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Top 5 Tips for Teaching Overseas

Top 5 Tips for Teaching Overseas

Want to teach English abroad? TESOL graduate Morgan Attaway is living her dream teaching English in Obama, Japan, and she’s learned a lot since she started in 2014. Here are her top five tips she would share with future TEFL instructors:

Now that I am deep into my second year teaching abroad, there are many things I can say I have learned in the transition from the first to the second year.

While creating this list, I talked to some fellow teachers of mine and their answers made me realize that most teachers in this stage go through similar experiences. Some lessons were learned in the classroom while others were taught to me outside of it. However, all of them have changed me in some way and I feel that I have grown as a teacher because of them.

So here it is: the top 5 things I have learned after my first year teaching abroad!

Eating Miso Soup

Morgan Attaway enjoys a bowl of homemade miso soup at a small village city hall. The residents are gathered to celebrate a recent festival at the local Buddhist temple.

1) Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification once, twice or 10 times.
Miscommunication happens in all workplaces, but when you add in different cultures and different languages, disasters are bound to happen if you don’t go the extra mile to understand clearly what’s happening around you and in the classroom.

2) Plan lessons and activities that can be adapted for any language level.
If crafted carefully, many lessons can be applied to varying levels of students and activities can be adjusted to address different teaching points.

Not only does this cut down on time spent on lessons planning, but it can save you if you’re in a pinch and need a backup plan with class starting in five minutes.

3) Teaching styles and classroom etiquette may be very different than what you’re used to.
The way you were taught and how you were expected to behave in the classroom might be completely opposite to how your new school is run. Many of the differences come down to cultural attitudes, and while it’s hard to break old habits, try to balance your own approaches with those of your host country.

Japanese Festival

Performers on stage at the Obama Yosakoi Festival. Yosakoi is a famous Japanese performance combining traditional dance with modern music.

4) Don’t take it personally.
At the same time, while you’re learning about those different styles of teaching and classroom behavior, you also learn to not take it personally. Sometimes your lessons are a rousing success; other times they are an utter failure. Sometimes your students are little angels; other times they make you want to bang your head against the wall.

Myotsuji Temple Charms

Painted wooden charms at the Myotsuji Temple in Obama, Japan, Morgan’s current home town. Each charm holds a paper fortune inside. Bad fortunes are tied to a tree branch so the bad luck will attach itself to the tree instead of the charm bearer.

Through all these ups and downs, you learn how to roll with the punches and to not internalize the setbacks. To quote a friend of mine, “Don’t beat yourself up over it – just learn from it, let go, and move on.”

This is especially true for an overseas classroom where cultural differences might exacerbate certain situations. If you can learn to truly let things roll off your shoulders, the battle is halfway won.

5) Try to learn the language of your host country.
I cannot stress this enough. Yes, you are there to teach English. Yes, you want to expose your students to as much English as possible. But learning even just a little of your host country’s tongue can truly alter your experience as a whole.

In my first year, I could barely grasp Japanese. After much dedication and study, I’m now in my second year and have a basic hold on the language.

And what a difference it has made.

I can now pick up on situations around me and communicate with coworkers outside of the English department. I can understand students better and help them with questions when they can’t find the right English word for the situation. And I truly believe it has deepened my relationships with everyone around me, especially my students.

When they found out I was trying my best to learn their language, a sense of kinship developed between us that subsequently helped their English studies. What better way to encourage your students than to set your own example for them.

So there you have it. The top five things I have learned in my transition from first to second year teacher abroad. As always, there is plenty more I could add to the list but then we’d never be finished! I hope my experiences can assist anyone planning on teaching English abroad for the first time and know that out of these growing pains comes a more secure and confident teacher in the classroom.

Mata ne from Japan!

Read about Morgan’s past adventures in her ongoing blog series.

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