7 Ways to Gain Experience as an ESL Teacher

Teaching English to kindergarten kids I remember walking into a classroom in South Korea for the very first time to watch someone else teaching, thinking, ‘how will I do that?’ The teacher was confident, he joked with his students, and they didn’t seem to mind being in class – a far cry from my experience of school as a teenager. I remember being in class and thinking that teachers were another species, entirely disconnected from myself and my classmates.

Despite being nervous, I settled in quickly and it wasn’t long before I felt at ease at the front of the classroom. As someone who is not naturally confident, my experiences before I started teaching definitely helped me gain experience that was both valuable for obtaining a job and for real-life teaching situations. Here are a few ways that you can either gain experience or improve yourself as a future English teacher.

Read: Why You Should Avoid TEFL Internships!

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# 1 Volunteer

Volunteer teaching English abroadI think that there is no better way to learn to teach than by being in the classroom. The theory of teaching and good planning will go a long way to help you when you are in the classroom, but there is nothing that compares to classroom experience when it comes down to being an English teacher. I worked as a teaching assistant in England for three weeks (although I was given classes to lead by myself) and I volunteered to teach classes in Uganda. These were very different experiences to teaching English in South Korea, but both of them gave me a sense of what a classroom is about and how to respond to classroom situations. It doesn’t matter whether you volunteer, work as a teaching assistant, or get to teach your own classes, finding a temporary way into a classroom is the best experience you can get to increase your job prospects and your abilities as a teacher. Consider volunteering or asking for work experience locally, or seeking a volunteer placement at any kind of school – even if you want to teach English, running a summer sports camp will help.

Read: Want to Teach English Abroad? Get Paid Teaching Jobs Abroad with OnTESOL

# 2 Public Speaking

The biggest problem many people have with teaching is standing up in front of a group of students and leading the class. It is a daunting concept at first, and very unnatural to most people, but occurs during every class of the life of an English teacher. If you can’t speak to a group of people, you can’t really teach English. Whilst this sounds very exclusive, it really isn’t a big issue once you have a tiny bit of experience with public speaking. Despite spending most of my adolescent life attempting to be invisible, I took on a role as a ski rep before teaching English in which I had to run evening entertainment, present welcome meetings, and generally be the face of the company. This role forced me to handle myself in front of groups of people and any form of public speaking will certainly be of benefit. Whether it’s a volunteer group, getting involved in debates, or just becoming more vocal in group situations, being able to speak in front of a class is very important. Despite my preparations, nothing helped my confidence as much as being in a classroom and teaching classes, so don’t be afraid to learn on the job if necessary.

#3 Take a TESOL Course

No TESOL or any other teaching qualification can fully prepare you for teaching, but they can definitely help to lay the groundwork. Whilst I started teaching without any qualifications, I later looked into various teaching certificates and found that many of them contained very useful information. Simple things such as classroom management, lesson planning, and setting homework are addressed in a simple way, allowing you to learn from experienced teachers. If you take the right TESOL / TESL course, you might also be given some contact time in the classroom, really boosting your teaching experience.

#4 Know the English language

It sounds silly, but make sure you know English as well as you can. There is no English test to become an English teacher and you often qualify simply by being a native speaker, but English is quite a complex language with lots of rules. When speaking, question the language you use and learn to research the rules. When do you use an apostrophe, when do you use bear instead of bare, and what is a gerund? You don’t need to know every rule of the English language, but you will be asked questions about it and you will feel more confident in yourself if you know the answers without having to look them up. I used to think about things I said and if I didn’t understand why things were said in a certain way, I would look them up so that I knew the rule for next time.

#5 Teaching Online

Whilst not the same as teaching face to face, teaching online is a great way to get experience of teaching without the full commitment of being in a room with someone – and you can even wear your pajama bottoms if you like! There are numerous websites that help you find online teaching work and many more that help you to find language partners. In this situation, you take turns in being the teacher – trading languages if you will. This will give you invaluable experience in both the teacher and student position.

Read: How to Teach English One-to-One

#6 Forums and Blogs

Experience teaches us many things and with the vast wealth of information available online, it would be silly not to take advantage of it. Take advantage of other people’s stories and advice, and don’t be afraid to ask silly questions. Use these methods of online communication to extract as much information from knowledgeable people as possible. Read: 6 Ways You May Be Teaching English All Wrong

# 7 Trial by Fire

Failing all else, there is no learning experience that compares to going into the classroom and attempting to teach a class. You will get better over time and you will learn to feel more comfortable. Just be willing to stick it out and give it your best shot. Despite everything I did and learned before teaching, being a teacher taught me more about being a teacher than any other role or activity.

There Is No Perfect Way!

Practicing public speaking, volunteering in schools, teaching online… there is no perfect way to gain experience for being an English teacher. But there is no wrong way either. Do as much as you can to build your confidence and job prospects, then work everything else out from there. You need to work hard and get bit a lucky to get where you’re going, but with a bit of determination, you can make it happen.

Happy teaching!

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