With many schools opening up across the world (well, those that follow the September-July academic year), I thought it would be great to be re-consider the WHY in the process of teaching abroad. If you’re new here, know that I have touched on the HOW to teach abroad, in this particular post.
Most articles will motivate people to teach abroad outlining reasons like the opportunity to experience another culture and see the world in a way no tourist can. Of course, its also a chance to meet people, share ideas, and forge lasting friendships. But, I think its also important to examine your motivations, underlying biases and focus on why teaching abroad may/may not be the best fit for you.
With the abundance of articles on the internet advertising teaching abroad as a rapid & simple way to make money you may think its the easiest professions ever requiring little to no effort! I read articles– like this one– advising ‘The Best Ways to Make Money Traveling,’ when in actuality they’re some of the worst ways. They list teaching English as their first choice. Such articles are obviously not written by teachers!
Consider that maybe you shouldn’t teach abroad. Asking yourself the questions in this post and understanding these reflections will help you to go through the arduous recruitment process and keep you going through the innumerable challenges that you will face if you do decide to make the big move!
Why do you want to do this?
Reflect on why you think you should move to teach abroad and what makes you fit to be a teacher in a foreign country. Ask yourself:
Are you appropriately trained– and I don’t mean from an online certificate?
Do you have enough experience in your home country? Because starting a career and finding your feet in the teaching world is far easier in a country where you have a solid support structure, speak the languages and know how to navigate. Very few GOOD schools will accept first year teachers; you may be able to find a job abroad with no experience but I doubt the salary package and working conditions are comparable to someone who has experience.
Is it something you see other people who look like you are doing and you just want to get on the bandwagon despite having no training or experience?
Do you think you’re suitable simply due to your nationality, skin color and your ability to speak English?
White skin doesn’t make you fit to be a teacher.
English being your native language doesn’t make you fit to be a teacher.
Coming from a country that’s ‘highly regarded’ doesn’t make you fit to be a teacher.
Should you choose to teach, you need to make sure the students’ needs come first, because regardless of your circumstances, this experience should be more about them than you. If you want to focus on “finding yourself,” you can travel for an extended period without stepping foot in a classroom. And there is nothing wrong with that path; it’s useful for a lot of people. But the best teachers must be willing to put their students’ intellectual growth ahead of their personal journeys.
Do you understand the role & implications of being an international teacher?
You are not a savior. And you are not on an extended vacation.
Rather, approach this opportunity the way the best full-time teachers approach their jobs — with humility and a sincere desire to impart knowledge. Anything less would be a disservice to the students. Always bear in mind that the learners’ well-being is more important than the fulfillment you can gain. You should be careful not to overstep your boundaries when trying to learn from your students either- many children are already coping with issues related to abandonment; forming deep bonds with adults who leave them can be damaging in the short- and long-term. Don’t hesitate to become a mentor, but be conscious of the pitfalls of over-attachment.
The wanderlust that inspires one to give up the comforts of home for a new life abroad might have you idealizing a life that doesn’t exist. Think carefully about whether you are able to create and submit lesson plans, adapt to new teaching methods, learn technological techniques, in addition to administering exams all while in a foreign country away from your usual comforts while dealing with language and cultural barriers. Teaching a full-time schedule of up to 6 hours per day will require prep time to finalize lessons and grade assessments. Therefore, prepare to not only work classroom hours, but sometimes also work office hours. It isn’t a decision to be taken lightly or a career that’s just a ‘long holiday’.
what will motivate you through the challenging days?
Motivation is a learned skill. Motivation is not about automatically bouncing out of bed, grabbing books and materials and dashing off to school. So before you start applying for teaching jobs abroad, reflect on what factors will see you through the difficult times. Many teachers (especially those who move to the Gulf countries) will cite money as their main motivation. But if I am being honest, coupled with a much higher cost of living and after you’ve adjusted to your increase in salary, that motivation is not as strong to keep you going through the daily grind of teaching. What happens if your salary is delayed due to some visa mishaps? What will keep you going then?
