ESL teachers who live overseas enjoy an exciting world of change and differences.
To be successful, it is essential to manage your classrooms with the local culture at the forefront of your decision-making. Follow these 5 tips for managing classrooms abroad, and you will learn just as much as you teach.
Try These 5 Tips for Managing Classrooms Abroad
Do as the Romans Do
No matter where you come from, living in another country is an exciting and challenging adventure of self-discovery. When you are working in a classroom overseas, it is imperative to know the basic cultural dos and don'ts from day one. For example, in Thailand you don't want to walk into your classroom on the first day wearing a sleeveless blouse. Women generally should cover their arms, and dress in the workplace is particularly conservative. Men usually wear a tie, but a suit would be taking it too far. In China, you will be greeted by all the students standing and shouting, “Good Morning, Teacher,” and they won't sit down until you give them permission. The point is simple. Do your homework before you step foot into your first class. Talk to other foreigners living in the same country, and working in the same type of school. Even when you read up on cultural norms, you won't be exempt from discovering surprises as you go. There are a lot of unspoken cultural norms that should be adhered to by foreigners and more importantly, teachers. Often you are expected to figure these out for yourself. It effects everything you do, including how you manage your classroom. You have to set realistic expectations and take culture into consideration.
Utilize the Local Language
Even though you are instructing students in a second language, you will find it to your advantage in and out of the classroom to gain some understanding of the local language. If you are in a place that has a local dialect, it might serve you better to learn useful phrases instead of the formal language that may not be utilized or even understood in some circumstances. In the classroom, you can utilize basic phrases to make your first days easier. Learn things like: please, thank you, sit down, stand up, etc. Generally, when you don't speak their language, students will inevitably speak in their local tongue despite your instructions not to do so. If you learn their language as they are learning yours, they will respect you efforts, and will attempt to be very helpful in your endeavor. Allow exceptions to “English only” policies, and provide instances where they are allowed to translate vocabulary, or ask questions to each other in their local language. If you limit their native language, and try your hand at their language students realize quickly that the best way to communicate with their teacher is with English.
When setting up classroom rules and guidelines, give students some examples of how things are done in your country. Then ask them how it is done locally. They will enjoy hearing about the differences, and as a group you can devise guidelines that work for both cultures. An example might be that in many countries, students will simply address you as teacher. Become comfortable with this and inform them that they may also call you Mr. John or Miss Sarah. Students won't use your last name as it is too formal and often too hard to pronounce. Once the class guidelines are set, use the cultural comparison in other aspects of the class to keep communicating about your differing cultures. However, avoid always telling them how everything is done in your country, or comparing your country as if it is superior to theirs. Neither of those attitudes is gong to get you very far in or out of your classroom.
Learn as Much as You Can
Your students are going to be your best teachers when it comes to culture. You can learn a lot simply by observing them. You can also ask for their advice, their opinion, or their input when you come across confusing situations. This works well even with young adults. Get in the habit of telling them stories about your experiences, and asking them cultural questions. This is a great way to review tenses and other grammar while commanding their attention. You will also learn about things you may be doing incorrectly, nuances of the language that may get you into trouble, or gain a perspective you never would have seen if you didn't consult your students.
Don't Forget to Discipline
Sometimes when teaching English overseas, it can feel strange to apply discipline in the classroom. Often the subject of English that is also taught by a native speaker is only looked at as fun time, and not as serious as other subjects. Young students might try to take advantage or become unruly. To counter this, you must set the tone of your class accordingly and early on. You will have to ride that fine line between supplying fun, interactive activities for practice, and maintaining a seriousness when it comes to completing assignments, following through on homework, and general student progress. It is perfectly acceptable to apply discipline, but be certain that your tactics are fair and fit in with what other teachers are doing.
When teaching overseas it is vital to be a model of cultural correctness and to represent your home country in way that you would be proud of.
Employ these 5 strategies for managing your classroom overseas, and your students will never want you to leave!