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How to Succeed as an English Teacher

Updated on February 11, 2010

Anyone can teach English, its a fun and exciting career path( or detour) that will truly change your life. Unfortunately, it can also be a very unforgiving industry, especially when you are far away from wherever it is you call home. There are millions of seemingly insignificant problems that can quickly spiral into something that leaves you clueless and without a job in moments.

Consider this article as a guide for getting a handle on some of the most basic, and most important aspects towards finding success and building a solid reputation in the increasingly competitive world of English teaching.


This one may seem like common sense, but in practice its not as easy as you think. Countless teachers have found themselves receiving complaints from students who thought they were angry, or too aggressive, or just not nice in general. Complaints from students means schools give you less classes, and less classes equals less money in your pocket.

This is not saying that you should walk around everywhere with a big fake grin pasted on at all times, just remember, that the mood you bring into the classroom will be transfered to your students. If you go in with a nasty attitude, dont be suprised when you find your students less responsive to what your teaching...and less interested in attending your classes.

Conversely, students love happy teachers. Going into a lesson with a positive mindset and a smile on your face makes that tricky grammar tense far less intimidating for your students. Remember, happy students means more students renew their contracts, which makes you a high commodity for any school owner who's looking to turn a profit.

Dress for Success

Most countries, especially ones in Asia, place a massive amount of importance on appearance.  Coming into the school dressed smartly and well groomed will help you more than you could ever imagine.  Simply put, it makes you look more professional.  I know it sounds superficial, but ask anyone who's been in the game for more than a few years....this is an industry where sadly quality of education comes second to looks more often than not.  The school that looks the best will sell just as many, if not more contracts than the one that actually has the best teachers.

What does this mean?

-Dont smell bad

-Wear clean clothes

-Wear a shirt with buttons and a collar

-Iron your clothes

-polish your shoes at least once a month

-If your hung over (happens to the best of us), make sure you don't smell like the jack from the night before and that you've washed all those stamps off your wrists.

Just look like a TEACHER! How would you feel if your teacher stumbled into class looking like they just woke up, in the same clothes as yesterday, reeking of Sang Som and Gin?

Be Reliable

Yes, everyone gets sick from time to time, and you will inevitably come to a point where you need to take a sick day or two...and when your family comes to visit you, of course you will need to take some time off for travel.  The thing is, some teachers seem to get sick ALOT! Some teachers have inexplicably purchased alarm clocks that repeatedly fail to go off, causing them to miss their first class. Some have an endless supply of relatives coming into town that they absolutely must take time off for.

Having to constantly find replacements and subs for a flaky teacher will quickly weigh on anybodies patience. When your gone, who do you think is filling in for you? Your giving your coworkers more work, and making their days worse. The EFL industry is just as gossipy as any industry on the planet, and what do you think they will be saying about the guy who is always giving them more work because he couldn't handle his beer the night before? Don't think the boss has noticed?  Do you think hes going to give that cushy new cooperate class to the guy who's always absent? Think again.

Come Prepared

One day, you will reach a point in your TEFL career where you have taught the same lesson so many times you can do it blindfolded while knife fighting a gang of gypsies. If your not there yet confidence and experience wise, you better plan those lessons!

You spent your hard earned money on that TEFL certificate, and you were probably surprised at just how much work you had to do to plan out those first few lessons  Did you think it would change when you actually stepped into the classroom?.   You don't need to spend hours hunched over books and photocopies to be prepared. It's as simple as spending 10-15 minutes going over the lesson and material before you teach it. Anticipate questions students may ask, make sure you have enough photocopies for everyone, and always have a backup activity or game just in case your planned activity is being met with all the enthusiasm as a group of kids in math class.

Don't Burn Your Bridges

This one should be obvious, but its amazing how many people seem to leave common sense at the door when they move halfway across the world.  Not burning your bridges means leaving any school you work for on a good note.  Yes, they might have been a nightmare to work for at times, but take the high road and make sure you leave with your respect and reputation intact. Nobody really knows where they will be in 5 years time, and you may very well find yourself in a position where you want to work with a previous employer again.  Resist the temptation to pull a Jerry Macguire and do your best to make sure that the school would be happy to welcome you back if you ever asked.  

Its important to remember, in most countries the EFL scene is still a pretty small. Head teachers do communicate with each other from time to time.  You might leave a school on a bad note one day only to have another job slip out of your hands because the head teacher used to teach with your old boss, who wasted no time informing him of how you so elegantly stuck it to the man before you left. 

Enjoy it!

Why did you get into English teaching in the first place? You were probably tired of your job back home, or just finished 4 hard years of school and wanted to go somewhere exotic and see the world. Did you start so you could be in a job that you hate?

Some people just aren't cut out for teaching. They hate it. They dread coming into the classrooms, resent the students, and spend their free time listing the inadequacies of their current employer. Nobody wants to be that person.

If you feel like you might be that type, take a moment to look at your situation and what you want out of your job. Teaching children is in a whole different universe when compared to teaching adults. Some guys thrive in coorperate teaching, where the level of professionalism is high and the classes are more serious. Some teachers play thier trade in the academic sector, where preparing students for tests means you have strict guidlines and plenty of materiels with which to base your lessons on. Some even find their niche teaching kids...where a high energy level and incredibly patient attitude are an absolute must to even survive.

The point is, if your not happy where your at, change it! Find the style of teaching that works best for you, and go for it. It might be a pain now, but you wont regret you did it, because the money comes easy when your doing what you love.


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    • TheWatchman profile image

      TheWatchman 7 years ago from Traveling! Asia-Canada

      yea the race thing unfortunately can rear its ugly head once in a while, but don't let that discourage you! I have had the pleasure of teaching with people from all sorts of backrounds.

    • moanalisa profile image

      moanalisa 7 years ago

      Nice! I'd also suggest not coming into class wearing an expression such as your profile has, haha! ;-)

      Teachers' enthusiasm is very infectious. This is something that I always found very inspiring. Also, when they can take a course and apply it directly to every day living that kids can relate to. For example, a lot of kids may say, "geometry? When would I ever need or use it??" I felt that way once, however now, I use it all the time in my art.

    • Dame Scribe profile image

      Dame Scribe 7 years ago from Canada

      I had considered entering ESL field but not sure on the reception I would receive, lol. One too many bad meetings with racial barriers so have had to change course. Great information! :)