In Part 2 we discussed the crucial elements of a teaching abroad resume. We also helped prepare you for the inevitable Skype interview. You are well on your way to getting the job.
Now that you are going to working as a teacher it’s time to discuss some helpful teaching tips that will make your job easier. Before I start I want to remind you that everyone’s experience teaching abroad differs. I can’t tell you exactly what will happen when you step off the plane, but I can prepare for the obstacles you are likely to face and how to overcome them.
I. Teaching Tips: The Dos and Don’ts of Teaching Abroad
Throughout your teaching stint, you are bound to come across challenges and make mistakes. Don’t let these mistakes get you down; learn from them and move on. It will take some time for you to develop a routine. I didn’t feel confident as a teacher until six months in.
Here are a few teaching Dos and Don’ts that I picked up that will help you overcome the challenges you are bound to come in contact with.
Do Ask Easy to Understand Questions
In order to make sure your students grasp the material continue to ask questions throughout the lesson plan. If students answer correctly, it helps to build confidence in their English ability.
If students are having trouble responding to your questions then that’s a sure tell sign that they don’t fully comprehend what’s being taught. When I teach grammar patterns I use questions to help students covertly teach themselves. When analyzing a sentence structure I ask what the parts of speech are for each word. This way they have built a grammar map that can help them better understand the sentence structure.
Do Integrate Games into your Class
This is a no brainer. The easiest way to get kids to participate in class is to play a game. They are a win-win for the teacher and the students. The students get to have fun and the teacher is able to check the each student’s comprehension of the material much easier. Make sure the rules of the game are clear and easy to understand because your kids will get competitive. Here are a few easy vocab games to play in class, but feel free to make up your own.
Do Have a Rewards System
This is critical to managing a classroom. If students have the chance to earn rewards they will be motivated to behave well and pay more attention in class. Establish a fair and simple system for students to earn rewards and you will find managing a class much easier. It’s always better to reward positive behavior than to punish bad behavior. Rewards can be anything your kids might be interested in like snacks, stickers, or stamps.
Don’t plan out every minute of your class
I see a lot of new teachers do this. They plan out their class minute by minute, thinking everything will go according to plan. When they get to the classroom they quickly discover that things take longer or shorter than they had planned and they start to freak out that they have gotten off track. However it’s ok to get off track, sometimes you will find that you need to spend more time on certain material and less on others. It’s all about being flexible, so when planning your class schedules don’t be so strict. I usually just hit on the main points of the material and little reminders on how to teach it. Here is another great resource on planning ESL classes and how to save your lesson plans if they flop.
Don’t assume your students aren’t paying attention if they don’t understand the material
I ran into this problem many times. I would teach a difficult grammar pattern and then ask some comprehension questions. The room would remain silent and I would receive awkward stares. I tried to ask different questions and give them other examples, but still awkward silence.
At first I thought they weren’t paying attention or were just shy. However when my co-teacher asked them in Chinese, they all said they didn’t understand the material. This is just a normal part of the teaching process. What you might think will be easy to understand, your students might not. Don’t get frustrated, just go back to square one and start simpler. Ask questions along the way to make sure they understand each step.
Don’t over explain the material
When I first started teaching, I found myself doing this a lot. I would try to go into a detailed explanation of the theory behind a particular sentence structure. As for the students I might as well have been speaking Spanish. They had no clue what I was saying and were nowhere near being able to use the grammar correctly. I quickly learned that I had to tone down my language and drastically simplify my explanations. Using stories, examples, chants, and pictures were all things that I found were effective because they stuck in the students head.
II. Working in a Bilingual Environment
A big obstacle in teaching abroad can be working in a bilingual or sometimes even trilingual environment.
A big obstacle in teaching abroad can be working in a bilingual or sometimes even trilingual environment. There is an increased chance of miscommunication and misunderstandings that are not conducive to a healthy work environment. Sometimes there is no communication at all because neither the foreigner nor the native can speak each other’s language.
One of my fellow foreign coworkers got into a fight with our Chinese secretary over pay. He didn’t understand why he hadn’t gotten paid for certain hours and couldn’t speak Chinese.
The secretary had poor English and couldn’t properly explain why the pay would show up on the next pay check. Both were very frustrated as things got heated. It took the branch manager to step in and finally sort things out.
Unfortunately, the damage was done and my foreign coworker had lost the respect of the entire branch. Situations such as these can occur very easily in this setting.
Here are some tips to help avoid miscommunications from blowing up in your face:
Learn The Language
The mere effort of trying to learn their language will garner you the respect of your native coworkers.
The language barrier often creates a divide between the foreign and native employees, so try to break it down by learning a bit of the language.
Now of course no one expects you to become fluent as soon as you get off the plane, but it is helpful to know some basic phrases. The mere effort of trying to learn their language will garner you the respect of your native coworkers.
