paisley from drone

For the last decade, I have slowly but surely built up my CV (or resume, as it is more commonly known in North America). During that time, I have had the distinct pleasure of living and working in 8 different countries across three disparate continents, and accumulated a wealth of knowledge and expertise in the field of teaching English as a foreign language.

Unfortunately for me, I did without the aid of any online guides or resources. I, in fact, you could say I operated off of a pretty blank canvas. Fortunately for you, I am here and ready to share what I have learned with you, in order to help you get on the fast track to being either an online English teacher, an English teacher traveling abroad, or as in my case, a bit of both!

 

1  – The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step

The fact is, I was pretty naive when I first started, back in 2011. I guess I assumed that everybody in the world could either speak English or wanted to, and in the first few months at least, had a really tough transition in explaining some of the finer points of English grammar and vocabulary. However, even the act of taking that initial foray into the world of teaching English proved invaluable and there are free tools and services when  you teach English.

As I was working in a Slovakian national park office, I was teaching adults, and believe me when I tell you that their questions were as diverse and interesting as any I have faced from kids (at least from a linguistic point of view). The reality is that no student expects you to have all the answers (a lesson it took me a while to learn), but they appreciate your efforts to help them get closer to an answer.

For instance, I was once asked the difference between using verbs with “-ing” and using verbs with the preposition “to” in front of it. Without getting too technical here, I stumbled across a genuine learning moment for myself, in that English alternates between usages of the gerund and infinitive. Normally, this is the kind of nuance that native speakers use but do not know they are using, as I found when I recently visited the delightful town of Paisley, in Scotland. (More information on this splendid place and visitor attraction can be found here).

As I delved deeper into my own research, I discovered so many more examples of features we native speakers utilise that are intriguing to learners, so I made it my mission to collect them, and add them to my overall knowledge bank. Whether teaching online or in person, having that information at my disposal has made it much easier to provide the data that my students need in an instant. Again, taking that initial movement towards acquiring these facts is the most important thing.

 

2  –  Be open to new experiences

Over the years, I have lost count of the amount of opportunities that I have been fortunate enough to have been invited to take part in. Whether it is playing in a beach soccer tournament in Qatar (reaching the quarter finals, no less), or invited to the 150th anniversary of a small town winery in Slovenia, the chances for new and exciting possibilities are almost limitless!

Even in the new world of technology, these doors are opened in a way that few could have imagined even a generation ago. In fact, I have learned more about global culture and customs through real conversations with my students (online or face-to-face) than I ever thought possible.

In person, being an English teacher abroad is often to play the role of an ambassador for the nation you are from, as a kind of walking and talking advertisement for that country for those you are teaching. The students you interact with may never have met an individual from that part of the world before, so it might take a little getting used to for them.

Even in Quebec, where I taught for a year, I encountered a whole host of students who had never come face to face with a British person before, or even a “real” British accent! Many of them were fascinated at the subtle differences in pronunciation and slang that exist between the differing strands of English, and I was proud to showcase a tiny slither of my traditions and customs to them.

 

3  –  The road to success is never as we imagined it at the start

Even if I had planned a road map for where I would be right now, I could never have imagined that it would have led me here. That is not to say that I regret a moment of my career path, because I do not, but rather that by traveling down the road less traveled, I have had the good fortune to gain skills and abilities that I did not expect to have at this point in my life. 

In Spain, for instance, I got to help coach a junior soccer team to the regional finals, and assist in weekly swimming meets alongside the head coach. I also co-led a week-long ski trip to the southern edge of the Pyrenees, as well as donning a beekeeping costume to get up close and personal with a large swarm, and see the honeycombs they produced.

What do all these have in common? First of all, my professional career has taken weird and wonderful turns, and enabled me to have the confidence to flourish in whatever life throws at me (especially useful now I have a young daughter!).

Secondly, it has enabled me to take the perspective of going with the flow, approaching each new obstacle with a calmer and more rational mindset. Last but by no means least, it also allowed me to meet my now wife, and share so much of this journey with her.

Even teaching online has led to many of my students referring me to their friends and family, and keeping the unpredictable wheels of my life turning!