Published 21st May 2021
Teaching English as a Foreign Language can mean speaking to 5 people for 5 hours a day, or 250 people for 5 hours a day. It can mean teaching one-on-one, groups of four or five, or classes of over 50. The one thing about teaching is that it will always involve speaking, people, and speaking with people. After all, it’s not a lesson without a student! So it might seem funny, then, that TEFL teachers can get lonely.
But it’s true.
Even though we can spend our days talking the hind legs off a donkey with people of all ages and from all walks of life, this is not the same as hanging out and chewing the fat with your friends. This is true both if you are teaching English online or if you are teaching in a classroom abroad.
Why are connections so important?
But first, let’s talk about why having a community is so important. Humans are social beings. Even if you enjoy being alone and doing solo activities, you will still have a need to connect with other people. We can’t spend all of our time alone, so we need to have a community around us to connect with at those times we don’t want to be alone anymore. We need friends to be able to relax and connect and share. Culture shock and homesickness are also very real issues, so even if our friends are at home while we are abroad we need to stay connected to help us settle into our new surroundings without freaking out too much. As TEFL teachers, we also need a community that can help us in our teaching, with who we can share ideas and tips and tricks for the classroom.
Read more: Culture Shock
So how can you make sure you have a community around you to support you both as a friend and as a teacher?
Let’s look at a few ideas.
Finding friends online
No, we’re not talking about Tinder! But looking online is an obvious place to look for friends and contacts. If you’re on Facebook, find pages and groups related either to your personal interests or teaching. You might find a group for TEFL teachers or, even better, for TEFL teachers in the same country as you. These groups allow you to chat about all things TEFL-related without boring anyone!
Not only Facebook but Instagram and Twitter too – be sure to follow accounts of like-minded people. Following other TEFL teachers will give you inspiration for classroom ideas and activities. Following people who are nearby will give you ideas for things to do in your free time if you’re new to the area.
If you are working for a particular online platform, you should be a part of a community with other teachers from the same company. If you’re not, be sure to ask your company if they can put you in touch with other teachers. While you might feel like you’re in competition for students, there are more than enough students to go around at the moment and this is the next best thing to a bricks-and-mortar staff room.
Look online for webinars or online courses that you are interested in as well. These will give you the opportunity to upskill while introducing you to other TEFL teachers or trainers. Even better would be if you found out about an EFL conference in your area you could attend.
Finding friends at school
If you are working at a school, the staff room is a great place to meet friends. If there are other TEFL teachers, this is a great way to troubleshoot any problematic issues and brainstorm ideas. It’s common for teachers to share worksheets and classroom games, so it’s a good place to plan your lessons if you’re looking for inspiration.
If you’re living abroad, the staff room is an easy way to get to know local teachers. They can answer any questions you might have about the area, and they can provide a glimpse into the local culture. Plus, this is an easy way to learn the local language; many teachers in foreign countries are happy to do a language exchange arrangement to help them top up their English.
Finding local friends
If you’re living abroad you might be working online or in a school. Or if you’re in a school, you might find yourself getting on with other staff members. If this is the case, that’s awesome! Make sure you make an effort to spend time together outside the school too. This might mean going out of your comfort zone and inviting them out for a meal, or asking for their opinions on what to do on the weekends.
If you are teaching online but living abroad, it can be a bit trickier. However, there are bound to be other digital nomads or TEFL teachers wherever you are. If, for example, you are in Bangkok, you can always head to Khao San Road and meet tourists or other travellers you can hang out with. Or there might be a well-known ex-pat area where other long-term visitors are known to hang out and make friends. Alternatively, you can look online and find a local walking, cooking or wine-tasting group that you can join – whatever tickles your fancy!
Read more: Top 3 Ways to Make Friends While Abroad
Friends at home
And of course, we mustn’t forget our friends and family back home. These days it’s so easy to keep in touch with our friends no matter where we are, and no matter where they are. If you are teaching online at home, make sure you find the time to hang out with your friends on a regular basis. You might not have the same working hours as they do so it might be a bit tricky, but it’s definitely something you should put some effort into.
If you are teaching in a foreign country, check in with your friends back home on a regular basis. They might think you have left them for more exotic pastures so you are too busy to keep in touch, so be sure to include them in your adventures so they can feel a part of your life. Let’s face it, Sally sitting in Guildford would even find your trip to a Mexican supermarket interesting!
Having a community and a support structure when you are a TEFL teacher is important, whether you are teaching online or in the classroom, at home or abroad. Luckily there are plenty of ways you can find your friends and make sure you have your squad at hand when you need them.