Traveling and teaching is generally an enjoyable experience and living in a new country can be highly rewarding. Most teachers go through various stages of culture shock at different times, but most complete their contracts without any dramas. However, some teachers have trouble communicating with their bosses (typically referred to as a School ‘Director’), and end up getting in arguments, not establishing a friendly relationship, or even leaving the school before their contract is up.
These areas of miscommunication and misunderstanding can arise in many ways, and below we will discuss some of these situations and how you can reach an agreement with your director should they occur to you.
As TEFL teachers by definition come from different countries to their superiors, there are often problems that occur due to a ‘clash of cultures’. Different cultures have different ways of expressing interest/concern for people, so some teachers can find that their co-workers want to get involved in their personal life, and this can seem like a minor invasion of privacy. While you may prefer to keep some information private, you should take any personal questions with a positive attitude. If your co-workers are asking about you, it is probably because they are interested in you and are trying to cultivate a friendly relationship. Be accommodating, but they will likely understand if you tell them you’d rather not talk about it.
Teachers generally take their job seriously. They may feel pressure from their school to raise the English level of the students or they may just wish to deliver the best lessons possible. Unfortunately, some school directors are better equipped to look at the school as a business, rather than an educational institution, and focus on student numbers and student happiness as opposed to improvement in English. This is where a compromise must be found. A teacher cannot feel satisfied presenting a lesson which is not beneficial to the students’ education, and school directors want to make money. The best thing to do is to deliver the best lesson you can within the school’s framework. Talk to your director with suggestions and although they may not take them on, you can be happy that you have done all you can, and they will be happy that you are interested in helping the business.
The other main reason teachers have problems with their directors is because the school is attempting to cheat the teacher out of pay, or withholding benefits. This is difficult to fight if you are already working at the school and the best way to avoid this is to be very careful when choosing the school you are going to work for. Make sure you ask all of the important questions in your interview, and read your contract carefully before signing. If the school is willing to offer you a contract, they should also be happy to put you in touch with some of their other teachers, so you can get the best information possible. If your contract is solid, and the company is actually doing something illegal, contact the local authorities, and if this proves ineffective, contact your embassy. The last thing a school wants is a bad reputation from teachers, so if pressured, they will most likely do the right thing.
It is important to point out that not all problems are caused by the director, and they are not evil people trying to ruin your experience. There are several things you can do to help improve your relationship with your boss and enjoy your tenure as an EFL instructor.
Take part in office parties and festivities. Many schools will have little events for special occasions and it is a good idea to get involved. You may not completely understand the customs, or may not necessarily like the food, but it is a good idea to look at all school events as fun, learning experiences.
Be open and honest to your co-workers about your feelings. They can’t help you deal with your stress if you don’t let them know what is going on. As soon as you have an issue which may affect your teaching ability, go to your director and explain the situation. Remember that you are their biggest asset and it is in their best interest to have you feeling tip top and ready to teach.
Be responsible. In a lot of cases, the school will supply you with accommodation, office supplies and all manner of essentials. You should take care of these things and do your best to uphold the trust they have out in you. Work out how long it takes you to get ready in the morning and how long it takes to get to the school and always arrive on time. Dress neatly and act professionally at work as your director relies on his/her teachers to give the school a good image.
Be willing to compromise and adapt. The main lesson to take from this article is that being an English language teacher does have its professional difficulties. One of the most valuable skills an EFL teacher can develop is to grow and adapt to the type of class they have to present. The end result of your classes should satisfy you in having students absorb some real language, satisfy your director in covering the material they want and keeping the students happy, satisfy the students in keeping them interested and engaged for the lesson. It is a balancing act that all teachers must master.
Have you had any problems with your EFL director, or do you have any tips for getting along with your co-workers? We would love to hear about them in the comments section below.