I Taught English Abroad season 3: what we’ve learned

If you’ve not been listening to our podcast, ‘I Taught English Abroad’, firstly: where have you been?

Secondly, it’s been a lot of fun to put together. Call us biased if you will, but we believe it’s the best audio resource for anyone who’s thinking about teaching, anyone who is teaching, anyone who knows a teacher working abroad, or anyone interested in travelling the world. From the home-based entrepreneurs to “flying teachers”, we’ve been lucky enough to share the stories of brilliant TEFL teachers from around the globe.

Since launching last year, we’ve developed three seasons of the podcast, telling the stories of teachers who have worked everywhere from biscuit factories in Glasgow to Spain, Costa Rica, Brazil, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Japan and so many more.

What have we learned as a company that launches TEFL careers, though? Well, a great deal as it turns out. With that in mind, we’ve picked out some of our favourite lessons from season 3 of ‘I Taught English Abroad’. Some are weird, some are wonderful, all are inspiring in their own way.

Don’t rule out teaching somewhere just because it’s haunted

Now, we’re not entirely sure how often this comes up. However, with all safety precautions in mind, and with common sense very much on board, don’t rule out teaching somewhere just because it has a mild problem with apparitions, spirits and whatnot.

Sounds spooky, doesn’t it? Truthfully, it wasn’t an area of TEFL teaching that we expected to come up against, but when Jamie Gajewski joined us on ‘I Taught English Abroad’ this season, she told us about teaching on a Spanish farm that may or may not have ghosts wanting to learn a bit of English. She told us:

“I taught in Spain during the school year and then every summer I would either go to France or teach at this Spanish farm. It was like an English immersion summer camp and so this farm is located in a summer palace that was actually used during the Spanish Civil War. So there have been multiple ghost sightings. 

“When I was there, there were some very strange things that happened when one of the owners passed away. Some of the kids who knew him said that they noticed something or heard something. We had a lot of lights flickering off and on that night and heard voices in the swimming pool, things like that. 

“I guess my one tip would be don’t go anywhere alone. I was always with someone because that seemed to be when people would see ghosts – like when they were on their break and off alone by themselves. So that’s my advice.”

Jamie also taught in a castle, which was – of course – similarly spooky. Her episode is a must-listen for a number of reasons. At its core, though, it teaches us something very important: the more unusual TEFL experiences can end up being the most memorable of all.

Eventually, innovation will prevail

It’s almost impossible to believe it now, but there was a time when getting a TEFL qualification online and teaching online were seen as gimmicks. Instead of making the industry much more accessible, and allowing hundreds of thousands of more people to showcase their teaching attributes, the idea of any part of TEFL being online was seen as a fad, an illegitimate gimmick.

As is always the case with gatekeeping, it would look ridiculous before long. Today, as we see more and more technological advances changing the industry, we’ll see more old-fashioned opinions emerge, only to fall by the wayside.

In our conversation with Martin Sketchley, this point was made very clear. He told us:

“…they said that, [with] immediate hostility online teaching isn’t real teaching. It’s an unregulated industry. And I could see where they were coming from, but… You know, with the fact of technology evolving so quickly it seemed a bit daft that online teaching wasn’t taken that seriously back in 2014 nearly 10 years ago. 

“And then we fast forward six years, and everyone’s forced into an online environment. Where no one knew what was the most suitable approach towards teaching because no one had really considered it real teaching or appropriate teaching. But now we’re in a world where it’s encouraged and supported.”

People want to learn from non-native English teachers 

The idea that people don’t want to learn English from non-native English teachers is a prevailing and damaging myth. Though it makes little sense, there are still opportunities that are “native speaker only”, and some countries won’t allow people who were born outside of English-speaking countries to teach the language.

It’s patently nonsense. This series, we spoke to Kitti Majorán and Lachesis Braick, Hungarian-Romanian and Brazilian-born English teachers respectively, who gave us their take on “native speakerism”.

Kitti told us: 

“I think a lot of people are nervous to make mistakes. Or, maybe they are nervous about their accent or… think ‘I’m just not as smart in English as I am in my own language’.

“Get over all of those thoughts because an accent, a foreign accent shows to people that you are at once intelligent and courageous. The combination of those qualities is very attractive to people. It’s very impressive and very attractive. So don’t be afraid to show up, share your story, tell them where you’re from, [explain] why you have that accent, and what your journey of learning English has been. And people will connect with you.”

Meanwhile, Lachesis told us:

“I ​​don’t believe [having a native English-speaking teacher] will automatically influence the quality of your English. I also don’t believe having a non-native teacher will automatically help you learn English better because you’re covering certain topics. I think that what we need to do is go beyond where the person grew up because that’s not a qualification. 

“It’s not just a matter of how much you know yourself. It’s how you’re passing it on to your student. And I think that when we get into this debate, or whatever we want to call it, we lose sight of that. And that’s what matters.”

There are some weird-sounding jobs out there. Accept them.

Have you ever wondered what a “flying teacher” is?

Earlier, we talked about taking normal teaching jobs in unusual places. However, Ross Thorburn inverted that for us by telling us about his experience as a “flying teacher”. It might sound strange, but it’s actually quite simple: Ross travelled around China as a supply teacher, teaching English where the need was most prevalent.

Ross told us:

“I think there’s maybe 150 schools and wherever was short-staffed, they would send me out there and they obviously had to find somewhere to put me up. And it was great. 

“The shortest I stayed somewhere was a week. The longest was about three and a half months. So I think I was in about four – probably more than that, five or six – different cities over the year. And it was really great. You’d  meet new colleagues. Wherever I went, I tried to observe the people I worked with to learn from them. 

“And you teach a wide variety of classes and obviously you get to experience different cities. But it was really good because I think anywhere you go, usually the first month or two months are the most intensive when you’re getting to know somewhere new. So it was great having this sort of, I suppose, kind of intense experience over and over again.”

If something sounds like fun, albeit exhausting, it’s probably worth investigating. There are all kinds of unusual-sounding jobs within the TEFL industry – if you’re open-minded enough to teach, then strange job titles shouldn’t scare you off!

Learn something new every week with ‘I Taught English Abroad’!

When we launched ‘I Taught English’ abroad, we hoped to hear a range of stories from teachers working across the planet. Thankfully, that’s what we’ve got. Every time we record, edit and publish a podcast, we’re left astonished. Happily for us, every teacher’s experience is unique, and every piece of advice draws on different memories and lessons.

As season 3 draws to a conclusion, we hope you’ve enjoyed the ride! We’re doing our best to bring the most unique, inspiring and nourishing stories to the podcasting sphere, and all indications so far suggest that TEFL teachers are into it!

Do you have a unique story from your time teaching English as a foreign language? Drop us a line at euan@tefl.org and tell us all about it!

Not listened to the podcast yet? You can find ‘I Taught English Abroad’ on all of your favourite streaming platforms.

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