things you have to explain when you’re an ESL teacher


a response to the all too true, 11 things you have to explain when you’re an esl (english as a second language) teacher”.

number one: “our job is more awkward than yours.”
well, if that ain’t the truth. being an english teacher can sometimes seem not so far away from prostitution. your services are in demand, you go back to your place, receive cash afterwards, they leave, the next client comes in.
it involves acting like a total extrovert, and oh, there is a load of acting involved.
it also involves telling a forty year old man , oh so gently, that the “n word” is not the most acceptable term to use these days.

number two: “we aren’t on a 365 day vacation.”
i can remember a time that i was quite incensed by someone who left a facebook comment on a status of alex’s that said, “oh, we should all be so lucky to get to go on a long european vacation.” (blank stare)
right. de-friend. moving along.


number three: “we don’t have to speak the native language to teach.”
which is why so many of us get by year after year with our mediocre czech! i had no idea how long i would be living in this country for, but as i’m not usually a quitter of things and we are only months away from our three year czechaversary, i figure it’s probably as good of time as any to really start. it doesn’t help that everyone and their grandma likes to remind me that czech is one of the most difficult languages to learn!

number four: “our job is indeed ‘real’.”
teaching esl is so exciting and provides so many interesting opportunities that one could definitely make a lifetime career out of it! usually the low-ish pay and lack of stability eventually sway most teachers back from whence they came, but sometimes i like to imagine teaching for many years. it wouldn’t be a bad life and the salary is definitely enough to live comfortably and save a little. hmmmm…


number five: “our work challenges outside of the classroom are… unique.”
i feel fortunate not to have been challenged so much by my job outside of the classroom. sometimes it is just easier to talk with the student instead of the employer, because then you really get the straight dope about what level they are and what they are looking for in a lesson. although poor alex has had several issues that we like to call “my train is a bus today” while commuting weekly to teach at a small village! because sometimes, your train… is a bus.

number six: “yes, we teach classes where we just speak english with advanced students for an hour.”
or in my case, ninety minutes. these lessons can either be really lovely, or they can be a real drag. i know that getting paid to essentially just chat and have a conversation sounds amazing, but it requires really active listening (and not letting your mind wander off to “what am i going to make for dinner tonight?”) and really engaging someone… about something like a video game. or the mechanics of a truck engine. or the current health status of their grandmother in great detail. so much give and little take in a conversation can be sometimes extremely mentally exhausting. but that’s the job.

number seven: “we may teach english in each location we move, but it’s not the same job.”
many, many times alex and i have spoken about what it might be like to move and teach in chile. or poland. or japan. to keep the adventure train rolling with somewhere new. but little did we know, we would find such an ideal situation where we already are, and we love the laid-back pace of life here. maybe someday!

number eight: “we won’t be fluent in the country’s language after a few months.”
i remember my first few months of living in budejovice. such an eager beaver was i to enroll in the free czech classes given by the center for the integration of foreigners. free! (can’t turn down free!) as my schedule became busier, i had to drop the classes after about eight weeks. i have known nobody who has picked up on czech that quickly, but a colleague of mine has told me differently.


number nine: “this job can be lonely sometimes.”
uh, yes. we went in with such a positive “us against the world” attitude moving away from bustling prague to our next adventure in budejovice. but leaving all of our buddies behind and not making friends until about month nine sometimes did a number on us. at the time, we weren’t communicating regularly with our friends back home, and socially, it was sort of a dark place. and i can’t imagine how the teachers (who came solo) before us did it without going crazy. it’s good to have a buddy in this ESL world, and i am just in awe of all of the people i meet who do it solo, especially in the smaller cities or towns. you really have to put yourself out there (join activities, go to meet-ups, etc) to meet people.

number ten: “our job is complicated.”
although i almost failed the big grammar test (along with literally everyone else in the course) we had to take to pass our TEFL, teaching english has been a real learn-as-you-go process. it’s hard sometimes not to answer a grammar question with, “… because it is!” so you’ve really gotta go pondering and have an answer prepared for any little grammar question some one throws your way. because it will come. and you may look like an idiot unless you have the answer! and turns out, “because it is” is just not good enough… exactly the kind of answer that gives native speaker teachers a bad name.


number eleven: “wherever we are in the world, our job makes a difference.”
i like to think so. it is so rewarding to see a child that spoke almost no english two and a half years ago now be able to communicate with you. and i hope that someday, my students will still remember that crazy blond american girl who was kind and patient.

have you ever taught ESL? how do these experiences compare to yours?

if you liked this post, you might enjoy how TEFL changed my life & i heard it at summer camp