TEFL Rumors and TEFL Myths

This week’s post is inspired by a very good question from a reader and I hope it provides some guidance on avoiding believing rumors and myths that you hear about the wonderful wide world out here . . .

The question was:

I had wanted to go to *country deleted*, but I had a friend (who knew people who went there), who told me that like 85% of males who go end up in jail, and 95% of females end up raped, because they have an ‘everything goes’ culture. I’m taking this with a grain of salt, but I’d still appreciate your opinion.

My opinion follows and it may be too strong, but it is real:

The people who told you that are either idiots or have never been there or both.  I lived in *country deleted* for quite a few years – with my American wife.
Of the people I have known and worked with during the time I was there, none that I know of ever spent even one night in jail and none of the females have been raped.  And I met a lot of people as I was doing teacher training most of the time.
Now – I realize – I only LIVED there – I didn’t pass through on vacation and believe all the great stories people told me . . . I hope you get my sarcasm!
Your “friend” who “knew” people who went there was probably told lots of cool stories – because they are lot more fun to tell than to just say – “Yeah, everything worked out fine . . .”
It is a fine sport of people who live in countries to meet “travelers” passing through and to sit in a bar with them and tell them the wildest tales – just to watch their eyes grow big.  🙂   Lonely Planet style of vacationing is perhaps not all it is cracked up to be.
If, In fact, you examine your “friend’s” statement it is completely contradictory.  If it is an “anything goes” culture, why do so many people end up in jail and why do so many women get raped (isn’t everything available?) ??

TWO things to know about *country deleted*.  It is, in fact, a more conservative culture than America (where I am only guessing you are from) – as is all of Asia and 2. you will be much safer there than where you are now.

My wife felt safer there and we talked it about it from time to time about what a relief it was to be away from all the crime in the States.   There is – of course – crime there – but most of it is mafia type stuff, as long you don’t get involved – no problem.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Be smart, as this reader was, and ASK questions from people who have been there and really know.  DON’T listen to people who “know someone” who did “something”.  Can you imagine?  This reader might have avoided going somewhere she really would have loved and missed the opportunity of a lifetime.    Life is and should be about OPENING doors, not closing them.

TED’s Tips™ #2: I have purposefully deleted the country name as I didn’t want to accidentally perpetuate such rumors and myths as we have reviewed here today.

Teaching Internships in China




Important Choices for a TEFL Career

Two TEFL Tracks Examined: University or Language School Options

Teaching English abroad, to me, has two different career paths. And they are both important to consider before you seek that first job and even before you take your TEFL Training if getting a certification is on your agenda.

The two paths?

Teaching at a language school or teaching at a college or university. How are they different? Many many ways.

Teaching English at a Language School

Teaching English at a language school often involves a large dose of teaching children very elementary language skills. But it also can involve a fair amount of singing, dancing and what some people might call “being a dancing monkey” to keep the little ones occupied and happy.

Now some people can think of nothing more joyous than filling their days with enthusiastic and energetic young kids, dancing, singing and laughing. Others see it as a very loud classroom with hyperactive screaming kids that present constant discipline problems.

The reality is probably somewhere in the middle, but TEFL newbies are often placed in with the youngest kids, especially if you are a very young newbie. Class sizes can often be small, with six to twelve kids per class relatively common.

Is this setting for you?

Teaching English at Colleges and Universities

Teaching English at colleges and universities usually involves teaching intermediate to more advanced language skills to larger classes of young adults. Some of those students don’t want to be in the classroom, but the class is required by their major. Other students will be enthusiastic English majors with a real curiosity about the language and a desire to improve.

Some people find teaching these students, who already have some good language skills, to be a a lot easier. Others find it difficult to manage the larger numbers of students that are in a university class – sometimes only 15-25, but 35-45 are not unusual – and I once taught a reading class (with a co-teacher) of 100+ students.

How about that setting?

Other Important Differences

A common difference between the two jobs is that university teachers usually teach only about twelve to twenty 45-50 minute classroom hours per week. Language school teachers will find 25-35 hours to be more common. Those classes though might range from only 30 to 45 minutes each.

