Why Teachers Need Patience

You will find that being a TEFL teacher takes a lot of patience, especially outside the classroom. Getting the required paperwork, navigating the minefield of cultural differences — all of that takes patience.

That said, what can you do if you are not the most patient of people? If being patient doesn’t come naturally to you, you can try to develop some techniques to help you cope with situations that need a touch of patience.

For myself, I am NOT naturally a a patient guy. However, over the years I have trained myself to deal in situations where I am not in control.

For example, take the mid-level officer who is in charge of visa processing in your target country abroad. When you are asking for help from her, you have no control over the situation—she can make your life heavenly or hellish. When I come in contact with someone like this, who controls the strings, so to speak, then I have learned that I should approach this situation with a smile on my face and preparedness in my heart. I have to be prepared to do whatever she says it takes to get my visa paperwork done.

I have learned that getting upset about delays in paperwork, or getting nervous, or trying to push the officer’s buttons won’t realistically influence my case in a good way, and is more likely to make the situation worse.

Newbie TEFL teachers are often the most prone to frustration over bureaucratic fumbling. When I’m confronted with a situation out of my control, I try to keep it in perspective. In my own country there are also some processes that are terribly inefficient and frustrating — the lines and procedures at the Department of Motor Vehicles in the USA are famously ridiculous, and student loan officers around the world strike a terror of paperwork in the hearts of their customers.

One thing that’s helpful to keep in mind when you’re dealing with potentially frustrating scenarios abroad is that life in another country is really not THAT difficult. What may be the problem is that you, as a foreigner, don’t really grasp the full picture of what you need to do, and often will not have good enough language skills to get through processes smoothly.

A while ago, I was assisting an English teacher who was going to go teach in China. We were working on the various paperwork necessary for work permits and visas when it became clear that we needed to ask someone back “home” to fill in a form. Not a problem—yet. We found the right form, asked nicely for it to be filled out, and then sent it in to the Chinese official for processing.


But, why? Apparently, the form that we had had filled out didn’t have a “chop” (usually a stamp or seal) from the school on it.


Well, chops are quite important in Chinese culture (and in Chinese bureaucracy), but not, of course, in Western culture. In the US, a signature is just fine. But in China, that stamp is worth much more than someone’s scribbled name.

Eventually (despite it being during school holidays, when it was quite hard to find anyone in the relevant offices) we got it sorted out—but only after the teacher I was helping acquired a saint’s worth of patience.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Know that the paperwork involved in getting your job overseas will probably frustrate you more than any situations that arise out of your actual job.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Don’t lose perspective. There are doubtlessly things in your home country that frustrate you, too. Life is a journey down a road filled with obstacles and rewards.




What Kind of TEFL Job Do You Want?

You should be aware that there are two different branches of the TEFL tree. As you climb through your career, you need to think carefully about which branch suits you best.

The two different branches are: teaching at a language school or training center, and teaching at a college or university.

I think it’s important for TEFL newbies to consider which branch they’d like best  before they apply for their first job and even before taking their TEFL training, so they can be sure their certification course will help them as much as possible.

So, how are these two branches of TEFL different?

Language Schools Can Be Fun

If you choose to teach English at a language school or training center then you will probably find yourself teaching young learners, and teaching those kids quite basic language functions.  Your daily teaching time will also probably incorporate singing and/or dancing and other tomfoolery (some call these “dancing monkey” gigs) to really bring the language alive for the children.

For some teachers, this is an excellent fit. There’s a lot of positive energy to go around when you teach a bunch of excited youngsters. Dance, sing, laugh…have fun! For others, a child-centered classroom signals a headache-inducing disciplinary knot of issues centering on screaming kids.

Of course, most people will probably find themselves in a middle zone—neither joyous nor tortured. But in reality TEFL newbies are often scheduled to teach the very youngest kids, especially if that teacher is also young. Class sizes for children’s classes are usually small, often with only six to 12 children.

Do you think teaching kids is right for you?

Universities Can Inspire

If you choose to teach English at a college or university, then clearly, your average student will be older. Most of the time, your classes will center around intermediate to advanced language skills. Your students will be young adults or even adults. Some of your classes may be full of people who are required to take English to complete their degree requirements regardless of their personal feelings about the language and desire to succeed. Others will be English majors who are true Anglophiles, with a deep-seated drive to learn and improve their skills.

Some teachers will find that university students, who have usually some basics of the language, are easier students to work with. Others will struggle managing the larger numbers of students per class—sometimes there are only 15-25 students per class, but it’s not unheard of to have 35-45-50. One time, I had more than 100 students in a reading class. Thankfully, I had a co-teacher for that one!

Do you think teaching older students is right for you?

More Differences

The age of the students and size of the classes aren’t the only differences you’ll see between language school jobs and university or college jobs. Class loads are also different.  University lecturers may only be scheduled to teach 12-20 class hours per week. A class hour is generally 50-60 minutes long.

Meanwhile, a language school teacher probably will have 25-35 hours per week on their schedule. Those hours may be measured in increments of 30-50 minutes.

Another difference is in paid vacation time and personal leave.

Teachers who work in Asia at a language school may only have a week per year of paid vacation. A university teacher usually gets more than that. A month of paid vacation is minimum and, with some positions, university teachers may get up to 12 or even 20 weeks of paid time off each year.

Quite different, right?

That last point—vacation time—has always been a big factor for me when I evaluate what branch of TEFL to continue pursuing. Who doesn’t like a lot of paid time off?

There’s yet another important factor to consider, though. In general, a university or college will look to hire teachers with more education, training and experience than language schools. If you have a bachelor’s degree then you can get a good position in a language school in almost any non-English speaking country.

If you have a TEFL certification on top of your bachelor’s, then you will probably have luck getting university positions in a few countries. A TEFL certification with no degree will be accepted in only a few countries, primarily at language schools. If you have a relevant graduate degree, plus a TEFL certification, then you can pretty much pick and choose what job you’d like in almost any country.

Wages aren’t what you might think.  Often wages for the two type of positions are roughly the same.  Some places a university position might pay even a bit less than a university position. However,  if you are only teaching 12 class hours per week, you will certainly have more time to seek additional income.   And, the longer you stay in the career, the college/university track will tend to pay more.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Take some time to consider which branch of TEFL teaching is best for you. Do this before you leave your home country or make this review early in your career.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you are thinking of TEFL as your long-term career, then you should probably take a hard look at following up jobs in the university sector. If you do not yet have a graduate degree, then that should be be written at the top of your To-Do list. In today’s world it’s no big deal to do a distance-study program while teaching overseas. There are many good quality MA-TESOL programs to choose from, and, you’ll be able to do your homework and classroom research in the field as you work – when and where it makes the most sense.