5 REAL tips to help you survive your first year as an ESL teacher


You’ve got your TEFL certification, landed your first teaching job, and bought your plane ticket. What now?

Research, of course. A quick search will take you to a lot of articles that tell you to pack photos of your family and make sure you talk to them regularly. Meh. Here’s what you REALLY need to know.

1. Don’t pack food. Or fancy clothes.

Go ahead and ditch that jar of peanut butter. You’ll probably end up having to surrender it at check-in anyway. And you aren’t a baby, you’ll be alright without it. Plus, eventually, you will figure out where to find it. While you are at it, put back any clothing you really care about.  Nothing fancy or couture will be needed where you are going. If you are working in the ESL industry, what you need are good, solid basics that you are going to be comfortable moving around in every day.  If you are heading to Europe, keep things business casual. You’ll be expected to “look like” a professional at work every day. If you are heading to Asia, it’s good to pack some polos and Khakis to play it safe, but for the most part you will probably find yourself in a working environment that’s a lot more casual than you are used to. This is ESPECIALLY true if you’ve signed on to anywhere with a work uniform.

PRO TIP: DO pack deodorant and/or tampons. They might be harder to find than you think. 

2. Read your contract, carefully.

Make sure you understand it fully, and get answers to all your questions before you sign it. So many people show up and are SHOCKED to find out they won’t be paid for six weeks. Don’t let that person be you. While you are at it, make sure you talk to an existing employee about what their first two months were like. Have an accurate picture of exactly how much money you should be bringing with you. The answer to that is NOT 500 dollars. Moving to a new place is never cheap. 2000-3000 USD is standard. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably just trying not to scare you.

3. Once you arrive, date a local. (Or, at least make friends with some.)

You are going to be lonely. It is going to be hard. In your first year, learning the language will be a lot more challenging than you think. Especially since you will also be starting a new job. You are going to need companionship and help and cuddles. If you are single, get on Tinder and start doing something about it right away. If you aren’t, here’s a reality you are going to need to face: YOU NEED LOCAL FRIENDS. If you work at a school, chances are a lot of your coworkers are quite family oriented and not into the same things you are. There may also be language barriers. College students make good friends. So do people you meet at the gym.  The important thing is to be proactive about finding friends or lovers, and DO NOT let yourself fall into the trap of calling home all the time. GET OUT AND MINGLE.

4. Take care of yourself

You might lose weight when you first arrive in a foreign country. You might also pile it on. People are going to look, dress, and carry themselves differently than you. Expect it to mess with your body image a little. You may also find yourself getting sick more often than you are used to. It could be the foreign air, water, food, or hygiene practices. Traveler’s diarrhea is a real thing, and it probably will happen to you. Regardless, one thing is for sure - if you are working in education, you will be compromising your immune system. The younger your students, the truer that’s going to be. At some point, expect to find yourself feeling a little (or a lot) lonely. Maybe you’ll start to lose sleep too. No matter the circumstances, there is ONE THING that can help with all these issues. Exercising. So, make sure you are doing that.

5. Be ready to work overtime

You’ve signed a contract with a company to do a specific job. Most likely, you are being paid a LOT more than the local staff who are doing the same (or more) work than you. There are people who have put a lot of trust and faith into you being a decent, hardworking person who isn’t going to screw them over. Since most ESL posts involve working with children, you’ve also got the burden of not screwing up impressionable little ones on your shoulders. It’s NOT an easy job. Don’t expect it to be a constant holiday. Teachers all over the world work overtime, and you should expect to put in long hours from time to time. Be prepared for that. Proper planning will cut down on this, but like all teaching skills, it will take you some time to figure out how it make it work for you.

Katy Jones is a Contributing Writer at TattooedTEFLTeacher.com   

She has been globe trotting professionally for nearly a decade. Katy's a teacher trainer, a curriculum designer, and a fan of hard truths.   

Connect with Katy:  LinkedIN

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