Paid vacation time is usually significantly different. A typical language school teacher – let’s say in Asia, for example – will get about one week per year of paid vacation time. University positions vary significantly but a month paid vacation is about the minimum and some schools, as you move up the food chain, offer anywhere from 12-20 weeks paid leave per year.

BIG differences, no?

Now, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like long paid vacation time, but there are probably a few out there. To me the university/college path was always the best bet.

One final difference is important though. Generally university positions will require more education and/or training than a language school job. With only a degree you can get a decent language school job in almost any non-English speaking country.

A degree and a TEFL certification can land you university positions in many countries. Just a TEFL certification with no degree will usually see you in a language school in few choices of countries. A relevant graduate degree and a TEFL Certification and the world is your oyster.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Before you head out decide which path might be best for you.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you are not sure, give both options a try before committing long term.

Teaching Internships in China

Teaching Functional English Skills

Teaching Applied Language Skills

A reader asked:

I want to ask about the functional notional approach in teaching English.
I mean how to teach English as a function or way to communicate

A GREAT topic!

Simply put the “functional notional approach” is about teaching “functions” or the uses of the language rather than teaching the more traditional grammar-focused lessons.

I believe that teaching functions is FAR more useful for students and increases their motivation to learn. Especially with adult students when you are teaching them occupational language.

What is communication and conversation?

Simply the back and forth of questions and answers, No?

The best way to think of how to teach functions is to fill in the blank here: Asking and answering questions about ________. (weather, your job, hobbies, your weekend, etc.) That is a function statement. The point from which you might begin to build your lesson.

Teaching functions affects student motivation as they can see that there is a REASON for learning the language in the lesson above and beyond just learning how to use, for example, the Present Perfect Continuous forms of verbs. That even puts me to sleep . . .

TED’s Tips™ #1: Use functions based lessons rather than grammar based lessons – particularly if you are teaching adults or occupational language.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Go over and take a look at Business English eBook to see lots of function based lessons and topics. It will help you understand the idea better. It is quite simple but can seem abstract to some people until they see a few examples.


Your First Job Abroad

Accepting that First Job Teaching English Abroad

What to ask – How to decide

Getting that first serious job offer is a very exciting thing! But, after you dance around a few moments – stop and catch your breath and start to think about things you must know before making a final decision.

You got the offer, but should you accept it? This section is designed to help you know if you should take that job or not.

Don’t be shy, there are important things to know before moving yourself halfway across the world (if you are to be hired directly from abroad). But, don’t ask all the following questions in one shot. You’ll scare your potential employer. Spread them out a bit.

Some important questions to ask:

What is expected of me on a daily basis?

How many classes a day will I be expected to teach?

How long is each class? Is each class considered “one hour” even if it is only 40 or 50 minutes long? Some schools will pay you for a full teaching hour even if the class is only scheduled for 40-50 minutes. Others will pay you only 5/6th of your hourly wages for a 50 minute class. This often depends more on the country than the individual school.

Will I be expected to stay at the school even when I don’t have classes? Will I have “Office Hours” that I need to keep?

Will I have responsibilities other than teaching? Will I be paid for that time? Like cleaning your classroom or the school, recruiting students, evaluating students for placement, handing out flyers for the school, etc.

Does the job provide housing? Is it furnished? What does “furnished” include? How are the bills paid and who pays them? How far is the accommodation from the school? Is it easy to get to work from there? Do I have to pay a deposit for my housing? How big is it? Will I have to share my accommodation? Are there any required monthly fees I must pay for?

Who is my boss? To whom do I report? Who evaluates me? Who decides if I am doing a good job or not and what criteria is used to decide if I am successful?

How much sick and vacation time do I get? Who decides when I can use it? Can I use my vacation time all at one time? Does it accrue monthly or can I only use it at the end of my contract?

Is there a bonus or gratuity payment at the end of my contract? How much is it? How is it determined? Bonus payments are standard and required by law in many countries but employers sometimes pretend that it is something nice they are doing just for you . . .

What teaching resources does the school provide? Teacher’s manuals? Photocopy machine? Who regulates its use? OHP? Internet? Great for lesson plans and finding activities., Computer? Printer? Paper? Chalk/Markers? Really! Some schools don’t provide even the basics or make it so difficult to access them that you will go ahead and buy them yourself. Not a super big deal if everything else works fine.

