Is English Language Teaching right for me?

When students come to me exploring the idea of getting training to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) or English as a Foreign Language (EFL) – read Segments of the TESOL field for more info regarding distinctions of each – I usually probe their desire with the following questions:

  1. Are you drawn to work with other cultures? Typically the most successful ESL teachers LOVE to work across cultures and have a desire to learn more about effective cross-cultural relations.  See Why ESL teachers need cross-cultural skills
  2. Do you see yourself living ever living abroad? While career prospects are plentiful in the English teaching field, their characteristics vary from country to country.  For Americans, the context of teaching English in the US has significantly different implications than teaching abroad.  I would recommend that all ESL teachers live abroad, even if only for a short time, in order to be a more effective teacher in the classroom.  See lessons learned from travelling
  3. What are your feelings about leading groups of people from the front? Many of my most successful students have a high comfort level in front of groups, not only speaking, but also directing and guiding.  I sometimes joke with my husband (a social worker) that he was far better prepared for marriage than I was because his profession taught him skills like empathy, listening, and compassion – mine (education) only taught me to boss people around and control them!  While I chuckle at this (and acknowledge they’re not always effective), these characteristics can come in quite useful in the classroom…
  4. Do you like to plan? I just heard a teacher say the other day that she’d love teaching if it weren’t for the lesson planning and grading. While her comment earned my sympathetic ear, being able to prepare and assess effectively are crucial and large components of any classroom.  Slapping together lessons or scantily grading assignments do not create a positive learning environment.
  5. Would you like to teach English for a short time or a lifetime? Depending on a person’s goals, their pursuit of training would vary.  Some people are interested in teaching English merely as a way to travel or gain entry into certain countries (see Ethics in TESOL for more dilemmas of this sort).  In this case, a short term Certificate training program would be ample preparation to teach.  However, once one identifies that they’d like to make a lifelong, sustainable profession out of English teaching, an MATESOL or related degree is a necessity.  For those interested in teaching in more reputable institutions or teacher training programs, a PhD is necessary.
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