Celebrating World Teacher’s Day: 9 Reasons Why International Teachers Are Our Heroes

by Megan Lee

Teaching abroad is no easy feat, and to celebrate World Teachers Day, we’d like to singularly honor those educators who pack up and move away from home to teach English abroad. These are more than just ordinary teachers, and it’s high-time we praise them!

Supporting bilingualism is more than the simple memorization of words and phrases (and awkward grammar exceptions, thanks English). Bilingualism can open up new job opportunities and help students navigate the world. It allows students to have greater access to information. English fluency can even contribute to economic improvements for society as a whole. AND it can help students make more friends (who doesn’t like friends?), considering some 850 million people on the planet speak English.

Teachers working abroad, we love you. And here’s why:

1. ESL Teachers RULE at multitasking. While teachers in general can multitask like bosses, international teachers take multitasking to a new level. Not only do they juggle grading papers and other normal teacherly duties, they can also maintain Skype dates across multiple-time zones, dodge food poisoning, and tip toe around cultural faux pas like pro’s (i.e. don’t give a clock as a present, don’t touch anyone on the head, don’t point your feet, don’t give a thumbs up, just… don’t!).

2. On paper they teach English, but it’s so much more than that. Teaching is actually about 20 professions rolled into one (counselor, manager, artist, disciplinarian, etc.), but those teachers who choose to teach abroad must also tack on cultural ambassador and responsible travel champion. For some students, their English teacher is the only foreigner or westerner they have ever interacted with in their entire life (whoa!). International educators, therefore, also teach their students about values outside of their assigned subject matter, like how to disregard offensive and unnecessary stereotypes, how to be sensitive to other cultures, and how not to be a meanie.

3. International teachers work with some tough critics. It’s hard enough when your students don’t get all of your (admittedly bad) jokes in English. BUT! It’s a lot tougher when you work with a crowd that speaks English as a second language, who only laugh at you when you trip, repeatedly drop your pencil (dang butterfingers!), or fail at trying to speak their native language. A year teaching abroad with no audible recognition of your wit and esprit? Ouch!

4. Teachers have patience that can move mountains, and not just with their students. Yes, it is tough to forbear cantankerous kids all day. But ESL and TEFL teachers living abroad must keep some reserves of patience for themselves too. Adjusting to an entirely foreign country and education system, oftentimes living abroad for the very first time, and battling homesickness make for strained lives outside the classroom. Teaching abroad is, of course, rewarding overall, but not without considerable self-love and patience.

5. ESL teachers smuggle extra books, flashcards, materials, and stickers in their luggage. Don’t act like you’ve never stocked up at your favorite school supply store in preparation for your teaching job abroad! International teachers spend their own hard-earned money on rewards and other complementary items for their students’ activities and their lesson plans, which do take up valuable real-estate in their already limited suitcase space. Are these folks saints or WHAT?

6. International English teachers can beast relationships with helicopter parents in entirely different cultural contexts and languages. Parental coddling is more pronounced in some cultures than in others, but parents wanting the best for their children is a universal tendency. Oftentimes, there are layers of complexity added to the standard parent-teacher-student relationship when teaching English abroad, because learning English can a considerable financial investment for parents. Trying to explain to parents, in simple English, that their child is failing your course is tricky. Imagine saying, “Ibrahim. Bad.” Yikes!

7. ESL teachers are improvisational wizards! Almost all teachers can whip out a new lesson plan on a moment’s notice, and pull it off without blinking twice. But couple this with the ability to engage a foreign student body with unfamiliar academic expectations (a.k.a. your go-to classroom games are usually a flop) and you’ve got yourself a super human educator!

8. The fruits of their labor are rarely harvested. Due to the relatively short-term stints that teaching abroad posts tend to be, ESL/EFL teachers are even less likely to see the results of their hard work. And yet, they are still motivated to stay innovative and make lessons engaging and effective. They still invest substantial time and energy into their relationships with students. They still come to work with a smile.

9. International teachers rock (especially hard), because they are the ones who teach, motivate, inspire, and challenge future world leaders, presidents, actors, doctors, lawyers, foreign service officers, UNESCO peace ambassadors, chief economists, translators, journalists, and, most importantly: foster global change agents.

If you are considering finding a teaching job abroad, get ready for a work (and life) experience unlike any you’ve had before.

The joy and satisfaction of working with international students is immeasurable (especially when you see their English-speaking-lightbulbs *click!*). Don’t be surprised if you find yourself signing up for a second year-long contract! 

Even when the day comes that you do finally pack up your bags to move back home, your international teaching experience will always stay with you. You’ll remember the Chinese student who chose to name himself “Eleven” in English. You’ll remember the excited phone call you got when your Colombian adult learner got the job she was dreaming of. You’ll remember when your four year old student kept saying “it’s sunny day,” and it was so cute you had a hard time correcting him. You’ll remember the shared laughter as both you and your students (and their parents) stumbled through miscommunications.

In essence, teaching abroad helped you (or will help you) become better. A better teacher, a better student. A better worker. A better world citizen. A better human. 

And guess what? We love you for it.