TEFL Coworkers: Can’t we all just get along?

Peace and Harmony in the Staff Room  —  Tips for Getting Along Well with Your TEFL Co-Workers

When new teachers of English as a Foreign Language set out for their first jobs, they’re thinking about the students they’ll teach, the new country they’ll experience and the practicalities of living abroad. But they may not consider something else that can play a large role in settling in to a teacher’s life abroad—the rest of the staff at their new school.

Your co-workers can be a delight or a horror to work with in your first TEFL job, but whether you think they sing angel’s choirs or breathe brimstone is largely up to you. Read on for some tips on how you can get along well with your new colleagues.

Have other interests

If this is your first TEFL job, and the first time you’ve lived overseas, it can be a little bit overwhelming. Well, actually, it can be a LOT overwhelming. (Read my blogs on culture shock for more about this.) New teachers may latch on to their coworkers because, as English speakers, they represent something familiar and comfortable. While the majority of EFL teachers you’ll run across are more than willing to help you get situated in your new town and with your new job, try not to wear out your welcome. Be proactive and foster interests other than calling up your new workmates for a beer after work…and on the weekend… and….  This is a prime time for you to explore your new town and the culture of the country you’re working in.

Realize that You’re New At This

Teachers fresh from a TEFL certification course are buoyed up by all that great stuff they’ve just learned. They’re gonna be the best teacher, ever! And, they’re gonna tell everyone all about it. You will be a great teacher, after some experience, but don’t forget that the teachers you now work with have been doing it longer. Some of us, quite a bit longer. Listen and learn, young padawan. There’s no quicker way to annoy your new colleagues than to spout off about stuff they already know.

Help each other

Ideally, every time you and your co-workers start a lesson, you’ll have everything planned out, you’ll be early to class, and your students will all be alert and ready to learn. Unfortunately, reality gets in the way of perfection more often than we’d like. A happy teaching staff is one that lends a hand in times of need. If you can see a way to help a fellow teacher—they’re running late to class while you’re on break and they need some photocopies done, stat—offer your assistance. Don’t become a doormat for the rest of the gang who’s been there longer, but foster a helpful work dynamic. It’s much more pleasant to work in a helpful atmosphere.

Be Professional

If you’re lucky enough to be entering a school that already has a helpful environment, don’t abuse it by being a jerk. Come to class on time. Prepare your lessons in advance. Be respectful of other teachers’ time and expertise. In short, be professional.

Keep Perspective

Some people say that after you’ve been doing a job for a long time, you can get in a rut. Well, foreign teachers at language schools or training centers can get in ruts, but they often get in “bubbles” too. That’s when they feel like the school, and the small community of other foreigners working there, are the entire world. Thus, perceived injustices take on a greater magnitude, and small urgencies become thrilling dramas. Keep perspective. Your co-workers, whether you think they’re great people or not, shouldn’t color your whole experience of where you work and your career as a teacher.

TED’s Tips™ #1: (Culture)Shock-proof yourself. Realize that the first few months you work in a culture not your own will be challenging. Don’t take this out on your colleagues, but don’t fling yourself on them as if they were life rafts, either.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Be professional. Always. In any profession.

Teaching Internships in China



Culture Shock and You

What Should I Do If I Get Culture Shock?

New Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) who are going overseas will probably, at some point, come down with a case of that old travel illness, culture shock.

You can bet you’re likely to contract this malaise too, but don’t be frightened by its nasty name. Calling it “shock” is usually making mountains out of mosquito bites.

At various stages during the affliction, you can expect these kind of thoughts to run through your mind:

Euphoric:  Yes! I made it! I did it! I’m abroad! I’m an English teacher! Yipeeeeee…!

Angry: Grrr. How can these people think like this? Nothing works like it should, like back home. Why can’t I make it work?

Depressed and Disappointed: But I had this great mental image of what living/working here was going to be like and real life isn’t living up to my expectations. Boo…!

Isolated: I don’t know anyone. I’m having trouble making friends. (Sings: I’m Mr. Lonely, oh so lonely…)

If you recognize some of these uncharacteristic thoughts invading your heretofore sane brain, don’t let it become a big deal. It’s normal to feel a little stressed. You’ve just made some big changes in your life and having strong feelings about those changes is completely understandable.

But, culture shock sucks! What can I do to manage it?

I think the best advice is also simple advice: Keep busy! Work, travel, find friends, take up some projects or hobbies, volunteer your time. All of these things will make you feel better.

