers don’t even do any work. They kind of just get work from other people to give to the students.

So, there are many kinds. And there’s always the mixture of the different types that I just mentioned. This is just my kind of cursory observation. And of course, this may not apply in different countries. As a footnote, you’ll have to understand that I’m extrapolating from my experiences working in South Korea. This might not necessarily be true in Saudi Arabia, other Middle Eastern countries, or European countries so take what I say with a grain of salt.

The “good teachers” may perhaps feel anger towards “bad teachers” Maybe because they feel they can’t do it. Or they think it’s disrespectful. They might also fear losing their jobs because of a few “bad apples” who give foreigners a bad reputation. Many EFL teachers have a lot of fears about losing everything they have.

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But if there’s one unifying commonality about teaching that I can honestly say applies to all teachers, it is this universal truth: You’re not going to be liked by everybody. You can’t like everybody in life, and everybody can’t like you in life. That’s the way it goes, kiddo. It’s kind of the nature of things. Which is why it pays to be yourself and let the people who “get you,” just gravitate towards you.

Here’s why, technically speaking, some teachers who go against all of the rules are loved, even admired.

They defy norms. Sometimes going against the grain really pays off. It makes them distinguishable and as Seth Godin might say, “irreplaceable.” They tend to be more real than the real teachers. There’s something about being outlandish or contrarian that seems authentic to people. Students are attracted to the struggler who fights in a world that seems systematized, organized, controlled and full of monotonies. It brings to life many of the epic struggles that we all face at various moments of our lives.

You get taught in TEFL programs that you need a lesson plan. Some teachers say, “To hell with the lesson plan.” It’s almost the same as like having a business plan. By the time you even write a business plan, the opportunity has passed you by. This according to Chris Guillebeau’s The $100 StartupIr?T=Thetratar 20&Amp;L=Am2&Amp;O=1&Amp;A=0307951529 | Travel Jobs | Tefl - Teaching English As A Foreign Language Abroad. What It'S Really Like! | Education Program In Korea, English Teachers Overseas, Epik, How To Teach The Kids, South Korea, Teaching English, Tefl | Author: Anthony Bianco - The Travel Tart Blog. It takes years to write a business plan before you can even enact the business plan.

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Even Dan Kennedy, author of How to Succeed in Business by Breaking All The Rules, states that many of these MBA’s go into big corporations and they think very linearly. They think X needs to happen before Y happens and then Z can happen. And that is just not the way the real world works.

They have that je ne sais quoi. They have that special kind of attribute that just makes them wholly different from your normal, run-of-the-mill English teacher.

They stand out. If you’re different in some way, people will gravitate towards that. When the teacher looks unique in some way, dresses uniquely, or does something completely different, it may remind the students of the characters they are growing up with, like their imaginary friends, generally a wonderful reminder of the imaginary world that they live in.

And the students want this sense of play. They want to see their worlds come alive from the video games because their world is otherwise different. You have to realize that South Korean students spend most of their time in school, so this can be a very welcome break from the usual.

They remind the students repeatedly of their own needs. If not, they’re not going to take you seriously or view your class as valuable. They’re not going to show up unless you’re working with Pre-K which doesn’t require a whole lot of selling on your part since you’re just a glorified daycare worker anyway.

I’m not going to keep paying someone I have no use for. And neither will you when your own money is on the line. When your own chips are on the table, you’re not going to want to spend money on something that you don’t need.

People might strongly dislike me for saying this but you do often have to do the dirty work of reminding people that their English is not good, and that it needs to be fixed. In many TEFL programs, you are taught to be nurturing, caring, loving, and gentle. And yet, oftentimes scare tactics are the best tool in your arsenal making you the new English dictator.

And this is highly controversial because people don’t like humans treating other humans that way. But at the end of the day, it is a sales job. We’re all in sales, and in many respects, scare tactics are part of the sales game. Ultimately, you’ll have to choose what’s most important to you in your given situation.

They just don’t care.

Many who don’t do as much work, who enjoy the fun life or who kind of discard lesson planning, are perceived as not caring. But they win. And the reason why is that they don’t care. That’s the whole point! They’re not wrapped up in the worlds of others. They’re not caring about whether the people think about them. They don’t care about your business.

They only love the world that they are in, and they’re just fine with that.

And that is something that’s really refreshing to see because on the whole, we live in a world of people who do care about what others think and do, even if we can’t control it one iota. It’s a futile battle, but it is something that you kind of learn to live with because that’s just the nature of it.

