Crapping the Bed (Your First Class)

So you’ve got a new class and you, a budding new teacher, show up hours early and painstakingly prepare a kickass lesson chock full of fun activities. You’re scared you don’t have enough to do, so you plan things down to the minute just to make sure every last moment is accounted for. You’re nervous, palms are sweaty, vomit on your shirt already (mom’s spaghetti), but your well-designed lesson plan is your road-map to see you through so you don’t get lost in the weeds.

You walk into class and find two dozen faces staring at you. 48 eyes watching your every movement. You say hello. One returns the greeting while the others just sit there impassively. They’re nervous too, but you don’t know that yet and it doesn’t seem to matter because now you’re starting to panic since their silence would seem to indicate that they must be judging you. Somewhere deep in the recesses of your mind, a seed of doubt sprouts.

You make your way to the teacher’s desk to drop your bag and get things ready. You take out a book, put it back, take it back out again. You shuffle a few papers, pretending to look through them. You fumble a marker because you’re clumsy when you’re nervous. [New teachers ALWAYS drop something.] This teacher’s desk is your safe space, your island in rough, uncharted seas. And now you’re just killing time so you don’t have to leave it. But leave it you must.

You walk over and take your place at the front of class.

“Hello, my name’s Todd (of course that’s your name). How are you guys today?”

You’re answered with silence. You swallow a pit of fear and feel cold beads of sweat forming on your brow. You decide to single a student out in the front row.

“Hi. How are you today?”

Front row student stares at you wide-eyed, then turns to another student nervously with a look that seems to say ‘what the fuck is this guy on about?’ He smiles awkwardly but never replies. Screw it, you think. Let’s do an activity.

“Ok, guys. I’d like to get to know you a bit better so let’s go around the room and introduce ourselves. Can you maybe tell me your name, age and what you like doing in your free time?”

Silence.

“Okay?”

Now heads are turning, looking for someone to break this thick gauze of what-the-hell-is-happening.

“Can we start with you?” you ask, indicating a woman in a green shirt. Green shirt lady’s eyebrows perk up in perfect arches of incomprehension and no-fucking-way. “Come on, guys. Someone. Anyone. Bueller?” Of course they’ve never seen the film and your stupid joke falls flat but you laugh anyway to hide your growing exasperation. Your emotions fluctuate between humiliation and annoyance. Growing desperation looms over your thoughts.

What the hell is wrong with you guys. Say something.

But your students look like this:

deer in headlights

And you do too, you just can’t see it. But you feel it. Your exasperation nurtures that seed of doubt in your mind, and though you’re only minutes into what was supposed to have been a brilliant lesson, that doubt begins growing and pokes through the soil as conscious thought: what in God’s name was I thinking? 

Yes, this is what it feels like to crap the bed. The bad news is that you can’t uncrap it. Your students have already seen quite clearly that you have no idea what you’re doing. The good news is that you’re not alone. Nobody’s first class comes without a certain amount of incontinence, so you don’t need to go home and slit your wrists. The key thing is to roll with it. Handle yourself with a sense of humor and a modicum of poise and your class will forgive you. Lose your cool and all bets are off.

More importantly, recognize that this is a moment of truth. Lesser teachers (and there are no shortage of them) will mosey into the teacher’s room nagging about how horrible their students are, how they can’t do anything. Well of course they can’t, you naggots (not actually a word, but you get it), that’s why they’re in a classroom.

The best among you will look at this moment as an opportunity for self-reflection. What happened? What did I do wrong? How can I improve? If these are your thoughts, then first thank your parents for raising a well-adjusted human being. There aren’t enough of them or you in this world. Second, go home and cringe as you relive your failure over and over again, wondering what happened. Maybe have a long, cliched stare in the mirror.

So what did go wrong? That’s the easy part. Without having seen you teach I can tell you exactly what happened. How could I possibly know that? Because every single teacher makes the same mistake. I did. We all did. Remember, nobody craps the bed alone.

It starts the moment we open our mouths.

