You are an English speaking native with at least a college degree from the “first” world embarking on your journey to fill eager minds with your wisdom. Maybe your foreign country EFL assignment will work out that way, but probably not!
Furthermore, your EFL program may provide you with some sort of “training”, but most likely that training will do little to prepare you mentally for the challenges of teaching in a different culture. Here are 11 common foreign classroom discoveries first world-ers make and some tips to anticipate them.
How to Mentally Prepare for the Foreign Classroom: 11 Tips
They Have No Manners!
What is polite to you is not what is polite everywhere in the world; manners are culturally constructed. Not only is it important to understand that what seems rude to you is probably not intended to be rude, but also you should recognize that your actions might be rude to foreign natives in their country. You are the foreigner; you need to adapt. Your training program probably taught you a few dos and don’ts, but you need to experience the culture of the classroom to understand. Here are a few tips if you find yourself cursing your bad-mannered learners.
- Go to a school and sit in on another teacher’s class. Observe and take notes on behaviors. What is normal?
- Be patient and minimize reactions. Do not react to student behavior for a few classes until you understand better what is happening. You might not get a lot of teaching done the first few weeks, but that is ok!
They Are Not Interested!
You assumed when you signed up that students enrolled in EFL courses would be eager learners, but any experienced field professional knows the opposite to be more likely. Examine the reasons for student disinterest and disassociate yourself from it so that it does not affect your morale.
- Their parents enrolled them, and they are normal teenagers that do not care about school.
- It is a mandatory government initiative and not auto-initiated by students.
- They are poor and have bigger worries (Maslow’s needs).
- They thought it would be easier or more fun when they enrolled and are now bored after one or two classes.
You luckily will have at least a few students that are generally interested. Feed off of their energy to stimulate the class as much as possible. You can also separate students into work groups to mix up the interested and disinterested. The ones that do not want to learn will probably stop coming to class after a little while, so think of the situation as temporary!
They Do Not Respect You!
You having a fancy degree from a far off place means nothing to these people. You will have to command respect in other ways. The best is to earn respect from leaders in the community or respected teachers. Establish yourself within the community as a teacher accepted and respected by peers. This might require developing personal relationships with those teachers by any means necessary. Visit them at home! Have a dinner!
They Do Not Do Homework!
First world-ers study outside of the class, but your foreign students probably do not. Do not plan to give a lot of homework. Instead, integrate it into your lesson plans. You can give short tasks like “bring in a picture” or “find three words”, but avoid lengthy worksheets and writing assignments. Students will probably learn slower and you will need to review more than you hoped, but just accept that as a reality in your lesson planning.
There Is Little Technology!
You planned PowerPoint presentations for all of your 20 classes only to find that you not only have no projector, but your classroom space is a field with no walls. Do not plan too many classes that use technology! Or have a backup plan. If you do not even have a blackboard, you can use large sheets of paper and rig them to a tree with two horizontal sticks and a bit of twine.
They Cannot Read and Write Well!
Maybe students cannot read and write at all, or they do not respond well to reading or writing. Either way, it does not mean that they are less intelligent or incapable of learning a foreign language. Plan to focus your classes on verbal and listening skills. Conversation is probably more important for them to learn anyway!
They Do Not Respond to Competition!
You created a fantastic activity where students have to race against each other to win a prize. The moment comes, and they either do not care about winning or do not care about the prize. They even share the prize with the losing team. Be prepared that typical first world rewards systems might not translate. Competition is a cultural trait, especially strong in Americans who have a fierce independent and capitalist ethic. Collectivists want to share. Figure out to what they respond best by trying different types of activities or asking other teachers in the area before planning!
They Are Not Creative!
They stare at you like you have horns when you assign a creative writing activity or ask them to draw a vocabulary word. Art, creativity, and imagination are not universal learning tools and cultural traits. Do not assume “all kids like to paint” or “all kids like to imagine”. Especially in authoritarian regimes, creativity could be stifled in your teaching culture. Adapt creative activities to mostly copying an example and gradually add more creativity expectation as your semester moves along.
You Are Not Progressing Quickly Enough Through Your Lesson Plans!
Your students do not come because it rains; your electricity went out half way through class. Developing country barriers are a challenge to meeting learning objective milestones, so plan ahead to teach less or to need significantly more time to complete a course.
Your Community Is Not Supportive!
You thought the local government was going to lend a salon to teach, but they do not want to help you when you arrive. Your students’ parents do not greet you when you see them at the market. Expect this; you are foreign. You are not one of them. Be patient and unobtrusive, and in time you will fit in and be supported more by the community.
You Feel Lonely and Depressed!
That lack of immediate acceptance, coupled with being away from you family and country, will create a feeling of loneliness and possibly even depression in even the most independent, adventurous, and adaptable EFL teacher. Be patient with yourself and try a few of these tactics when those moments overwhelm you.
- Have movies and TV shows from you culture on hand to watch, or some great books. Sometimes it helps to just escape into your cultural world for a bit!
- Leave your house and go talk to whoever is friendly. If you do not know the language, go to a coffee shop, a bar, or another similar place and use body language to communicate. Even if it is just a smile exchanged, that human connection helps.
- Go for a run or walk. It releases endorphins and makes you feel better.
- Call your mom!
Teaching EFL in a foreign country is an adventure, and you can make it a good one by preparing yourself for the inevitable difficulties and challenges you will face!
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