How did TESL@TFLI prepare you for teaching in Taiwan?
I truly could not have imagined teaching in Taiwan (or ANY foreign country for that matter) without the TESL training from TFLI. The meager week-long, unpaid “training” we received from my company upon arrival was basically a cram session designed to familiarize us with their procedures. What really made a difference was TFLI’s required field teaching. This was where the “rubber met the road” so to speak, and we had to apply what we learned in class to the real world.
What advice do you have for students who want to teach abroad?
Do it! Do it! Do it! But . . . do your homework; know what you’re getting into. Undoubtedly, you won’t be able to plan for everything, but a lot of preparation up front goes a long way. I think I’d narrow down my advice to these three things:
- Know who you’ll be teaching
- Know your location and your school
- Know the culture
Know Who You’ll Be Teaching
I can’t speak for all of Asia or even all of Taiwan, but most of the teaching opportunities here in Taipei City and Taipei County are teaching children; frequently, very young children. So, if you don’t like children, a TESL course and a foreign country won’t magically make you endure them.
On the other hand, even if you teach adults, different cultural and societal norms and expectations can be very different from what we’re accustomed to. Here in Taiwan, adult students really respect teachers to the point of letting you babble all you want without interruption or question, even if they don’t understand. At these times, it’s crucial that you shut up and use the tools you learned in your TESL course (CCQs, for example) to see if they’ve gotten the point. Also, getting Asian students to talk in the first place can sometimes be challenging.
Know Your Location and Your School
I already knew I wanted to go to Taiwan. I had visited before, and I just knew that was the place for me. You may know you want to travel abroad, but just don’t know where. Understand that most work contracts are for a year, so all I can say is choose a place you can see yourself living for at least a year. Determine your deal breakers up front, but be flexible knowing any foreign country won’t have everything just like you expect (that’s part of the fun).
In terms of teaching environment, my school is one of several schools that have a large, established presence all over Taiwan (and even other countries). These large schools typically have standard curriculum, plenty of materials, welfare officers, limited training and other things in place to help your transition be more comfortable. Local, smaller schools may not have all (or any) of these things, but in return typically offer higher wages and more classroom freedom.
In spite of the training from TFLI, you must be flexible. If they are structured enough, your employer ultimately dictates how you should teach. And your school’s way of teaching may only mildly resemble some of the methods used at TESL@TFLI. On the other hand, I’ve heard of cases of people being picked up from the airport, shown their housing, and essentially told “well, we’ll see you at work on Monday.” Those schools, with a complete lack of structure and very hands-off approach to their English programs have their benefits/drawbacks too.
To find a school, check out ESL websites (Dave’s ESL Café is classic), and message boards, and talk to people who’ve taught overseas before. TFLI lets students and graduates know of opportunities too. This is how I found out about my school and the director even helped me evaluate its credentials.
Know the Culture
This statement might disappoint some people. Their thinking might be that knowing too much about the culture prior to leaving would take the excitement out of the experience. Let me tell you though, in my one year of teaching, I saw several people break contract and leave because the locale wasn’t for them. I can also tell you that the limited Mandarin Chinese I knew prior to going to Taiwan helped out a lot.
What is your best experience so far teaching abroad?
My best overall experience so far while teaching abroad has been meeting my wife (just being honest). My best teaching experience has been the relationships I’ve developed with my students. Many of them really touched my heart (even the bad ones). I can’t describe to you the feeling of seeing a child you’ve worked so hard to help get an English concept and correctly use it.
Tell us an interesting classroom story.
Well, let’s see: kids puking in class, being thrown into an out-of-control kindergarten on my first day of teaching, dressing up like Santa Claus for Christmas and giving out gifts and candy. A lot of stories to tell. Probably one of the most memorable was a student of mine, Alan, who came to my last class on Saturday just to say goodbye to me before I left that school. He only had classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so that really touched my heart that he came just to say goodbye. And that right there, my friends, is what it’s all about.
I hope this information helped give you realistic expectations of traveling abroad. I’ve tried to be honest with my answers and give you useful feedback. Bottom line—traveling the world adds different perspectives, experiences, and fullness to your life that you otherwise would never have experienced had you stayed in your home country, so GO FOR IT!