How to Prepare: Getting Ready to Teach Abroad

How to prepare: Getting Ready to Teach Abroad

Throughout the years, many people have asked me, “How am I supposed to teach children or adults English if I have never taught before?” That is a valid question and one I asked myself many years ago.

If you find yourself asking the same question, you are by no means alone. The vast majority of people who move to Japan or Korea to teach have never taught before coming abroad. Most people you will meet once you get to Seoul or Osaka are not teachers in their native country and have probably recently graduated from university or worked in a non-teaching related profession. When you think to yourself, “How am I going to manage a class or execute a decent lesson with no experience?” you are not alone.

There are many things you can do at home to prepare yourself to an extent, but to be honest, the best way to learn how to teach is to teach. Nothing prepares you for the rigors of a classroom like teaching itself. There are places you can go to get some experience and many books you can read to help you as well. There are also the almost limitless amounts of online resources including blogs, how to websites, video blogs and classroom footage.


Getting classroom experience before you leave home

It is possible to get some experience in a classroom setting before you leave for Korea of Japan. If you are currently enrolled in university, maybe you are a senior; you can try to find some volunteer opportunities on campus. Many larger universities will have an international student center or possibly an ESL center for foreign students. Sometimes you may be able to find a volunteer position at one of these places. Teaching foreign students ESL whether one-on-one or in small groups could be some great experience for you and good chance to “get your feet wet.”

You might even consider offering your services as a free English tutor. You could make a sign and post it on a bulletin board in the international students center on campus. Many exchange students at your school may enjoy the opportunity to meet and spend time with a native English speaker free of charge. Again, great experience for you as well.

Even if you are not a university student, there are still options to get some teaching experience. You might be able to visit a local school and see if they are seeking volunteers. If you would like to volunteer at a local school there is probably a good chance that you will need to get a criminal background check first before you can volunteer.

Depending on where you live, you could help out with a local Cub Scout or Boy Scout troop. If you are a woman, Brownies and Girl Guides might give you experience with children. Coaching sports is always a positive thing and can give you some confidence and experience with behavior management. Volunteering is wonderful in so many ways. Not only will it give you skills to deal with children, but also it can make your resume look even better to future employers.

The writer teaching an adult ESL class in Seoul in the early 2000’s. 


Books to you prepare for Japan and Korea

As far as books on teaching ESL goes, there are many. Some are good and others are not so useful. It can be very difficult to wade through the material and decide which one may be useful for you when you know nothing about the topic.

I would suggest going to your local bookstore or library and starting there. If you live in a large city, there is probably an ESL section in most major bookstores. Take some time and leaf through several books. Get a cup of coffee and settle in for a long comfortable “research” journey through the shelves. Take a seat and look through what they may have to offer. Don’t limit yourself to one trip, go back several times if need be and if something jumps out at you, pick it up.

If your local library is large, they may also have some books about teaching. If not, speak to one of the librarians about what you are looking for and they may be able to order something for you from another branch.



Should I get a teaching degree?

This is a question I am often asked by people who are interested in pursuing work as an ESL teacher abroad. Would a teaching degree be useful? Of course it would be a benefit to have one, but it isn’t a necessity.

There are definite benefits to having a teaching degree before you come to Korea or Japan. The experience and theoretical teaching knowledge will certainly prepare you for dealing with students in another country. Even if you come to Asia immediately after graduating from a teacher education program, you still have your practical teaching experience while in your program.

With a teaching degree on your resume, you are more appealing to schools in Korea and Japan and would stand out from the majority of applicants. You also have the chance to apply to international schools in both countries, though most of those expect you to have a few years of teaching experience within your native country.

In my many years teaching abroad though, I have met very few certified teachers working here. I came to Korea with only a Bachelor of Arts degree and taught for five years before going back to university and getting my teaching degree.

Even without a teaching certification, if you have a good resume and do well on the interviews, you will probably find employment. Like I did so many years ago, you will probably have to learn how to be a teacher on the job as you go. That of course isn’t the ideal way of doing it, but it is the reality the majority of ESL teachers find themselves in.



I wrote this several years ago (2011). It was originally part of a self-published eBook called Teaching in Asia: Tales and the Real Deal. I plan to share segments of this book here on Just Japan Stuff. Hopefully some of you will find the information useful. 


The writer:

Kevin O’Shea is the host of the Just Japan Podcast. He is also the guy behind JustJapanStuff. Kevin is a Canadian educator who lives in Kobe, Japan with his family.

Follow him on Twitter: @jlandkev



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