The One Quality All Successful ESL Teachers Have in Common

by Jennifer Bangoura

When someone decides to teach abroad, they are likely looking for a few things. Adventure. Challenge. Excitement. An opportunity to expand their understanding of the world while putting their teaching experience to good use. If you’re a first-time teacher abroad, you’re probably wondering what to expect on this adventure and how you will react to your new life and surroundings. If you’ve already taught English abroad, then you have a good understanding of what it takes to thrive as a teacher in a foreign setting.

Teacher and her pupil

Wherever you end up (or already are!), the one quality all successful teachers abroad have in common is patience. Whether you’re managing a classroom of unruly students or developing lesson plans that push the limits of those you are teaching, patience allows teachers abroad to excel at their job while also enjoying their milieu.

Check out some of the ways below that patience manifests in teachers and share your suggestions for other ways teachers thrive abroad in the comments section below!

1. Makes You Sensitive to Your Learners’ Needs

As a teacher you are often the light of many children’s eyes and are used to responding to their near-constant demands. Whether you’re teaching English in Spain or have found a teaching job Kenya, that craving for your attention will be universal.

Something else that is universal in its uniqueness are the students you’ll be teaching. It will take a lot of patience to get to know your classroom and to understand the needs of your students. This can’t be done overnight. To succeed at teaching abroad, you will need to see what your students are responding to and when your approach isn’t reaching them effectively. All of that effort and awareness takes a lot of patience and the end results – satisfied, educated students and a feeling of triumph – make it well worth it.

You will have to take a step back and adapt to your surroundings to ensure your teaching techniques are in line with the context you find yourself while still pushing the boundaries of learning.

Children eating meals in a school in India

2. Makes You Willing to Put in the Time and Effort to Develop Quality Curriculum

Teachers need patience to develop quality curriculum that keep their students engaged and learning in new ways. Whether you’re teaching in Qatar or you have made your way to the island of Cyprus, patience will allow you to make lesson plans and activities that meet your students where they are. Sure, the easier approach is to “lather, rinse, repeat” with a lesson plan template, but this robotic approach to teaching tends to produce short-lived results.

The beauty of teaching is that you can experiment with your lessons daily. It will take a bit of trial and error (and, ding ding ding! patience) to see the magical formula for your classroom.

While it is helpful to have a degree in teaching or education when you want to teach abroad, there are also ways to teach abroad without a degree. If this reflects your situation, you will likely have to put in twice the effort to develop high quality ESL coursework.

3. Makes You More Open to Living Abroad

How will your senses be invigorated when you teach abroad? What do you think you will see, touch, taste, hear, and smell? You may be asking yourself questions like these right now as you prepare for (or consider) teaching abroad. While you may be impatient to know the answer, you also know that it will take time to soak in the sensory overload that awaits you!

Whatever your reason, satisfying your curiosity will take time, especially since culture shock can sneak in and make you frustrated with the challenging unfamiliarities of your new life abroad (whether inside OR outside the classroom). If you have patience, your slip up’s and “bad days abroad” will just become a part of your story rather than defining it.

Primary school students in a village in Laos

Teaching abroad is an excellent way to experience a foreign culture; it is exciting to consider traveling the world with a concrete purpose (teaching!) in order to satiate your curiosities about the world. It’ll also help you satisfy some professional curiosities as well.

When you teach abroad, you want to see what it is like to work in a classroom in another country, navigate the educational system of a foreign place, or work with students from another culture. Some nuances about the culture and the different ways students learn – or have historically learned – will not be immediately apparent. It will take time, and thoughtful questions on your part, to learn how to be the best teacher you can be.

4. Makes You More Satisfied With Your Work

Have you ever heard the saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day?” Well, a quality classroom led by a successful teacher with a spectacular curriculum does not happen in a day, either! How do you envision your experience abroad as a teacher? What are you hoping to get out of (and contribute to) the experience? How long do you think it will take to integrate, adapt, and thrive in a foreign classroom?

Teaching is an honorable service to the world as you guide and nurture minds so they can be equipped with the tools necessary to be critical thinkers and ready to change the world themselves.

Taking on the challenge of teaching, wherever you do it, is a long-term game. In order to make a difference as a teacher, you will need time (and a lot of, you guessed it! patience) to earn the respect of your colleagues and students and to hone your skills as an educator. Whether you want to spend 10,000 hours to master your teaching game or you are satisfied to measure success in a less quantitative way, one thing is true: it is going to take some time to make a difference.

Primary school students in a village in Laos

International ESL teachers must be patient with their students, their professional selves, and their personal selves as they adapt to life abroad. Navigating a new career in a foreign place is no easy task, but patience will help lessen the blow and help you to keep your bigger picture goals in mind, too.

From being sensitive to your learners’ needs to developing quality curriculum and satisfying your curiosity about the world around you, teachers know it takes time to make a difference. The great thing about teaching abroad is that after your experience you will be a successful person anywhere.