Sunday, October 9, 2011

Success in TEFL

"The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore."
-Dale Carnegie

Success in teaching abroad - a not so easy goal to achieve it seems, after reading through some of the comments on popular TEFL web forums such as The ESL Cafe and ELT World. TEFL is not exotic beaches, easy money, and a 24 hour a day party. If you found my article thinking it was, then stop reading now. I'm going to talk about WORK.

Teaching abroad is a very select set of challenges to thrust yourself into. A new language, a different culture, strange food, and unknown risks are not what most people call fun. It takes a particular brand of daredevil or world-beater to see these hurdles as attractive. That particular brand of person is common among those that succeed in teaching abroad but the most important factor that each one knows is that it is imperative to have goals to succeed on, and the willingness to see them through.

I meet a lot of different people in my line of work in TEFL. Young recent college graduates, out for a year abroad to work on their Spanish. Retired folks from a variety of fields settling into a warmer climate. Career teachers looking for a different country. Thrill-seekers and people who just can't settle in one place. Many find their niche and do well in Latin America. Many others don't.

Defining success in teaching abroad has to start with defining your goals and finding the means to achieve them. The two most common goals I see - improving one's foreign language skills and turning EFL work into a meaningful career - are difficult and worth examining here.

"I want to improve my Spanish, so I think teaching in Mexico or Chile will help".

Teaching abroad is often seen as a means to earn your way through a year-long stint in a country while learning the language. While this is true, it's very easy to lose focus on improving your language skills by getting lost in teaching English. Leaving aside that much of your day is spent working in English, your social circle can sometimes remain in a rut - an English-speaking rut - of co-workers and students. It takes effort to find opportunities outside the class (and sometimes inside the class) to work on your Spanish.

The first thing you can do before setting out for travel and work is to restrict your job searches to schools that offer free or subsidized local language classes as part of a job offer or as an option. Many language institutes offer this to teachers if you ask. If such classes aren't available, your next bet is to look for local language course providers in your chosen country that offer classes at a price and schedule that fits with your EFL class teaching.

Think about expanding your social circle and trying out new activities. Learning the local language doesn't always need to come from sitting in a classroom. Look for local groups around other interests you have, such as sports, art, or museums. Think about things going on around you and have a willingness to dive in.

"I'm thinking of getting into teaching back home but I'm not sure it's the right thing for me. I don't want to invest years of study and a lot of money in this field and find out I don't like it. I think a year abroad teaching English will help me decide."

A common jump off point for teaching abroad is a TEFL or CELTA course - a four week intensive set of classes and teaching practice designed to cram a large amount of information into your head and get you out working at language institutes and schools as soon as you pass the course.

From here, it is again easy to lose sight of the goal. A lot of people see their initial course as the end of training. Spending a year in the classroom will give you a good idea as to what it is to teach, but building towards a career in this field means constant study, more courses, and finding the right ladder to better jobs be they at home or abroad.

When looking at your first job, it's good to ask about professional development. Some schools can connect you to further training such as TEFL for young learners or diploma courses such as the DELTA. Beyond EFL, the international school circuit is a great place to seek opportunities. IB training (International Baccalaureate) and workshops can be found everywhere and some schools will help pay for higher degrees through their international networks.

Teacher organizations and associations are great places to network and locate further training or leads to better jobs. MEXTESOL is an example for Mexico though there are dozens of others to choose from, not only locally but online as well.

These are the practical tips to success in teaching abroad but the real effort is in staying focused and working hard. The opportunities are there if you take them.

"The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather in a lack of will." Vincent T. Lombardi

This entry contributes to the ESL/EFL Roadshow, a blog ring of ESL/EFL teachers and TEFL teacher trainers around the world. October's project is hosted by Ted at TEFLTips. Here is the Roadshow Roundup that shows TEFL Success as other teaching bloggers see them.

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