But, don’t just ignore culture shock. Take a little “you” time and identify your symptoms for what they are.

The About.com website has a really good article on Culture Shock that I encourage everyone who is going to live abroad to read.

I also find it helpful, when I have a bad day, to remind myself that problems are a natural part of daily life, and that even in my home country there would be occasional problems with work, my employer, my house or apartment and my friends. Not everything is going to be the fault of your new host country.

Also, be heartened that after changing countries a few times, the symptoms of culture shock typically become less severe each time. You’ll learn to manage your expectations and will, through experience, become more flexible and more adept at dealing with all the stuff that life abroad lobs your way.

Living with Uncertainty

When you take a new job overseas, of course you’re bringing yourself into a new, uncertain situation. You won’t know at first what you can expect to happen and you probably won’t even know your own feelings about what does happen.

To get through this period of uncertainty, which exacerbates culture shock, you should apply the same “cure” that’s named above: Get busy.

Ted’s Tips™ #1: Buck up and take responsibility. You are the one who is in charge of yourself and your feelings. You must monitor how you are feeling and if you find that your mental health is suffering you need to take action, just as you would if it was your physical health.

Ted’s Tips™ #2: Get involved. It makes a huge difference to your overall uncertainty and comfort in a culture if you are busy and involved in your new community.


Teaching Internships in China


Reverse Culture Shock and TEFL

What is “Reverse Culture Shock”?

Will I get it?

You might! “Reverse Culture Shock” (RCS) is essentially the same thing as culture shock, but you get RCS when you move back home.

Culture shock when I move home?! What?


When you move back home after a period overseas you will have a lot of idealized expectations about how it was, how you remembered it, how things worked so much better and how things will go. And often things aren’t exactly as you remembered.

You will, just like regular culture shock, have feelings of elation, disappointment, and even anger and depression.

Research says . . .

Some literature indicates that the more and better you adapted to your new country overseas, accepted and lived in that culture, then the greater your RCS will be when you return home.

When I go home

I have to admit, my home country is not my home anymore. I feel a little odd there and the high speed, high stress life that my relatives and friends live holds little interest to me. In fact, repels me a bit.

Not totally comfortable anywhere?

There is an old saying (please send me the reference if you know from where!) that says basically – that once you have learned to live anywhere, that you don’t feel totally at home anywhere. I tend to agree with that.

Each Country

After you live in a variety of countries, each one leaves you just little more skilled at dealing with cultural and adjustment issues and I think it all becomes easier and easier.

Don’t worry about it. It is just another of life’s challenges.

Ted’s Tips™ #1: Work hard to keep your contacts “back home” so you have a ready mix of friends and employment possibilities when you return.

Ted’s Tips™ #2: Just like when you are abroad if you feel your adjustment is getting a bit out of sorts, get busy: volunteer, get involved in your community. Don’t sit home an mope.

What is Culture Shock?

Will I Get Culture Shock Overseas?

What Should I do about it?

Yes, you’ll probably get it. But “shock” is a bit of an overstatement.

You can expect to feel euphoric – I finally made it!,

Angry – Why can’t I make things work, like back home!,

Depressed and disappointed – Everything isn’t exactly like I wanted and expected it to be!,

And isolated – I don’t really know anyone here.

That’s okay, these feelings are normal. After all this is a very big time in your life and of course you will have some strong feelings about it!

Natural Reactions

These emotional reactions are all natural responses to the situation you will find yourself in when you are first abroad.

How to deal with it?

Get busy! Personal projects, work, travel, making friends, even volunteering can help you feel better.

But, also take a little time and just recognize the feelings for what they are.

One of the best articles about dealing with Culture Shock is at About.com Culture Shock

When you experience problems abroad, don’t forget that you can have problems with your job, boss, landlord, and friends back home too. Don’t blame it all on your host country.

Know that once you have lived in several countries, the effects of culture shock diminish as you learn to have more realistic expectations, and as you just naturally learn how to deal with it.

Surviving Uncertainty

Part of the issue with culture shock is also the uncertainty of your new situation, how it is going to evolve and your general feelings about it.

Follow the same course of treatment for culture shock. Quit moping around the house and get busy.

Check the chart below for a better understanding of what goes on and your choices:


Ted’s Tips™ #1: It is important to realize that you are responsible for yourself and your feelings. Pay attention to your feelings and take action if you find that your mental health status is not exactly as you would like it to be.

Ted’s Tips™ #2: Get busy in your new community. Get involved. It can make a big difference in your adaptation to a new setting.