As an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher who has spent more than seven years teaching EFL in Thailand, I learned quickly there are certain characteristics an EFL teacher needs to be successful. Teaching is a stressful and challenging career at the best of times. Add to that the stresses of living in a foreign country and working within an education system that, in many places of the world, is nowhere near at the standards of any western country and many EFL teachers start to think they’ve made a mistake. If you have, or can develop, these particular characteristics though, you’ll find teaching EFL in a foreign country more rewarding and your career ultimately more successful.
Be Relaxed – EFL teachers in many foreign countries find it easier teaching if one of the characteristics they have is the ability to be relaxed. Worrying about the way foreign education systems do things (in third world, and even second world countries like Thailand, their education system isn’t even close to the standard of the US or Europe), does nothing but stress you out. And, as you’re fighting against the whole system if you try to change things, it really is an exercise in futility. Try to develop the ability to relax and ‘go with the flow’ and you’ll be happier teaching if you do.
Be Positive – Being a positive EFL teacher in a foreign country helps in every way imaginable. Your students will love you, the school you work at will be thankful they hired you and, you too, will be happier in your job. When you can find the good in a situation rather than the bad, this also encourages your students to see things in a better light and shows them how to deal with setbacks more effectively.
Be Patient – Teaching EFL in a foreign country can be frustrating. Students will have lower level English abilities than the school told you they had, you won’t get textbooks you were promised, classes will suddenly be canceled and rescheduled at ridiculous times and, sometimes, you won’t even get paid on time. Patience is a characteristic you must have if you teach EFL in a foreign country as getting through the day can require endless amounts of it. Being patient however will often reap rewards. It just takes longer than what you’re used to back home.
Be Reliable – This characteristic is something that, unfortunately, a fair few EFL teachers in foreign countries don’t have. When you sign a contract with a school to teach EFL, whether you like the school or not, that contract is binding. It also means the school should be able to rely on you to do what you signed up to do. Show up on time, do your job, teach your students, and make sure paperwork is handed in on time. If you’re reliable, the worst situation can often be turned around. Plus, if the job doesn’t turn out the way you expected it to, at the end of the contract at least you can leave with your self-respect intact, knowing you did everything and more that they paid you to do.
Be Flexible – Teaching EFL in a foreign country requires flexibility like you’ve never experienced before. Not only is the culture completely unlike your own, you’ll also discover quickly that basic common sense things you take for granted simply don’t exist there. Being flexible and adapting will make your job easier and will also endear you to the school’s native staff. Nobody likes someone who complains all the time or is not willing to be flexible if the situation requires it.
Be Kind – Being kind and a good listener is one of the most important characteristics for any EFL teacher. Students have problems that can be easily fixed if you’re willing to listen with some kindness, discover how they’re feeling, and then come up with ideas to help fix things. With the school administration and native teachers too, being kind can go a long way by not always judging their mistakes in a negative light and showing them you’re willing to help make situations better.
Being a successful EFL teacher in any foreign country comes with many challenges. Learning how to adapt and develop the most useful characteristics can make your experience more positive and successful and go a long way to making sure your school likes you and, in turn, rewards you for your hard work. Much of teaching EFL in a foreign country is about ‘appearance’ and ‘behavior’, more than it is about actual skills. If you can figure this out quickly and work within the system, you won’t feel like banging your head against a wall at the end of every school day.