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TEFL: What is the Value of Teaching

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

– Maimonides

Whoever says that teaching is an easy job has presumably never tried to teach.

Over the years I’ve heard people say that teaching was a bit of a non-job, a failure and something you do if you’re not really good at anything. As the saying goes “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach”. But I can tell you that is rubbish. Teaching is hard. Even TEFL teaching, which I think is considered the least “proper” type of teaching (something I disagree with but that’s a different matter all together), with its lower hours is extremely taxing. To get students to engage is hard enough but when those students have no idea what you’re saying, well, that’s even harder. I’ve learnt so much from teaching and I don’t think it’s a mark of not being able to do anything else. Teaching teaches you a lot that is valuable and not only for working in a school; many of these skills could transfer to many other non-educational sectors.

The ability to explain things clearly and communicate when verbal language is not an option is helpful for any people-facing role, you have to really understand the different ways people think and adapt.

Patience is something teachers need in abundance, children are annoying and sometimes very silly. But teachers can’t get frustrated and give up, you have to persevere. Going into the classroom week after week with a high teaching standard is something that requires more stamina than most people would imagine; and while its great fun and so rewarding it can be easy to not realise how hard it really is until you take a breather.

But the most important skill I’ve learn is flexibility. The ability to improvise and think on your feet without loosing your cool is imperative in teaching and I challenge anyone who says that it isn’t a useful life skill. When something, anything, isn’t going to plan you need to find a new course of action; but you don’t always have tome to relax and go back to the drawing board. Sometimes, as frustrating and scary it can be you need to find a fix on the spot and, maybe surprisingly, this is something you have to do a lot as a teacher. “Surely that’s a sign of an under prepared and bad teacher?” You might say. Well, I don’t think so. No matter how well you plan there is always the chance that something unexpected will come up, that’s the joys of working with children! As you get more experienced it’s definitely easier to improvise and a TEFL teachers most important tool is their mental bank of emergency games. These are my top 5 games that have saved me too many times in class, most of them only require the most basic of equipment and all of them can be adapted to almost any emergency situation.

1. Flyswatter

One of my favourite tools in my teaching arsenal are simple fly swat, traditionally used for killing unruly flies. In the TEFL classroom a fly swat can turn the mundane into intense fun – all kids like the permission to hit something, even if it is just a flashcard! From simply listening and hitting the correct flashcard to opposites, or finding vocabulary by description, the sky is the limit.

2. Chair swap

Chair swap is great because you already have all the materials you need, children and the chairs they are sitting in. Put simply the game involves students swapping chairs and to single out someone to do something. Most simple is the 300 chair swap, inspired but the epic battles in “300” the film, on a buzz word all students swap place, the last student to sit down answers your question. My favourite variation can be adapted to any question with two answers (think yes/no, can’can’t, I have never…). One student stand in the centre of a circle of chairs and asks a question, if the answer is yes other students have to stand and swap chairs, if the answer is no they stay sitting.

3. Target throw

Target throwing games work because children like to throw things. Maybe they’re throwing for team points, or throwing to choose a question, it doesn’t matter so long as there is throwing. Sticky balls (little balls covered in suckers), and toy guns that shoot sticky bullets are firm favourites. Seriously, if you’re a TEFL teacher get a sticky ball, it’s one of the most versatile things in my teaching arsenal.

4. Hot potato

A ball plus a timer or music and you’ve got yourself a winner. Hot potato itself is ridiculously simple set the timer, students pass the ball (or soft toy if they’re incapable of holding onto a ball without dropping it everywhere) until the timer goes off, whoever is holding the ball answers the question. Kids love it and to increase student talking time you can make them say a key phrase or piece of vocabulary as they pass in a circle. To complicate the game you can use multiple toys going around the circle at the same time; two toys, one for asking a question, one for answering the question always works well.

5. Chinese whispers

The one time students will ever be quiet in class. A classic game in and out of the TEFL classroom, two teams whispering a word or phrase down a line as quickly as possible. This game is great because it keeps students quiet, involves tense competition, students have to speak clearly and they have to listen! Variations can include drawing numbers or letters on backs down the line (works for months, days of the week, actually numbers practice), or even doing actions down the line.


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I am originally from London, England but after university I left England looking for adventure. For the last year and a half I have been living and working in China as a TEFL teacher, and travelling at every opportunity that I get. At the moment I am based in Yinchuan, Northern China, which is slightly off the tourist track! My mission is to see as much of the world as possible in the most authentic way that I can, I want to get outside of the typical tourist experience and see places in a more encompassing way than just passing through. I am a big advocate of travel to broaden your horizons and challenge your world view. As well as an incurable wanderlust, I love food and tend to judge a country by how good the cuisine is. Eating my way around the world sounds like a good plan to me!

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