 

 

The Classroom

Congratulations. Somebody actually hired you. You’re well on your way to becoming an actual human being rather than just some basement-dwelling, parasitic slob living off your parents. I didn’t think you had it in you.

Perhaps you’re already in country. Have you seen your school yet? Toured the facilities? Been in a classroom? The equipment and facilities in the TEFL world are so varied that a (boring) book could be written about all the configurations. Suffice it to say that while you can change your lesson and activities, it’s much harder to change the equipment you’re given. You can only work with what you’re given and what works in one classroom may not work in another.

Blackboard or Whiteboard?

Why anyone would use a blackboard when there’s such a thing as a whiteboard boggles my mind. There’s literally nothing you can do on a blackboard which you can’t do on a white except perhaps break your writing utensil and leave cocaine-like piles of dust scattered around the area. Whiteboards aren’t only cleaner, they’re also decent media for your projector, so if you’re working off interactive software, you can use a market to write answers, highlight, underline, circle…basically everything you’ll want to do in the program.

How big is the room? How many desks?

The games and activities you plan are constrained by class and classroom size. Do you want a mingle activity? A board race? What if there’s physically no room? Can you move desks outside the classroom? Do you have enough space to move desks for pair and group work? You’ll need to see your facilities before planning a lesson.

thai-school-class

Google images says the above image is a Thai classroom but I suspect it might be Burmese due to the shit (thanaka — a sandlewood paste) on their faces. Regardless, the above classroom isn’t atypical for the region. If you find yourself with such a setup, first slap yourself in the face for signing up for that, then quit your job and head to a real school. I jest, but in all seriousness, many teachers make such classrooms work. Just know that all the fun and games you’ll want to play are limited by the physical space.

modern classroom

That’s more like it. In the classroom above you’re limited only by your imagination. Need small groups, pair work, or maybe you need the floor wide open? No problem, just move the desks into whatever configuration suits the purpose. The flexibility afforded by the facilities here gives you far more latitude and creativity in terms of lesson planning. The room probably even has air-con so you needn’t worry about sweating through your shirt and bogging out the class with your rancid onion body odor.

The point (which I’m belaboring so even you can grasp it) is that form (facilities) dictates content (activities). So do yourself a favor and make sure you know what you’re (literally) walking into.

Where should I go?

Maybe you’re in the grips of a debilitating depression (I would be too if I were a young Millenial with no path forward).  Maybe you hate your wife and job and have finally decided to take a pro-active role in your mid-life crisis. Or maybe you just want to see the world. Whatever your situation, you’re finally ready to take the plunge and go abroad. The question, of course, is where to go.

The good news is that most countries don’t speak English. Close your eyes and spin the globe and you’ll probably land on a country where you can teach. Hell, you can even teach English in your home country to immigrants and refugees, though as of early 2018 the immigrant market in America is decidedly precarious, especially for those from executively-described shithole countries. Far better is it just to go to the shithole directly. That’s really what this is about, anyway — seeing the world.

Some people choose their country based on lifestyle. Love the Latin languages and lifestyle? You have almost the entirety of South America at your disposal. Want to live like Hemingway in the 20s? Head to Europe for a bohemian lifestyle. Want to give something back to the world? Go to Africa and volunteer.

Or maybe you’re in it for the money. No shame in that. Most are. If so, you’ll probably want to start in Asia. Thing thing about Asia is that there are lots of Asians. I mean, lots. The market is is vast and varied, almost overwhelmingly so. And most Asian cultures place a premium on education. Your typical East Asian, Confucian-influenced families would give up food for education if that were the only available option (only a small hyperbole). Think Korea (the sane one), China, Japan and Vietnam.

There’s also Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia which rank high on popularity but just under the above countries in terms of salary. Thailand in particular is a sought-after destination, offering world-class food on the cheap and no shortage of ridiculously beautiful islands for travel. Of course, the popularity of these countries means schools can offer lower salaries and benefits since there’s always a well-stocked pool of teachers willing to make a pittance for the lifestyle.

So what can you expect to make? And what benefits? It really is location dependent and how good you are at sussing out the right school/situation.