While salaries should be an incentive, I do believe they shouldn’t be the only factor that motivates you to go to work. Perhaps its the idea of a new exciting lifestyle that motivates you?
But be realistic- your students and co-teachers will appreciate your efforts if you show them that you are a committed professional who doesn’t lose control every weekend and come in hungover, bleary-eyed and unprepared the following Monday morning.
Remember when you were in school? Did you like the teacher who didn’t seem to care? In the same way, if you commit to teaching abroad, you should always think about your motivations and how it they will benefit your students.
If your motivations to teach abroad rely more in the potential for your own fun & finances rather than doing quality, meaningful work in the classroom, you may want to revisit the first point on this list.
Are you ready to fail sometimes?
It’s great to go abroad enthusiastic about doing well as a teacher. But if it’s your first time-you cannot expect to thrive immediately. Making mistakes is part of the process especially as you adjust to new surroundings. You’ll have good days…and not so good days. Some lessons you’ll speak too quickly. Some days you may bore your students. Some days you just won’t be able to reach them due to linguistic or cultural barriers. Sometimes you may confuse them with your instructions. That’s okay!
You’re learning how to teach in a new place, and that takes time. Don’t internalize your mistakes. Instead, acknowledge what went wrong, make a note of how to do things different next time, and then let it go. If failure is something that causes you great amounts of anxiety then that could be a reason why you shouldn’t teach abroad.
Teaching anything is not easy. Being a teacher is tough work, so if you’re researching teaching thinking that you’ll have a ton of free time and that work will be a piece of cake then you are mistaken. Any job that involves education is usually demanding and the stress is compounded when you live in a foreign country.
Free time varies depending where you work, but know that your time to prepare is not counted towards your classroom time. Teaching is like any other job, but probably tougher. You’re creating plans, grading assessments, measuring outcomes, managing people (kids can be difficult), public speaking, and you have to be a positive influence constantly. I feel exhausted ALL THE TIME.
But just like with any other job, especially one that is responsible for teaching an important skill to someone else, most people can’t just jump in and start doing that job without some prior training and experience. In my opinion, this mindset is similar to that of the “voluntourism” problem that’s currently sweeping the Global North. You can read more about that here.
If you’ve read this far and you find yourself slightly doubting your decision then teaching may not be for you. Like I said before, it’s tough, it’s hard work, and it’s not for everyone. If this scared you then teaching is probably not up your alley and that’s okay. There are plenty of other ways to make money abroad, other things you can do to have a soul-searching adventure and to learn about cultures. Don’t feel bad.
But what you should feel bad about is going into a demanding career like teaching, being entrusted with the responsibility of children’s futures in a culture you make no effort to understand simply for your personal gain.
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You may be interested in previous posts about teaching abroad:
Interviewing for teaching positions
Questions to ask prospective schools
What are some of the other questions people should ask themselves before they go abroad to teach? Please share your thoughts & feedback in the comments below!
Great post!!! It is the teacher training and the years of fruitful experience that sets a seasoned teacher apart from someone who is untrained and raw. Ofcourse experience matters in teaching, just as in any other profession. The more you do something (practice) the better you are at it.
Moreover “Do you think you’re suitable simply due to your nationality, skin color and your ability to speak English?” This is something the Administrators/Recruiters need to rethink when they promote “Only native English speakers will be considered”
Teaching children or inspiring them is something so pure and that needs to come from somewhere deep inside of you, but unfortunately weighing this purity and passion on the scale of nationality and skin color, is just so unfair.
I couldn’t agree with your comment more. Change can only occur if it occurs from the ‘top down’ with administrators needing to be more intentional about what meaningful qualities they are looking for from teachers rather than just a white face or ability to speak English. You may be interested in reading this piece for more specific racism content: