What if You Hated English Classes As a Kid?

Love What You Do (Even if You Hated English Classes As a Kid)

When I introduce myself as an English teacher to people who haven’t met someone teaching English as a foreign language before, they often get the wrong idea.

“So, you love Shakespeare?” they’ll ask. Or, possibly, “do you make your foreign students write book reports?”

They may imagine that I spend my free time composing sonnets, or debating the finer points of grammar over white wine spritzers with my other English-besotted pals.

The truth is, being an English teacher abroad is not about studying great writers or trying to get students to analyze Western literary tradition. Teaching English as a Second Language is more about communication than analysis—though there are of course, opportunities for this—and, surprisingly, many people who hated English classes at school when they were kids find themselves satisfied and happy as English teachers abroad. That’s because teaching people to communicate in a new language is a different skill than teaching native speakers to appreciate the advances and traditions of our own culture of English speakers.

Many people who are drawn to teaching English as a Foreign Language like it because they thrive on interacting with people, enjoy the challenges of coaching, and have a knack for being able to synthesize and simplify. Even though it helps to have an enthusiasm for the subject—English—the real thrills in the profession come from seeing a student’s eyes light up when they finally understand a tricky language point, and from watching a class improve its functional ability over a period of time.

Teaching English as a foreign language is often more like being a dance instructor than being the English teacher you remember from fifth grade. Your job as a new English teacher abroad will include introducing students to new steps (target language) and getting them to practice these steps until they can “dance” them fluently (use the language in practice).

So what does this mean?

So, does this mean that you can still teach English effectively if you have trouble telling a colon from a semi-colon, mix up your past and present tenses and favor the word “ain’t” in informal speech?

Be careful that you don’t confuse disliking English class as a kid with being an incompetent instructor of English as a Foreign Language. No matter whether you love English or just love the training aspect of being an English teacher, you’ll have to have the same proficiency in the mechanics of the language in order to teach it effectively.

As far as using regionalisms that we’re taught are “wrong” (like “ain’t”), as long as you don’t mind marking the differences between what you usually use when speaking and what is considered “standard English” for classroom use so that you can explain any discrepancies to your students, you may actually be doing your more advanced students a favor by giving them an example of “real” English.  However, it will be important for you to brush up on the gaps in your basic knowledge of the language, if you are missing any, so that you can be sure to present your students with accurate information. Just like any other job, teaching English as a Foreign Language will require learning some information to be able to do it well.  And, it will be important for you to know how to grade your language so that you can speak more clearly for lower level students.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Teaching English as a Foreign Language is not the same skill as instructing language arts to native speakers.

TED’s Tips™ #2:  You’ll need to know the mechanics of the language (grammar and structure) in order to teach well, but teaching ESL is not solely about these bits you thought were boring when you were a kid.

 

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Just Who are You? Your TEFL Resume-CV

Just Who ARE You? Put It On Your TEFL Resume

Ready to get a TEFL Job? Great! But before you start sending out applications for a job in your new career teaching English as a Foreign Language, it pays to craft a great resume. If you’ve ever had a job before, you’re familiar with most of the aspects of a decent resume. But, there are a few points you’ll need to consider when you look at sending out resumes to jobs overseas.

A Resume By Any Other Name

First of all, we call that sheet of paper with all your vitals and work experience on it a “resume” in the States. But in many countries they call it a CV, short for “curriculum vitae.” In the US, a CV and a resume are two different animals—CVs being longer and more detailed and academically oriented, and resumes being short and sweet. But when you’re perusing job listings for first-time teaching jobs, when you see a CV is required, rest assured, they want your resume.

All Your Deets—Name, Age, Sex and Nationality

Secondly, resumes for TEFL jobs often incorporate some information that you wouldn’t ordinarily put on a resume in many Western countries.  Where we shy away from including photos, age, gender, place of birth and nationality on domestic resumes, when you apply to a company overseas, they’re usually looking for this information somewhere handy where they can reference it.  I recommend putting all this information up top on the resume’s header.

A lot of first-time teachers from the West feel uncomfortable about adding a photo to their resume. But, look at it this way. The school you’re applying to overseas will probably hire you without an interview at all—or possibly only with a phone interview. It’s unlikely that they’ll meet with you face to face, so they’ll want a photo to help remember who you are and be able to recognize you when you do get hired. They also want to see if you look presentable—do you have facial piercings? Did you bother to find a photo that makes you look professional? While it’s illegal in some countries to discriminate based on appearance, unfortunately in many countries where TEFL jobs are located, it’s expected that they will take how you look into consideration.

Age, nationality and gender are also important additions on the resume, for practical reasons. Some countries, like China, have age restrictions on the visas for foreign teachers. It makes sense that schools know your age up front so that they know right away if they can get you a visa or not. Nationality is important for the same reason. The institution may be restricted by local laws to hiring certain passport holders. And gender, while there are fewer restrictions regarding this, might be a necessary factor for your employer’s consideration when you are applying to all-boys or all-girls schools, or in certain countries in the Middle East. Also, people who speak English as a foreign language (e.g. your new employer) may not know just from your name if you’re a man or a woman.

What You Did and Where You Did It

On the bottom part of the resume, you’ll be expected to write your education and your relevant work experience.

If you’re a true newbie and have never taught TEFL before, you might be worried that your resume looks a bit sparse.  That’s OK.  If you don’t have any teaching-related jobs to put down, I recommend listing your education or training experience before you detail your work experience. If you’ve completed a TEFL certificate, be sure to list it prominently and write in the description how many hours it took and if you did it, how many hours of observed teaching practice. You can describe the kinds of observed teaching practice that you did, too. (Young learners, one-on-one, etc.) Don’t forget to put all of your higher education down as well on your resume, even if your degree or training programs were not related to TEFL. A bachelor’s degree or higher is necessary for getting some working visas, so it’s a good idea to list it, even if it’s in molecular biology or something else completely unrelated to teaching English.

You can also include any coaching or mentoring experiences you’ve had in the past in different jobs or volunteer positions, because while they’re not strictly TEFL related, a good boss will recognize that the skills cross over.

For the work experience portion of your resume, highlight jobs that had to do with coaching, training or mentoring, and leave off long descriptions of irrelevant positions. You may be proud of your 14 years in retail—and rightly so—but the people hiring at a language school are mostly interested in the fact that you held a job for that long, not in the ins and outs of what you accomplished while on the job.

Try to keep your resume to one page, or two at the most. For this reason, most TEFL resumes I’ve seen leave off unrelated bits that we sometimes see on other kinds of resumes. Skills, hobbies, conferences and other bits of bio-data are not necessary to include on your TEFL resume unless they’re somehow teaching or language related. Do include a section about your foreign language abilities, if any.

Include references if you have enough space to do so.  If not, just note that they are available on request.  Surprisingly few employers actually follow up on references even though they really should, but that’s a different story.

So there  you go . . .   Good luck and happy job hunting!

TED’s Tips™ #1:   Keep your resume short and sweet, but if you have relevant coaching, mentoring or training experience, don’t forget to include it

TED’s Tips™ #2:   Cultivate and include references who can speak to your mentoring, training or coaching abilities, even if they’ve never seen you in an EFL context.

Teaching Internships in China