In Thailand, for example, you can expect to start out at between $1000-1,500 a month with the school offering accommodation whereas it wouldn’t be difficult in Korea to find work for double that. Again, much of it is how much research you do and how well you sell yourself. Join expat groups on Facebook, email schools, find teachers working at those schools and email them. No school should shy away from referring one of their teachers to you as a contact.

It’s increasingly common to hire teachers directly from the home country. There’s an interview done via Skype or Facetime, then an offer (or not, if you’re the awkward loser I think you are). This might be the best way for someone who doesn’t feel comfortable just turning up and going job hunting. Often these schools can help arrange visas and work permits before you come which makes things (relatively) hassle free.

The Mecca of ESL, however, is in the Middle East. From Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates, the highest-paying jobs can be found (not coincidentally) where oil is found. The living and teaching environments can vary widely, whether it’s living on a compound in Riyadh or a luxury apartment in Dubai. These jobs tend to go to the highest qualified and most-experienced ESL teachers, those who have done the job so long they’ve had no choice but to make a career out of it. Most of these jobs are salary-based with paid accommodation and flights home, the drawback being of course that you have to live in the Middle East.

In all these locations, you’ll find every type of teacher. From those with no direction (like you), to career teachers to overweight sexpats only working enough to pay for the next round of drinks and bar fines. Some teachers are all three of these at various points, transmogrifying, progressing or regressing, a fascinating spectacle of evolution or devolution that never ceases to amaze, and it is this that’s the hook, the selling point, the drug that keeps teachers chasing the dragon — living abroad is never boring (even though you probably are).

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, though few, there are still pitfalls to be avoided. The flip-side of the spectacle and novelty of moving to another country is that there are people looking to capitalize on the naive and thick-skulled (i.e. you). It’s just a matter of knowing what to look for.

What you’ll need.

I’ll spare you any further abuse (who am I kidding, no I won’t) which you deserve for choosing a useless major. The good news is that (somewhat ironically I think) your degree isn’t as useless as you think. The schools you’ll want to teach at require at least some proof that you’re not a total ignoramus. And while a degree is certainly no proof of that (I have one, after all) it’s good enough for them.

It should be mentioned that it’s entirely possible to teach without a Bachelor degree. Some schools are willing to accept whatever talking head they can find, so long as that head is talking in English. But we can do better than middling pay at a disreputable school. You’re a talking head with a degree after all, right? In addition, many countries now make work permits for expats conditional upon having that piece of paper, as if studying poli-sci somehow made you worthy of a job. I won’t tell them if you won’t.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it’s often easier to find work if one has Anglo Saxon-toned skin. Many places have misguided notions of what a ‘Western’ person is and their association of whiteness with English would be nothing other than racist if it weren’t mostly borne of naivety. And while you can rightfully rage against the unfairness of this, it exists nonetheless. However, despite all this, and with the caveat that this is only personal experience talking, the world is changing. In the past decade, I have seen schools in several Southeast Asian countries go from a whitewash to hiring every hue of the skin tone rainbow. Yay for diversity.

While I’m talking of work permits, let me add that you’ll want to collect all the required documents before you leave because once you’re in country, sending something to or from your home country becomes a serious pain in the ass. How do you know what documents are necessary? Check the laws for whatever country is stupid enough to let you in.

Typically required are:

A police check, both state and federal (for US citizens). Ahh, a trip down memory lane. 2 underage consumptions, one charge of identity fraud (fake ID required to buy the alcohol for the previous 2 offenses), disorderly conduct (alcohol is a hell of a drug) and a slew of (mostly sober) traffic violations. You should be alright, dear reader. We both know you’re too boring to have a rap sheet.

University transcripts: besides written proof that you studied bullshit, many schools also want to see how well (or not) you managed said bullshit. I’m sure they’ll be floored by the A you got in ‘Cultural Studies’.

A teaching certificate. Don’t shit your pants, it’s not what you think. As crazy as it sounds, reputable schools will want you to have at least a modicum of training. There are many programs out there, some of which can be done either in your home country or destination, or even better yet, online. Google TEFL or CELTA and you’re on your way. They’re cheap and easy enough for your broke and dumb ass.

Your documents will typically need to be notarized and/or translated, so check the laws of wherever it is you want to go. Make sure you get as much of it done as possible before you depart.

Depending on your destination you may want a battery of vaccinations, more to assuage your mom’s worries than anything else. Unless you’re riding trannies bareback in some Bangkok parlor, you shouldn’t have to worry about anything more than your mundane cold or flu. Mosquito borne illnesses are rare and the prophylactics are often worse than the actual disease. The ones for malaria in particular are infamous for their bizarre side effect of making people mental. Google it if you don’t believe me.

There are typically Facebook groups for expats living in your destination, so check with them for any hard-to-come-by creature comforts. Many of the things you take for granted might not be available overseas. Like Funyuns. What the fuck…

Last, don’t forget your childhood teddy or blankey or whatever you hug at night to make you feel safe without mom around. Homesickness is inevitable and while FaceTime can certainly help, there’s nothing quite like a tangible piece of home (unless of course the only real thing you have are scars from your stepdad’s beatings).

Finally, though it goes without saying, I feel compelled to say it because it’s your dumbass I’m dealing with — don’t forget the most important, unAmerican thing you can’t do without: a passport. The only question is, where should you go.

Your miserable little life.

So you’ve just finished college with a useless degree, no clear future, and a shitload of burdensome debt that will hang around your neck like an albatross for the next decade of your pitiful existence. Welcome to the world, dear Millenial. You should’ve studied something useful, like a trade or medicine. But no, instead you majored in philosophy or art history or something equally bullshit. What the fuck were you thinking? Well, fear not, young man or woman or whatever gender you weirdos identify as. All is not lost. In fact, consider this the next chapter of your life. A new beginning.  A fresh start. The world is your oyster and all that clichéd tripe . But no, really, it is. All you have to do is open it. ‘Opening Oysters’ — strong band name potential.

The first thing you need to do is pay off debt. You probably have a credit card or ten because companies prey on stupid college students like you who don’t know any better, who don’t know that that shit will haunt you for the rest of your life if you fuck it up. And you’re reading this because you fucked it up. Well done. So, student loans, credit cards…at least be grateful no bank would have been stupid enough loan you anything else. Were they?

Here’s what you’re going to do. Unless you’re totally broke , you shouldn’t need to defer your student loan payments. If you are one hundred percent, flat-on-your-ass broke, go out there and sell it. Your ass, I mean. Yes, sell it. You deserve it for being so fucking stupid. At least it’ll get your debts paid off. But maybe you’re too ugly to do even that. Maybe no one would touch your ass with a thirty nine and a half foot pole. I know I wouldn’t. Well guess what, dear Millenial. All is not lost. In fact, you can do something far more productive and rewarding and enlightening and thrilling and profitable than getting your ass pounded in the backseat of a Toyota Corolla for a measly fifty dollars. (If you can get a hundred, though…)

What you’re really going to do is…

Wait for it…

Drum roll…

Keep scrolling …

Teach English abroad. Boom. There it is. You’re going to hightail it out of that shithole you call home and make your way to another shithole. But don’t worry, the new shithole will be far more interesting with better food and nicer people that don’t care if you’re black or white or gay or straight or fat or thin. Can you speak English? There you go. That’s what they care about. That’s your ticket to not just financial stability, but broadened horizons and a cultural awareness that, let’s face it, you weren’t going to get by staying in that shithole you call home.

But I know you, dear Millenial. Can’t do anything by yourself. You’re probably still living with your parents, convincing yourself you’re not a loser for doing so, that it’s the Boomers who’ve fucked up the whole world for you and now you’re just living in it. Well, that might be, so guess what I’ll do? I’ll show you the way. I’ll hold your precious little hand as you find your way overseas to educate various shades of brown people who speak in strange tongues. It’s easier than it sounds and more rewarding than anything you’ve done in your miserable little life.  What I’m going to do, what this whole blog will be devoted to, is making sure you don’t suck at teaching English.

You’re welcome.

Now let’s look at what you’ll need.