TEFL Myths

I found this list of ‘Myths and Realities’ on a TEFL info site called Teach English Abroad today, and thought it worth posting. For what it’s worth, I agree wholeheartedly with most points, but it’s worth pointing out that teachers often get long holidays and so plenty of opportunities to travel throughout the country they are in. There are often extra public holidays too of course. Anyway, onto the myths and realities…

People have a lot of preconceived notions about what they think teaching English abroad is really like. These are just a few to give you a better understanding about what it is really like.

Myth 1: Teaching is glamorous. You can travel everywhere you want.

Reality: Hours can be crazy, you might be working 6 days/week, split shifts and the only time you can prepare for your classes is on your own time (unpaid, naturally). Often there is very little time to travel and see the countryside. When you do get a day off you are so tired, you sleep.

Myth 2: Teaching is easy, anyone can do it. You just speak English and chat with your students.

Reality: Teaching is hard work; there are lessons to prepare and tests to write and grade. Often students have a good command of English grammar and you must anticipate questions that might arise out of the lesson. It is necessary to continually reflect upon your teaching abilities in order to become a better teacher.

Myth 3: It is not a “real” job. This is just something you do until you grow up.

Reality: For many people, teaching English abroad is a job they do for only a year or two. However, others have made this into a career and as such treat this job professionally. We make “real” money and put “real” food down on the table to support our families.

Myth 4: You can get rich.

Reality: I would say there are few jobs that I would consider high paying, especially when you compare what teachers and students drive (or ride on) to school. There are a few countries where salaries are quite high, but those are rare in the big scheme of things globally and these jobs usually require a masters degree or higher.
However, teachers can live quite comfortably as the cost of living can be very low. It is only when you convert the salary back to your home country that you realize how limited your savings can be.

Myth 5: Once you have your TEFL certificate, you will know how to teach.

Reality: A TEFL certificate is an introduction to teaching. You really know very little about teaching at this point (still it’s more than nothing). Most courses are very rushed as they cram in 4 months of material into a month (or less). It usually takes years to become a good teacher; nothing replaces experience.

Myth 6: Teaching abroad is a great way to learn about new and exciting cultures.

Reality: While this is true, many teachers do not go out of their way to learn about this. There can be a lot of ghettoization of foreign teachers. They hang out with other foreigners, eat at McDonald’s and watch movies. While there is nothing wrong with this, their day-to-day life is not much different than it was before they went overseas. It takes a real concerted effort to get out of your comfort zone and start learning about your environment.

Myth 7: Culture shock is no big deal, I can handle it.

Reality: Culture shock affects everyone to some degree when they move to a foreign country. Some people take it hard; I have seen people go home a week after they arrived just because they got so scared of being somewhere so different. Adapting and living in a new country is not easy, but it is exciting. This is the thrill that has brought many of us to teach in foreign countries. You must come with an open mind and not compare everything to the way it is done “back home”.

Myth 8: After a year or two of teaching abroad, my experiences will help me find a job when I return home.

Reality: Unfortunately this is false as most employers couldn’t care less about what you did and will assume you were living it up while you were “on holidays” (see myths 2 and 3). Even friends and family will grow tired of hearing about your experiences. As a result, many people go back overseas to teach as they miss their more carefree lifestyle.

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