When you’re in school, it’s super hard to decide on your future career. There’s already hours of homework and study, now you’ll soon add decisions about college courses and jobs to your list. Here at KISS, we’re chatting to people in different industries about how they’ve landed their dream role, what they actually do, and their advice to you. This week, we’re chatting TEFL teacher Caoimhe Bermingham.
What is your current role?
I am a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language)/ ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. This means I teach English as a foreign language to non-native speakers. Before the Coronavirus outbreak I had been teaching English in a primary school in a rural town in Thailand. However, when the pandemic struck all the schools in Thailand closed so I decided to return to Ireland until life goes back to normal. Now, I am working full time as an online English tutor for children and adults from Thailand, Japan and China.
Can you describe what your general day to day looked like before the pandemic?
My general day working in a Thai school begins with gate duty and morning assembly. I arrive at school at 7.30 am to greet my students. Each morning, all the students gather in the yard to sing the national anthem, raise the Thai flag, say Buddhist prayers and perform Muay Thai (Thai kickboxing) or traditional Thai dances. After this, class begins. I teach an Intensive English Program to my students for 4 hours a day. My students are aged 4 – 8 years old. A typical one-hour English class can vary depending on what grade I am teaching but generally, they involve singing English songs, playing games through English, doing written work and communication exercises. It’s a very fun albeit demanding job, but every day is different. Plus, my students, (especially the 5-year-olds) are the cutest. I finish teaching at around 1 pm, then I spend the rest of my school day lesson planning, grading schoolwork and preparing worksheets for the following day. At 4 O’Clock school ends, I go home and finish off any leftover school work I have. Then I teach English online for two hours. Once, this is all done, I relax for the rest of the evening and grab my dinner in the local food market.
How did you decide on this type of career?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I finished University, all I knew was that I wanted to travel. Teaching English as a foreign language gave me the freedom to travel the world, while earning money and gaining invaluable life and teaching experiences. As well as this, my career allowed me to fully immerse myself in a new and totally different culture to the one I am used to. I am very grateful for this.
What course did you study in college?
I studied English and History in UCD. I was lucky enough to get First class honours in it. However, saying this you don’t need an English degree to become an English Foreign Language Teacher. You need to get a TEFL certificate. This qualification is super easy to get, you can do it online or in an English language school. I did my TEFL course online with The TEFL Institute of Ireland.
Once, I completed my TELF course I applied for an English teaching job in Thailand through The TEFL Institute of Ireland. They set me up with a Thai teaching agency who then found me a school and accommodation in Nangrong, Thailand. Within, a matter of weeks I had a job, and the rest is history as they say.
What are the ups and downs of the role?
The good 100% out ways the bad for teaching English abroad. The best thing about my job is my students. My relationships with them is what keeps me smiling every day. They’re so innocent and funny, it’s impossible not to love working with them. Plus, when they understand my lessons, I feel very proud. Another, excellent part of working in a Thai school, is becoming part of both the school community and the town’s community. I have met some wonderful Thai people, who have adopted me into their families and have shown me the beauty of the Thai countryside and its way of life.
However, teaching in a foreign country where you can’t speak the local language and the majority of the local people can not understand you is difficult. Communication with fellow Thai teachers and students can be very hard and exhausting at times. Easy classroom activities can become very difficult quite quickly which can be stressful. But it just means you have to learn to be flexible and adaptable in your teaching style. Odds are if you can’t understand them, they can’t understand you, so I had to learn to be both patient and open-minded.
The lack of communication also meant that I felt very much thrown into the deep end when I first started teaching. I had no clue what I was doing and felt overwhelmed with the heavy workload. However, once I realised that teaching is as much as a learning experience for me as it is for my students, I took it in my stride. As time goes by, I am becoming more efficient with managing the workload successfully. All in all, teaching abroad is great and it has been the best learning experience I have had.
What advice would you give to a student looking to get into your line of work?
If you have the opportunity to do work experience in a school, take it. This will allow you to see if you enjoy working in a classroom and it’ll give you a great insight into how teachers manage their time and classes. However, it isn’t essential. The internet is an amazing resource that provides so many different ideas on teaching styles, methods, and classroom activities.
If you are worried about moving abroad by yourself, I would advise you to go with a teaching agency. They will provide you with accommodation, a job, a visa and they can place you in a school with another English teacher if that’s what you want. I met two of my best friends through my teaching agency. We are planning to move to Vietnam to teach next year. After you get settled into teaching, you can leave your agency and look for work yourself.
Research the country you would like to work in, this ensures you are somewhat prepared for the different culture and customs of your new home. Also, being knowledgeable about where you’re going can help with homesickness as you feel more prepared and more in control in your new surroundings. Ask other English teachers for advice, trust me we are always more than happy to help.
Lastly, just go for it. You will only regret the chances you don’t take. Plus, if teaching isn’t for you, you can always come home.
For more career chats, from art to fashion, nursing and science, check out the rest of our series.