Being able to speak Chinese with my Taiwanese coworkers helped to strengthen my relationship with them. They were more comfortable talking with me opposed to the other foreigners who didn’t make the effort.
We could chat about things outside of school and make jokes with one another. In turn, the Taiwanese coworkers were more willing to help me out when I needed it. Also, I could better understand any issues they had with me and work to sort them out.
There are lots of ways to learn, like taking some classes before you arrive with one of the online Chinese teachers that are becoming more popular, or take a class after arriving, hire a tutor, or find a language exchange.
Make an Extra Effort to Help Out Your Native Coworkers
When building a good relationship with coworkers, it’s always a good idea to go the extra mile to help them out. It is extremely important to remember that you often make double or even triple the salary they do.
Try things like buying them a cup a coffee, helping sweep up the classroom, or staying a little longer after class to help do makeup classes. Little things like this can go a long way in building up strong relationships with your native coworkers and preventing office drama.
Don’t Lose Your Temper When Things Don’t Go Your Way
No matter what you do, miscommunication is bound to happen.
No matter what you do, miscommunication is bound to happen. It’s important not to freak out when there is a misunderstanding. If you lose your cool or are rude, you risk losing the respect of the entire office. This will make things very awkward for the rest of your time with the school.
You can also forget about your native coworkers ever helping you out in the future. So the best thing to do is be patient and try to work things out. If things can’t be settled on your own then seek out the branch manager or your teaching supervisor to help sort things out in a professional manner.
III. A Few Short Anecdotes about My Mistakes/Naughty Children
The Little Chicken
After nine days of initial training, I was sent to my branch to start observing classes and begin teaching. The first class I observed was a kindergarten class consisting of mostly six year olds. I walked in and took a seat at the back of the class. Admittedly I was nervous, but everything seemed fine and the kids looked nice enough.
He walked up to me and without saying a word pulled down his pants and pointed below his abdomen, “This is my little chicken!” he declared enthusiastically.
One kid, named Theo, was to first to notice me. He walked up to me and without saying a word pulled down his pants and pointed below his abdomen, “This is my little chicken!” he declared enthusiastically. I was stunned. There was nothing in the training manual about this! Is it normal for kids here to just pull their pants down on a whim? What is the protocol for this?
Luckily, I was saved by one of the assistant Chinese teachers. It is common in most schools to provide their foreign teachers with a native co-teacher to help out in situations such as these. She quickly scolded the boy and apologized for his behavior.
I asked her what he meant by “little chicken.” She explained that in Chinese a man’s privates are informally referred to as a “little chicken.” This was my first impression of teaching in a foreign country and all my previous expectations of what teaching would be like began crumble after that.
As soon as the class bell rang, Voldemort’s relentless rampage began.
The rest of my week observing continued in the same trend. The next class I observed was an older class of students around ten years old. I was introduced to a student who the teachers all referred to as “Voldemort.” That’s right; he was named after the evil guy from Harry Potter.
I originally thought that the name seemed a bit excessive, however as the class went on I discovered the name was more than appropriate. As soon as the class bell rang, Voldemort’s relentless rampage began.
Voldemort flicked pencils across the room, shouted and screamed at will, he left for a bathroom break in which he disappeared into another classroom for thirty minutes, and to top it off he emptied his entire water bottle onto another student. No matter how much he was yelled at, nothing seemed to faze him. Heck even I tried to get him to sit still. He simply smirked with a devilish grin and went about his business.
Voldemort was immune to discipline. With all these distractions and interruptions, I wondered how could you get any teaching done? However as time went on Voldemort grew out of his rotten ways and matured with age. Sometimes all you need is a little patience.
A Tale of Miscommunication
Here is a good lesson on miscommunication with your native coworker. In one class, I had a terrible student named Tommy. He had the reputation as the school’s naughtiest child. He was even worse than Voldemort. He never wanted to listen and thought it was funny to do the opposite of what I said.
On this particular day he was driving me crazy, yet I made it through the class without getting angry. As I walked him out of the class my Chinese co-teacher asked how Tommy behaved. I foolishly responded by making a karate chopping motion over Tommy’s head, to demonstrate how annoyed I was with him.
Unexpectedly, my co-teacher started howling at Tommy and made him cry. She forced him to apologize to me. Then she took Tommy with her and called the parents. At the time, I thought it was a little excessive, but it was pretty normal for Tommy to get yelled at on a daily basis. An hour later, my co-teacher came by and told me that Tommy’s parents wanted to apologize to me.
I walked downstairs to meet them and they proceeded to apologize for Tommy hitting me. WHAT?! Hitting me? I never said that. And just like that it did hit me. When I made the karate chop motion my co-teacher had thought that Tommy had been hitting me in class. It was a terrible miscommunication that resulted in a huge embarrassment that was very awkward to explain to the parents.
Well, I hope you enjoyed and learned a bit from my mistakes and experiences. In Part 4, we will finish with a review of how to pay taxes abroad and how to market your time abroad on your resume.