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What are the challenges of being an ESL teacher?

I am currently studying education and one of my certification tracks is ESL. I am highly interested in being an ESL teacher, especially because I am an international student and also had the experience of being an English Learner. However, my fear is my performance as a teacher in the future because, although I am proficient, English is not my first language.

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Alison’s Answer

Hi Paulina Vanessa,

Good for you! We need as many good, passionate teachers in this world as we can get! I’ve been in the ESL world at an international school for about 4 years now, and really enjoy it. A lot will vary based on the age of the students you teach and the type of program you teach in (How often will you see your students? Is it formal instruction or conversational practice or test prep? How long is each class session and how many sessions will you have with each class? Etc.) but there are three areas I typically see teachers struggle with.

1) Classroom management.
As a teacher, you’ll have to be able to draw your students in and make your lessons interesting for them while making sure you are very aware of what’s happening in all parts of the classroom at all times. Hopefully, no one is talking out of turn or misbehaving in some other way. A lot of teachers get stuck at the front of the class near the board. Don’t fall into that trap. Monitor your students. Just your proximity to them will help to control a lot of issues and keep them focused.

2) Engage and apply.
Many teacher focus their lessons around themselves. It’s easy to understand why you would do that; you’re the one teaching the class! But, you probably know from being a student that it’s not always so exciting to sit through lesson after lesson of the teacher talking at you. For language learners, using the language is hugely important! Teachers have to find ways to guide their students towards realizing the right way to use their English, and make sure the students are applying what they’ve learned to their listening, reading, and especially writing and speaking. Have you learned about student-centered methodology in your teaching courses yet? You’ll use that a lot.

3) Know your stuff but stay human.
Yes, you have to know English well to teach English well. But, if you’re getting your degree at an English speaking university right now, you probably already do! Have some confidence! If you’re worried and want to prove it to yourself, there are free English tests online like EFSET.org that will give you a quick check of your own English level or you could opt for a more formal and comprehensive exam like the TOEFL or IELTS. But, think of it this way: you have been an ESL student, you have studied how to be an ESL teacher, and therefore you are probably more experienced than a lot of other ESL teachers. You probably know your stuff already. It will take some time and practice in actual classrooms with actual students before you become the perfect teacher, but if you keep your eyes open and reflect on how your classes go then you’ll be able to improve more quickly. However, if a student does ask you that dreaded grammar question (or pronunciation, or whatever) that you can’t answer on the spot, it’s okay to say “you know what, I want to make sure I answer your question perfectly, so I’m going to double check a couple things and let you know the answer during tomorrow’s class”. Following through on that will earn you a lot of respect with students.

Best wishes to you as you finish your degree! Getting into a classroom and teaching for the first time can be nerve wracking, but it’s all worth it when you see your students improving!

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Yuka’s Answer

Hi Paulina,

Thank you very much for your question! Same with you, I am not a native speaker myself but interested in teaching English as a second language. Many online teaching platforms, such as Vipkids and Magic Ears, are looking for passionate individuals who are willing to teach English to ESL students. I recommend that you try and fill out the applications. If you have experience in teaching ESL or hold a TESOL certificate, that is even more fantastic! It will significantly boost your chances of being hired as an ESL teacher.

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Jane’s Answer

Do you like the English language or do you feel intimidated by it? If you like English and enjoy the challenge of learning it, you would do well as an ESL teacher.

The challenges of being an ESL teacher are similar to challenges any teacher faces. Alison's answer is very good on that score. Don't let fear of future performance keep you from pursuing that interest. One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it. Your English proficiency will improve as you teach it.

There are many opportunities in this country to teach English to second language learners. Texas has many immigrants that need basic language skills. So does California.

My career began with the children of Migrant Farm Workers in Oregon. They needed basic English skills. When I came to Los Angeles to study, I had no idea there would be so many children in the city, as well, that need basic English skills.

While I was doing my student teaching, one of my master teachers invited me to observe him as he taught an adult ESL class at night. Then, when I finally finished my degree and began teaching, I got a job in a neighborhood where at least a third of the people spoke another language and their children needed basic English.

I have always loved teaching ESL. So, I may have forgotten some of the challenges. Watching others do it may be a good place to start.
Best wishes!

Jane recommends the following next steps:

Check out the local middle schools in the city where you live and/or go to school. See if they have ESL classes. Ask if you could sit in on one. Tell them of your interest in teaching ESL.
Check out online ESL sites. At one time I worked with a website that helped you find tutoring opportunities. Many were asking for help with English.
See if your college or university could help you find opportunities to observe ESL teaching. My college required us to be out in the teaching field twice a week observing and keeping a journal.

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Barbara’s Answer

Hi Vanessa,
I am an American, and I lived in Japan for 5 years and taught English there. I did not have an ESL degree, but I learned to teach English (and also learned Japanese) while I lived there.
If you have curiosity and a desire to do this, go for it! In any field, no one knows everything about the field when they enter it. You will most likely learn as you teach English what more you need to learn and improve upon. Also, practicing English in all types to situations helps to learn it.
Teaching is different than learning the language, and different than native folks talking daily in the culture, etc. Because you have gone through the process of learning English, you would probably be in a much better position to support students leaning English, than some native speakers.
Where would you like to teach? What age group(s)? What background would you prefer your students to come from? Would you like to teach in Mexico or abroad?
It seems like with your background in Education as well as your high interest in being an ESL teacher, you'd be a wonderful and fun teacher!
Barbara

Thanks for your reply! I find it very helpful to hear from other's experiences. As of this moment, I am very open-minded about my professional plans, but I would love to teach in the Middle School grades. I would love to teach English in Mexico, but I might also consider teaching abroad someday. Paulina Vanessa B.

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David’s Answer

Hi, Paulina! It's great to hear that you are wanting to teach ESL! That is a wonderful thing to do, and it helps so many people who are struggling to learn English. Years ago, I graduated from the ESL Certification Course at Duke University in Durham, NC. During my studies there, I taught ESL to adult intermediate students at Durham Literacy Center for one year, and I really loved it! I also started an adult English conversation class. I remember when I first started--I was a bit nervous to be the sole teacher! I had students from so many different countries and backgrounds, which I found so fascinating and rewarding! Just be yourself and let your love of teaching English guide you. There will be so many students who are starting from a much more beginning level and will appreciate your help. It doesn't matter at all that English was not your native language. Please do not give this a second thought! You will find that students are so incredibly grateful for the help and inspiration you will give them in learning a difficult language. Please keep us posted on your progress, and please post any other questions or concerns that arise along the way. [By the way, I used to live in Houston!]

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