Before my husband and I set out to teach English in Turkey, we had SO many questions…and quite a few fears! We weren’t sure we’d be able to find a decent job and if we did, would we even be good at them? After A LOT of research and talking to current/former teachers, we learned that we weren’t the only ones with these fears, insecurities and questions. So I thought why not put it down on paper and hopefully calm some nerves. So without further ado, here they are:
“What if I don’t know the answer to a question my students ask me?”
Before you think too long and hard about this, just know that this will happen…and it’ll be alright. I was SO worried that my students would ask me questions I couldn’t answer. And surely, it did happen. Many, many times. My employer wasn’t upset with me. My students didn’t think I was incompetent or a bad teacher. And life went on. The important thing to do when in this situation is to acknowledge the question, recognize when you can and can’t adequately answer the question for the student and, if you can’t, promise to get back to the student at a later time.
“I’ve never taught (anything) before, so how will I be able to manage a classroom when abroad?”
While I had some teaching experience before heading overseas, I had worked as a facilitator and training of corporate, non-profit and university training programs and workshops. So I hadn’t had formal, classroom teaching experience in the traditional sense. While my past probably helped me, my experience teaching English was quite different than my previous professional experiences. Luckily, I had enrolled in an excellent TEFL certification program which helped me understand what to expect in the classroom, how to manage potential (and likely inevitable) situations and required me to test the waters by completed a compulsory in-class teaching English practicum.
“What if my employer doesn’t pay me on time (or ever!)?”
This is a tricky question to answer since I’m not an expert on all things legal around the world. If you find this happens to you, check with local expats and your TEFL course provider to see what can be done (if it’s happened to you, it’s likely that you’re not the first. So someone should know how to proceed).
More importantly, it would be better to take your time before you sign a contract and research the employer you want to work with. Online forums, your TEFL certificate course provider and other online resources (like Facebook groups) should help you vet any employer before you make any sort of commitment.
Before signing my contract, I spoke with our TEFL certificate provider’s staff to make sure the company we were considering was legit. Then, I asked the recruiter to put me in contact with current and former teachers for further verification of what to expect. Finally, I did a Google search for the company and found both positive and negative reviews about it. Based on my own analysis, I decided the risk of not getting paid was low, so I agreed to sign the contract. But this process of cross-referencing Facebook groups, alumni networks, LinkedIn contacts, etc. took me a while before I felt comfortable signing anything.
“How will I be able to find a job while still at home?”
This was a huge fear of mine because I didn’t quite understand that looking for a job teaching English abroad was something completely different than trying to find a regular job abroad. After submitting my resume to a few key job boards, I was getting at least 5 emails A DAY from recruiters asking me to apply for jobs in their territory (this was especially true for Asian countries). It seems short of impossible to secure a job before you leave. Of course there are places in the world where you won’t get a contract ahead of time (like in Europe and South America), but if this is a criteria for you, like it was for me, you can easily secure a work contract before you ever leave the comfort of home for many jobs in the Middle East and Asia.
“How will I be able to maintain my quality of living when abroad in a non-western country?”
Depending on what is meant by ‘quality of living’, this could be answered in two ways. First, I’d make a note of what luxuries you think you need in order to be happy/comfortable (e.g., AC, internet, living in a big city vs rural area, etc.) and then consider what you spend your money on. While your physical paycheck may be less US dollars than what you make back home, it may be more than enough to live a high quality life abroad since the cost of living in many countries are much lower than in the USA. I have written about this on a few occasions, so you can read more about it here, here and here. In short, don’t just look at your salary, consider the whole picture: salary vs. cost of living vs. the actual job (hours of work per week, paid vacation, etc.). You, like us, may find that your monthly paycheck has taken a significant cut, but that your quality of life (and savings potential) has increased because of the low cost of living and job benefits.
If you want more help navigating this process, or simply want to talk to a real person about your questions, contact me for a TEFL consultation.