So the best way of handling life, at least for these teachers, is to just live in their own truth and enjoy the moment that they get to just be who they are and enjoy where they are. The world around them they trust will shape and mold according to the world they want to live in and the way they want to inhabit it. Many of the students understand that. They like a person who is authentic and true to themselves and who they are.

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I’ve often found that a lot of teachers are actually not very linear at all, myself included. These teachers appear to thrive more on the kind of chaos that they bring to the class. Ultimately though, each teacher brings to the classroom something different, unique.

It just shows that there’s no universal application to teaching non-English speakers. It really is just a toss-up, a random shot at the dart board.

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So, in my view, it’s kind of silly to try to impose certain styles of teaching on teachers who already have their own innate style and way of doing things. That’s not to say that they shouldn’t follow the rule book or the covenant of the business that they are working for, if indeed that’s what they signed up for, but that they should honor who they are instead of trying to be something they are not. Allow themselves to find the employers who will appreciate that.

And actually, depending on your style, you might be able to reach some students that others might not be able to reach. There will always be students who get you and students who don’t.

Literature like Teresa Woodward’s Planning Lessons and Courses recommends using the different styles of teaching to cater to different types of learners. At the end of the day, no matter how you blend these sensory perceptions to your work sheets and activities and approach, you will not be able to connect on a deep level with some of your students, for whatever reason.

It might be a cultural thing or the way you interact. It might be the way you perceive yourself and the way you approach things. It might be the teacher before you who has a completely different approach.

I find that the more I open my mind to the way other people teach, the more I can evolve myself. And the more interesting this journey becomes.

There are going to be many styles of teaching. You’re going to be exposed to so many different approaches and so many different characters in the teaching world. And the ultimate truth of the matter is that no one approach is right or wrong.

Some approaches work for some and other approaches work for others. At the end of the day, you’re just going to muddle through your own approach and figure out what works for you. Did you think I was going to give you the answer? Nope, like your students you have to learn what works for you.

If you insist on living in a world where there’s a strong sense of “right” and “wrong,” in TEFL teaching, you need to keep an open mind and know that what works for you might not work for others. You obviously don’t have to necessarily live in a world where everything is the complete reversal of what you’re thinking (i.e the story of my life).

If you’re the type of person who wants to be in English teaching long term, I advise you to record your lessons and keep track of what’s working for you. Observe other teachers when you have the opportunity to do so. Investigate what is working for other people. Toy with the idea that maybe parts of what they’re doing could be incorporated into your own teaching.

Ultimately, there are no “bad teachers,” only bad and unproductive thoughts.

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4 thoughts on “TEFL – Teaching English As A Foreign Language Abroad. What It’s Really Like!”

  1. Avatar Of Brett Minor

    Wow! I am one of those teachers who has a Master’s Degree in TESOL. I have years of experience and (without trying to brag) I really know what I’m doing.

    However, I taught English in China and my knowledge was of no concern to them. I worked in a government school who already had Chinese English teachers. I would pop into each of the 20 classes only ONE DAY per week for 40 minutes. My job was to do something fun with the kids to give them the opportunity to “interact with a native speaker”. Each of these classes averaged about 35 students so there was very little interaction at any helpful level.

    But this did not stop the school from plastering my face and my “amazing educational language credentials” all over their website and school promotional materials. To read their material and listen to their recruitment speeches about their school, I was going to be the tool to totally rejuvenate the English program and create super English-speaking students. When in reality, I wouldn’t even be given the opportunity to learn 90% of their names.

    They wouldn’t even let me do actual teaching. AND I KNOW HOW TO TEACH. They wanted me to do fun activities with the kids. Any time I deviated from the “The Chinese way” they whipped me right back to where they wanted me. I accomplished NOTHING of any value in that school, but they paid me a lot of money so I guess my savings account grew.

    I didn’t even make friends because I was despised by the local teachers who put in three times the hours, worked MUCH MUCH hard and still only made about 10% of the money that was thrown at me to basically dance in the corner. It was not a good experience.

    I now live in Vietnam making significantly less and am much happier.

  2. Avatar Of Ryan Biddulph

    Good stuff Anthony LOL; I have run across a few Defiant teachers in Thailand LOL. I never taught but I saw teachers getting blitzed late at night, forecasting how hungover they’d be at school in the morning. Or they’d party like mad right up until it was time to head to school for teaching. Crazy. Some folks are teaching solely because it is a way to stay in a country long term and make some dough for partying. No judgments but of course, these folks always burn out sooner or later and move on.


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