Voluntary ESL teaching myths and misconceptions

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As a trainee or novice ESL teacher thinking of doing some voluntary ESL teaching, you will undoubtedly be confronted with many myths and misconceptions trying to pass themselves off as facts: just ignore them. Here are six of these myths and misconceptions that you should definitely ignore.

  1. Volunteer ESL teachers are sent to the most dangerous parts of the world because paid ESL teachers refuse to work in such countries. Which countries are safe and which are dangerous is a moot point; however, most volunteer ESL teachers are sent to ‘Third World’ countries; strangely, it would seem, a lot of paid teachers also work in these countries, for example, India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Ghana, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Laos, etc.
  2. Volunteer ESL teachers are exploited. ESL teachers who work for voluntary organizations know that they will not be paid a competitive salary: ordinarily, they are given an allowance to meet the cost of their everyday expenses, e.g., food and transport. Thus, they are not exploited because they know ab initio that they will not be receiving a ‘real’ salary.
  3. Volunteer ESL teachers are inferior to their paid counterparts. A lot of TEFL qualified teachers who are currently in gainful employment have, at some time or other, done voluntary ESL work; consequently, it is not correct to assume that volunteer ESL teachers are in any way inferior to those who are in gainful employment.
  4. Volunteer ESL teachers are expected to pay for all their outgoings and travel costs. If this were true, there would be very few volunteer ESL teachers: a voluntary organization will not only pay for the ESL teacher’s flight tickets to and from the host country, but it will also provide medical insurance and an allowance for daily expenditures. Free or substantially subsidized accommodation is also provided.
  5. Volunteer ESL teachers have no choice as it concerns the countries they are sent to work in. If ESL teachers are not happy to work in a certain country, they do not have to work there: they can always search for another voluntary organization that does voluntary work in the country of their choice.
  6. Volunteer ESL teachers take jobs away from communities. Some people believe that instead of providing volunteer ESL teachers, it would be better to fund overseas NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) so that they can train their own people to teach ESL. This may be appropriate in other areas of education (a moot point), but it will take many years to train an L1 speaker to become good enough in English so as to be able to speak with a near-native accent and be proficient enough to teach it as a foreign language.

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