The Dos and Don'ts of Teaching Abroad

In the weeks before you start your first overseas teaching placement your head is going to be absolutely jam-packed with questions. What should you do? What shouldn't you do? How should you act and what on earth are you going to wear? These are important questions and if you don't get them answered they'll be gnawing at your for the entire flight (and that can be up to 18 hours!).

Our dos and don'ts will help answer some of these questions so you can get it right first time!


  • Act like a teacher
    With thirty impressionable youngsters looking to you for guidance it's essential that you act appropriately. Foreign students are accustomed to a more formal teacher/student relationship and, though you'll have them playing games and getting involved in interesting activities, you'll need to make it known that you're in charge.  
  • Plan your lessons carefully
    This isn't just a case of thinking up a bunch of activities and giving them to your class. You need to think about the conventions of the country you're working in, the lifestyles of the children you're working with and the resources you'll have available. In some cultures certain topics are still taboo while in others speaking against the official government opinion can still be somewhat perilous. Make sure you fully research your chosen topic before you introduce it to your class, so you won't be faced with a group of uncomfortable and silent students.
  • Explain what you're doing and why you're doing it
    Teachers at overseas language schools change with an uncanny regularity and students will be accustomed to different teaching methods. They'll respond much better if they understand how they will be benefiting from your unique teaching techniques. 
  • Adapt your teaching style to suit your students!
    Different nationalities have different preferences. For example, the Japanese like time to mull over questions before they answer. Imagine how frustrated you'd would be if you'd just worked out the perfect answer and your teacher ran out of patience and answered for you. The longer you work with your students the more you'll understand the way they work and the way they need to be taught. 
  • Make the most of teaching resources
    Teaching resources don't have to be expensive, they just have to do the job. A picture or an object can be used to convey meaning and props will make any game or activity twice as effective. 
  • Have fun
    Anyone who's taken a weekend TEFL course will know that teaching English abroad is meant to be fun. If you haven't done one take a look at the Taking a Weekend TEFL Course - What to Expect article to find out what it's like. You're teaching experience should be memorable for all the right reasons and that means having as much fun as you possibly can while you're away!


  • Turn up in jog pants and a tank top
    There are very few occasions where you can get away with this kind of get up and this certainly isn't one of them. Anything that flashes a lot of flesh is a definite no no! Remember that different countries have different rules regarding how much you need to cover up and you'll need to take this into consideration when you're packing your suitcase! In some countries a neat appearance can go a long way toward getting you the respect you deserve. 
  • Ask a silly question
    If an IT nerd reels off the complexities of the XP operating system with full techie jargon you don't tell him he's talking nonsense, you simply smile and nod. The same rules apply when you ask a student if they understand. The trick is to test them! If you've just explained an exercise or game get your students to tell you what they're meant to be doing. It's unlikely that they'll be able to do this unless they've understood. If you've just finished an exercise and you want to make sure your students have taken in what you've taught them try asking them to form a sentence using the grammar or vocabulary you've just taught. Alternatively, you can split the class into groups and ask them to write down any questions they might have. 
  • Make students stand out!
    American and English students might welcome the opportunity to show off their knowledge in front of the class but this isn't necessarily the case overseas. In some countries answering questions in class is considered to be boasting and positively frowned upon. Don't set individual students against each other, instead put students into groups for a little healthy competition!