Is there air conditioning and/or heating in the classrooms? This can be important! I still remember asking my very first EFL employer in Korea for a heater for the classroom on a bitterly cold morning and my employer with frosty mist coming from her mouth said, “It’s not cold”! So, I taught with a heavy coat, long johns and mittens . . .

How many students are in a class? How are they placed or evaluated for placement? There is a big difference between 100 people or 5 in a classroom – I’ve taught both. One requires a lot more preparation than the other.

How do we decide if the students are progressing or successful? Does everyone pass or are you supposed to implement a strict grade curving system? A grade curving system usually means you will need a very well organized testing system that is thorough and fair. Language schools tend to just pass everyone.

Will I have a work space available at the school? A desk, an office?

Are there other foreign teachers at the school? Can I talk to them before I make my decision? Red flag the job if they don’t want you talking to existing or previous teachers, but do realize everyone has a different experience abroad – so take any opinions under realistic consideration.

Those basic questions should help you get started.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Find out as much as you can about the job BEFORE you accept it. Once you are on the scene is too late.
Obviously you can’t find out everything and much of what you find out will be filtered either by your employer or by the good or bad attitude of an existing teacher.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Understand that each individual’s experience abroad is unique and individual.
What others hate, you may love. Every school – good or bad – will have past and present teachers who love it and hate it. Your job is to interpret what they say and translate it into something that is meaningful and useful to you. I have certainly worked at schools where some of the teachers hated it and I loved it. Much of this is about an individual’s attitude toward life in general and you will need to filter out the attitude to get to the specifics of how a school operates.

Reasonable Expectations

As I have been a website hobbyist for years, people regularly contact me with questions about teaching English abroad.

The reason this section is titled “Reasonable Expectations” is because those same people often ask very unrealistic questions about working abroad. It is as if all practical reasoning as been abandoned.

Statements and questions I have been asked include:

“Of course the school will plan long paid vacations as they will want me to travel around their country.”

“I don’t need to wear a suit and tie, do I?” this from someone who will be teaching at a university.

“How will I negotiate my ‘relocation package’?” from someone headed to a country that does not pay airfare, accommodation or other “relocation” costs.

“Should I ask the students any questions?” from someone who will be teaching Conversational English.

“I won’t need any training as we will just chat, right?”

So . . . it is time to set the record STRAIGHT. Teaching English abroad is not about YOU. It is about a school that has students that need your help.

Sorry to say, they don’t plan long paid vacations for you so you can “tour” their country. Nor do they tend to offer “relocation packages” unless you have a graduate degree and lots of experience.

And, sadly, YES, they might like you to wear a suit and tie.

And . . . students need to talk in your class – they will not be satisfied to just listen to you jabber about yourself.

Most students pay what is for them a large amount of money to have a seat in your class. And they will have some expectations about what you are to provide.

WHY would you suspend all the knowledge you have about how to seek work and how to succeed at a new job, just because you are heading abroad?

I would recommend that you still dress for the job you want, not the job you have. Some people in some countries will come to work in ragged jeans and a t-shirt. Does that mean you should? No!

If your host country counter-parts are wearing a suit and tie, you should too (common for university jobs). If they are doing the same job you are, dress as they do, not as your fellow foreign teachers do.

About the, “Should I ask the students any questions?” issue – please know that students need to talk – to practice talking and to get more experience with it. Are you really so interesting that people would pay to sit in a class and listen to you talk about yourself? Sorry to tell you, but probably not. Actual talking experience is exactly how students learn to talk. A bit like learning to ride a bicycle, you need to get on it and RIDE, not just talk about it.

What I am suggesting is that you learn more about teaching English. TEFL eBooks is a good resource. And that you pursue your new career with the same diligence and attitude that you would a new career “back home”.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Dress for Success.
This is YOUR career – don’t dress and groom as other foreigners do. Dress as your local counterparts dress or even one notch up from there.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Arrive prepared to TEACH.
The days of “chatting up” a class are LONG gone. Arrive on the job – ready to teach – ready to impart new skills for your students. Learn how to teach BEFORE you arrive. It’s not rocket science and just a bit of preparation will make you a much better teacher.