How teaching abroad taught me important life skills

Deciding to teach in Poland was a scary for Aoife, but it was ultimately one of the best decisions she made.

Written by Aoife Hynes


A year ago I moved out of home. Quite far from home. In fact, I left Ireland and went to Poland to work as an English teacher in a kindergarten. Only ten days before I left for Poland, I had been working as a till server in a petrol station. The scariest part of taking on this new job was that I had no prior experience or even a degree. Now I was in charge of 24 toddlers with no English. Overall, this was one of the best decisions of my life. Taking the extra time out means that I have started university more confident of my decisions. It was really my time spent teaching that opened the world to me. So here is why I think it’s worth considering teaching English abroad.

Firstly, not all jobs require a degree, though your choices are more limited. You can find TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) courses online. I was able to work away on the course while holding down my wage earning job. I found mine through the teflacademy in Dublin, doing online modules with a few days of classroom learning. It took me four months, in between other commitments, but it can be completed more quickly.

Teaching itself is invaluable. Latent talents bloom, but skills are gained which will carry you through life. It makes you a more confident person. There are few things more daunting than standing before a classroom with every face turned to you. It’s exhausting initially, between lesson plans and plastering on a smile. For my first week I came straight home to bed for a few hours. But it gets much better. Within three months I was striding into the class without a care in the world. It was a joy to teach my class. Each day was an exciting challenge. After that, nothing could stand in my way. I find myself carrying that confidence still. When things get rough it boosts me up so I can stay on my feet. Confidence matters wherever you go in life.

You learn to work with others. It boils down to playing nice with your peers. You’ll have colleagues you need to work alongside, and sharing that workspace requires an amicable atmosphere. It becomes about working towards a larger goal, the same goal as those around you. This applies in the classroom too. Your students are still real people, not terrifying monsters out to get you, even if it feels like it sometimes. They need support and to know that someone believes in their ability. Mostly it is about building a steady relationship. Great teachers know how to create a rapport in an instant. The more humble among us learn the skill with practice, and when you teach you get lots of practice.

Organisation and time-management are essential. There are lesson plans to be created, resources to be found, reports to write, classroom preparation and clean-up, and then keeping on top of things in class. It isn’t an optional skill. Once you have learned it, it’s hard to forget.

The benefits of the job are endless. You learn patience and empathy. You gain a better understanding of just what hard work achieves. You feel pride when a student holds a conversation for the first time.

For me it was the people and places that made it. There’s no better way to understand a culture than living in it. As Europe is so small you can see so many countries so easily. Whenever I had time off I hopped on a train or bus. In six months I saw Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Vienna and Belarus for the first time.

The experiences you gain are unforgettable, but it is the people that leave a lasting impression. English teaching attracts people from lots of different countries. Suddenly you find yourself knowing people who live all over the world, who have different attitudes and cultural backgrounds. You peer into another culture and broaden your mind. Sometimes distance lessens the friendship, and other times you can find yourself returning again and again to visit. But these people open you to new ways of thinking and alternative ideas.

So if you are thinking of doing something a little different, for a gap year or simply looking for a way to travel, it is worth considering TEFL teaching. It’s something different, with unique outcomes. You learn as you teach and explore foreign places of the world. What you learn and who you meet remains with you for a lifetime.

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