The 5 Worst Things about Teaching English Abroad

I have to be careful with this blog: not only will colleagues and bosses read it, but potentially my current and future students too.  Bearing that in mind, everything I write about should be taken with a pinch of salt.  So here goes, some bitter truth about life as a TEFLer, and the worst things about teaching English abroad.

Unsociable hours

Whether you’re working in Europe or Asia, working hours can be unsociable at times; this is especially true if you’re teaching kids and teenagers, or business classes.  Having worked from 3pm until 10pm for the last 7 years over here in Seville, I’m used to it now.  I actually don’t mind that much because I have the mornings free to write and go to the gym, but I hate missing Champion League games.  Some teachers I know despise teaching so late, especially during the warm spring evenings when you could be sitting out having an ice-cold beer by the river.

The students

If you’re entering the jolly world of TEFL, then be warned: students can be your best pals and your worst nightmares.  In my 10 years of teaching, most of my students have been fun, hard-working, and polite.  Well, maybe not most, but quite a few!  During the school year, you normally get a few irritable teenagers whose parents just want them out of the house for 3 hours a week or pedantic adults who have a low tolerance of ambiguity and want to know why for everything; “Because it just is,” will never suffice.

I’ve been guilty of not planning interesting enough classes, or not reading up about a particular grammar point and getting caught on the spot.  Sometimes, those problematic students can become angels if you make the effort, but there are a few who are beyond your control.

Bloody visa runs

I bumped into an old friend the other day who said that he left Brazil after 2 years because he was sick of doing visa runs and had finally had enough of getting bombarded with questions at the border.  It was something that used to annoy the hell out of me while I worked in Thailand too; having to leave the country every three months to get an updated visa stamp.

Visa trips always sound like fun at the time, but I never had a good one.  There was the time I thought I’d have a few days travelling around the South of Thailand after a visa run to Malaysia, but when I arrived on the Friday I had to wait all weekend while it rained heavily in crappy Georgetown.  Then there was the time I thought I’d get a couple of extra days off after a New Year’s Full Moon party in Thailand, but when I turned up in Malaysia, I realised that the Tsunami had struck there too.  Getting food poisoning was the icing on the cake.

Job insecurity

Working illegally in South America always gave me an insecure feeling: I always felt that if I did anything wrong then they could just tell me not to come in the next day, without pay.  This did happen to me once actually in Sydney – I’d been teaching a class of Korean students for about a month when suddenly the students stopped coming in and I lost my job (I did get paid though).

When I first arrived in Seville I worked for a dodgy language academy where I didn’t know if my contract was going to be extended after every 3 months.  Luckily, I have a sound job now, but I had my fair share of insecure worrying moments while teaching and travelling around the world.

Low pay

Unless you’re working in Japan or South Korea, or have a high position within a company, don’t expect to get rich while teaching English.  I do about 22 contact hours and about 5-7 hours planning a week and get around €1,200 a month.  I do extra business classes to bump up my pay.

Don’t get me wrong, TEFL teaching doesn’t have the same responsibilities with regards to marking and paperwork as the school systems back in the UK, but we still work hard for our money.  My way round it is to live simply and try to get satisfaction out of other means, like teaching students something that will help them in their lives.

Having to be a foreigner

I still love being a guiri – foreigner, having the adventure of living in another country, learning a language, and enjoying the decent weather; but sometimes life abroad gets on my goat.  The economic crisis in Spain isn’t helping the fact that most restaurants try to short change you, add extra plates to your meal, or fail to bring out the stuff that you ordered, and then put it on your bill.

I had about four incidents with local louts while I lived in Ecuador and Brazil.  I survived unharmed, but it could have been much worse.  When I first arrived in Thailand I thought it was funny that everyone would stare at me because I was the only Westerner in the area, but in the end, it annoyed me.  Be warned, being an adventurous travelling foreigner is not always cushy.

Sorry if I’ve dribbled on your exciting TEFL bonfire, but I think it’s better to find out about the not-so-nice parts now, rather than while you’re away like I did.  There are bound to be a number of things you’ll hate about TEFL, but the outcome will always be far more rewarding than the little niggles along the way.

Baz is currently TEFLing out in sunny Seville in Spain, the lucky dude, but has previously taught English in Ecuador, Brazil, Australia and Thailand, so he’s pretty much an expert in all-things TEFL!

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