Instruction & Curriculum

Why Being an English Speaker Isn’t Enough to Teach English Abroad

By: Tishely Ortiz
I was an adjunct instructor for over a year when I decided to teach English in Mexico. I fell in love with the country when I visited, so when I got word that a position for an English teacher was open, I jumped at the opportunity. The friend who referred me said that as long as I had my Bachelor’s Degree, I would get the position. So I flew down with no hesitation and was offered the position. I was unprepared for everything that spiraled afterward.
I was familiar with lesson planning, managing the classroom, and engaging students–as for my experience teaching English, I’ve been speaking it my entire life. The school provided the curriculum which was a relief, but it was up to me to teach the lesson. One of the first lessons I had to teach was “11 definitions of ‘to get’ ”. Wait, what?! I didn’t even realize there were 11 definitions! Then I started coming up with different sentences using “to get”, and instantly became overwhelmed. How did I not notice how complex the English language was?
How did I not notice how complex the English language was? I was an adjunct instructor for over a year when I decided to teach English in Mexico. I fell in love with the country when I visited, so when I got word that a position for an English teacher was open, I jumped at the opportunity. The friend who referred me said that as long as I had my Bachelor’s Degree, I would get the position. So I flew down with no hesitation and was offered the position. I was unprepared for everything that spiraled afterward.
I researched different methods of teaching this subject, watched YouTube videos, and started planning. I didn’t sleep all night before my lesson, and in the morning I was an over-caffeinated, nervous wreck.  By the end of class, I was left more confused than the students. No one understood how to differentiate between “I’m going to get a pair of new shoes”, “She gets it!” or “we better get going”, let alone the other eight ways to use the verb. I was a mess.
That lesson left me distraught, discouraged and feeling like a failure. But the more I taught, the more I learned, and slowly my spirits began to lift. It was the toughest 3 months of my life. I learned that the English language was a science embedded into my brain and that in order to teach it, I needed to understand it at its most fundamental level. In addition, classroom management was not as manageable as I’d imagined. Sometimes the students wouldn’t talk at all, or if they did, it was in Spanish. But I did the best I could for that semester before seeking the training I needed to boost my confidence in teaching English as a second language.
My friend who referred the position had gotten TEFL certified before he began teaching, and didn’t realize how advantageous his certificate was to his success teaching English abroad. As soon as the semester was over, I booked a flight to Guatemala and began my own TEFL program with Maximo Nivel. My course touched on every issue I came across in the ESL classroom.
I learned to use command language that forced students to respond in complete sentences, how to properly color-code my board so that students to categorize “subject”, “verb”, and “new vocabulary”. Click To Tweet
From how to get students to speak in English, to lesson planning, and the much-needed grammar review for English speakers, I was constantly relating back to my class in Mexico. I learned to use command language that forced students to respond in complete sentences, how to properly color-code my board so that students to categorize “subject”, “verb”, and “new vocabulary”. I learned to constantly introduce new lessons while capitalizing on different learning styles to ensure all students were comfortable with my teaching techniques. The list goes on.
At the end of 4-weeks, I graduated with a well-deserved certificate and added another 10 hours of teaching to my international resume. I was prepared to go back into the classroom and implement much-needed changes to my classes. With so many “teach English abroad” advertisements geared toward English native speakers without experience or credentials, it’s important to understand the reality of what it actually means to teach English abroad.

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