Things They Don’t Tell You Before You Start Teaching in a Foreign Country

Ok, so you’re heading to a foreign country to teach. That’s fantastic, I’m happy for you. I’m sure you’ve though a lot about what this new exciting experience is going to be like.

Working in a new environment, speaking a foreign language (to you) to teach a foreign language (to them), working with the children, and getting to know your colleges will be both exciting and frustrating.

Though I’m sure all of these thoughts and more have occurred to you, try considering the following little things that may have yet to cross your mind…

  1. You have an accent

I know, weird concept to people from the States right? While everyone is swooning over British and Australian accents we forget the idea that we have accents ourselves, but trust me, it’s true, we have accents, and boy are they thick.

So thick in fact that no matter how good your French (or other teaching language* is) your students are going to have trouble understanding you for a while. Never fear, after a bit of an adjustment period, it’ll get better. But always be prepared to repeat yourself…a lot.

  1. Girls Participation

Chances are getting girls to participate is going to be a major problem in your class room. A lot, but not all, of the girls in my two classes are very shy, and are afraid of giving wrong answers. In many cases this “shy”, and “timid” nature can be supported by the culture. Thus, boys tend to dominate the classroom.

Try to build the girls confidence by; calling on boys and girls equally, showing a positive image of girls in your lessons, and praising them often.

DON’T DISPARE.  It’ll get better over time, but it will probably take a few months.

  1. Educational Gaps

Depending on how the Education system works in your host country you could find that there are some educational related gapes with your students. These gaps could range from the students not being able to read or write in the target language, not being able to speak or understand the teaching language, or not having the pre-requisites for your class.

For example, in the Burkina Faso school system students who achieve a GPA of 10 on a 20 points scale are able to pass on to the next grade level, regardless of whether they passed all their classes or not. Thus, it is common to have students in your class who are not prepared to learn the new material because they have yet to master the old. This unpreparedness can include not being able to read or write in the language you may be teaching them even if you are teaching a higher level class, and not understanding the language that the class is being taught in aka the “teaching language”- for example, all classes in Burkina Faso are taught in French, and students are typically learning French at the same time as being taught in French.

This sort of situation is frustrating for both the student and the teacher, especially when there are large class sizes involved. With large class sizes it can be difficult for the student to get the attention he/she needs, and hard for the teacher to cater to every individual.

In this situation I’ve found that it better to try to teach to the lowest comprehension level in the class, and try to work with individual students who are lost/confused during practice activities.

  1. Education System Differences

As foreigners we have ZERO knowledge of how the educational system works in our host country. This can make it difficult for us to write a curriculum for the students because we don’t know what the students need to know in order to successful in the following school year.

I suggest talking to Peace Corps host country staff, another teacher, or the principle of your school to get an idea of how the school system works. Also, talk to a teacher at your school who has either taught your grade level before, or is teaching the grade level above you, in order to get a better idea of what the students need to learn to be successful in the future.

  1. Developmental or Learning Disabilities

In many Peace Corps host countries there are very little to no resources for students with developmental or learning disabilities, and thus they end in the same overcrowded classes rooms as their comrades.

This can make it very challenging for he/she to learn, and it can be especially hard for PC volunteers to manage because we are not given any specific training on how to handle this issue.

If you recognize that a students may be having trouble or may have a disability it is best to be patient with the student, and try to find alternative ways to deliver the information in order to be accommodating to different learning styles.

  1. Few/limited Classroom Resources

Classrooms in the States have access to some of the post amazing technology. For example, Internet, projectors, computers…lights….electricity. This can make it a little difficult to plan lessons, and has a huge impact on how you handle the material.

Though my school is lucky enough to have a printer that runs off a gas powered motor, the school does not have electricity. That means no turning on the lights in the classroom to cut down on early morning darkness or the midday glare on the chalk board, and no projecting images or text on the wall. It’s just me, the chalk board, and my chalk.

If this happens to be the case at your school, it puts a lot of pressure on you to find creative ways to make the class more interesting. For example, by teaching the students games or songs. This is another reason that bringing an Iphone to your country of service is a good idea because you can use it to play music in class (for English teachers) in order to show students a real life English usage.

Education around the world is different, and it’s going to take some effort to adjust to the new environment. However, with time you will find teaching techniques that will work for you, and more importantly, the kids. 

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3 Replies to “Things They Don’t Tell You Before You Start Teaching in a Foreign Country”

  1. Good points to remember. Depending on where you go of course, I think the most important thing to remember is that this new country has it’s own rules and regulations that work for them, and even if they are not the same as your country and seem incomprehensible, you have to learn to understand them from their point of view, and then you will feel more comfortable.

    1. Very true! I think one of the hardest parts is getting to know the system because it’s going to be quite different from what you are used to. Once you know the system you can adjust, and make sure what you are doing follows the format, and rules the students are used to.

      It’ll also keep you from feeling like you are sticking out like a sore thumb because you don’t understand what’s happening, or why things are done a certain way, in your new school.

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