Reviewed by Mary McLaughlin, Ma-TESOL; M.S. SpEd
Thinking about becoming an ESL teacher and being ready to actually take that plunge are two very different things. After all, there’s a lot of pressure when your job requires you to bridge cultural gaps… manage students with limited English skills… meet aggressive goals with regard to student progress… keep frustrated students motivated… and constantly adjust teaching methods to individualize your approach for students with different learning styles.
Why would someone want to subject themselves to the stress of trying to live up to these expectations?
Well, you could find yourself in the rare position of being one of those teachers students actually like, an elusive legend more likely to be found in a ‘90’s era teenage TV drama than an actual classroom, a white buffalo of the public school system…
But the legend is real. Assume the responsibility of giving your students the primary tool they’ll need to access the American dream and you could very well join the elite circle of teachers who are actually popular and well-liked among students.
Sounds intimidating and astounding in equal measures, right? This intoxicating cocktail of challenge and reward remains the awesome allure of becoming an ESL teacher.
Sometimes that final push, that last little bit of confidence you need to take the first step toward cementing your status as a living legend of the school system comes from an unlikely source… a study abroad program.
But here’s 9 reasons why this could be the proverbial match you need lit under your literal butt to get you moving.
Get Exposure to Different Educational Systems
You’ll soon start to notice educational norms are vastly differ between countries. South Korean teachers still use corporal punishment. In Japan, education is centered completely around technology. Finland doesn’t begin enrolling students in school till the age of seven.
By seeing some of the educational diversity in the world first hand, you’ll start to get a better sense for why some students might find the American approach to education to be somewhat bewildering. And with this comes the patience and understanding necessary to give ELL students the time and guidance they need to adjust.
You Can Use Cultural Elements in Lessons
Let’s keep it real, even for teachers school can be a drag. Spending some time aboard allows you to experience the world in a way that actually makes you more interesting. And the more you have offer, the more you can save yourself and those around you from the doldrums…
Eat the local food… dance to the local music… admire the local art… Soak it all in then take these cultural gems back home and interject them into your lesson plans to keep your students captivated and eager to learn.
Start Learning a Foreign Language
It’s hard to spend some time abroad and enjoy an immersive experience without picking up the local language, whether purposely as a way to converse, or as a matter of sheer practicality and survival.
By walking a mile in your students’ shoes, you will truly come to appreciate the difficulty of grasping a foreign language. This realization will lead to an unparalleled understanding of your students’ efforts to master the English language.
New Friends Become Valuable Professional Connections
Study abroad programs are designed to facilitate interactions between teachers, students, and community leaders. This provides the perfect opportunity to build relationships both personally and professionally. In fact, many programs provide networking opportunities, job placement services or introduce students to influential people with local connections.
Friends can become valuable connections, and colleagues can become lifelong friends. The more people you keep in touch with on Facebook with whom you’ve shared life changing experiences, the more opportunities you’ll have for travel and hosting, not to mention the potential professional opportunities.
Build a Greater Sense of Independence and Confidence
People that participate in study abroad programs quickly learn to fend for themselves. Navigating through foreign lands, encountering strange cultures, making new acquaintances, and adapting to unpredictable events is not easy. It requires strength of character, perseverance, and straight up courage… some of the same characteristics that make a great ESL teacher.
Gain Cultural Awareness and a Global Perspective
Study abroad programs seek to unify people throughout the world through the experience of cultural immersion. By traveling to foreign countries, you become more sensitive to the setbacks and triumphs all human beings experience. This global awareness is a great virtue that will allow you to more completely connect with students from diverse backgrounds.
Increase Your Marketability
According to the Erasmus Student Network, 92% of employers look for employees with transversal skills, which are easily attained through study abroad programs. As a result, ESL teachers with study abroad experience on their resumes are more likely to set themselves apart and attract more job offers and higher salary offers.
Learn to Adapt Quickly to Different Work Environments
Working and studying in a foreign country requires you to acclimate to new surroundings and changing circumstances in relatively short time periods. This forced adjustment will become an asset during your ESL teaching career, as you will be expected to amend your lesson plans and delivery methods according to your students’ cultural backgrounds and academic requirements.
Learn to Identify Culture-Shock
Most ESL teachers that study abroad experience the phenomenon of culture-shock, which is defined as the sense of bewilderment and distress that comes when encountering an alien environment.
By learning how to cope with their own culture-shock, ESL teachers can more easily notice students struggling with it and help them devise ways to adjust and adapt.