Life as an online TEFL teacher in South Africa

Guest written by i-to-i graduate and online tutor Mihlali

I am blessed to be able to work from home – a small village in South Africa. I have embraced being a global citizen without having to set foot on another continent. When I began working as a TEFL teacher online seven months ago, I was ecstatic to pass the knowledge that I have onto others; however, I never anticipated that, I too, would be a student. Whilst undertaking this position, I have learned a variety of skills:

1. Adaptability

One of the skills that I have been learned from my students, is being able to adapt to new conditions. I’ve always been one for a great plan, as well as a back-up plan to the back-up plan. I have shown up to class many a times – well prepared and ready to have fun and productive lessons. However, I have had to throw caution to the wind. My students have taught me that, regardless of the content being the same, each class is unique. When I started in this line of work, I expected each class to be uniform. I’m now well aware that different does not necessarily mean bad and that deviating from the “plan” opens one up to new possibilities.

2. Patience

In theory, I have always understood the concept of learners learning at different paces, but I have never had to undergo it myself. More often than not, my students grasp concepts quite easily; however, that’s not always the case. In those moments, it’s important that I allow them to do things at their own pace. Doing this also allows them to go through all three stages of the memory process (encoding, storing, retrieving) where not only are they able to receive the information, but they are able to file it and store it in their long-term memory.

3. Having fun

Have I had some challenging days with my students? Of course, but they have taught me how to smile – all the time! There’s honestly nothing more rewarding than seeing how happy and excited a student is to be in class. I’ve learned not to take myself too seriously as I’ve had to be quite the clown at times, all in the name of getting them to crack a smile. Once we are smiling, our relationship transcends the “traditional” teacher/student relationship. I like to think that we are “friends exchanging information”. One of the best things that to get my students going are tongue twisters! We thoroughly enjoy laughing with one another and sharing our desperate attempts of getting them correctly.

4. Cultural Exchange

I’ve had the pleasure of having a cultural exchange with my students, without having to leave the comfort of my own home. It’s always lovely to hear about the variety of holidays and festivals that are celebrated by my students. Not only have they shared their traditions and beliefs, they’ve also opened up to me about their everyday activities, hobbies, dreams and aspirations. It’s extremely gratifying to know that I have impacted their lives, even in the slightest way.

5. Love

Last but certainly not least, my students have taught me to love and appreciate each individual for who and what they are, not who I would like them to be. Each student has a trait that makes them special in their own way and this should be celebrated and communicated. Not only have they taught me how to appreciate individuality more, they have also helped me find my way back to my true love – the English language.

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