Ask anyone what is on the top of their list of things they want to do and invariably travelling will be there. Why not travel and make a difference, too. Have you ever considered working as an ALT (Assistant Language Instuctor)?
Here’s some common sense advice on what to expect and how to get started.
What is it?
As an ALT you really are essentially acting as an ambassador of your country in the country you are teaching in. It is vital that you understand this because how often in your life will you be in a situation where you will be the first type of "person" someone has ever met. I say person because many of the students have never even been in close proximity to a foreigner. This responsibility should not be taken lightly because they may judge all others based on their interaction with you, from this point on. That is simply human nature.
A common misconception people have of the job is that it’s merely standing in front of a group of kids and “listen and say what I say even though you don’t know what I’m saying” routine. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Just as traditional education is undergoing a huge pedagogical transition, so too is language education. Your job will be to create meaning and more importantly, context for what you are saying.
Where will you work?
This is not a small scale endeavour, happening in a tiny controlled room (which is commonly the image one gets when talking about foreign language instruction) with one teacher and one student, maybe two. For the most part your classes will have 30 to 40 students with a native instructor from that country with you at all times. You’ll work together with him/her (the majority of teachers are female as far as English is concerned) to conduct the class. On the extreme side a class can take place in front of a gymnasium full of students. Now there’s a challenge for you-300 children who don’t speak English (at least not yet) and you are the leader!
The current trend nowadays is toward an all English speaking lesson plan and environment as opposed to the traditional listen to the spoken English and then listen to it translated. This is where you can really make your mark. Your workplace will be in the public education system, working in public schools.
Tips on how to do the job “outside of the job”
Of course you will be teaching English to kids but a little talked about side of the position is how things will go with your co-workers and fellow expats. It can get challenging because if you spend all of your time with them outside of work it will seriously diminish the experience of being in a foreign country.
Miscommunication will be a daily part of your life. If you don’t feel comfortable with this, this is probably not the line of work for you. On the negative side no communication at all is also an issue. It may be less trouble to tell you information you may or may not need to know. For example, there is a school event happening today. The perception may be, given the language gap, that you will find out anyway. It may not be vitally important but it would be nice to know why, all of a sudden, the staffroom has emptied!
Some people who begin working in this job have come from places where a multicultural workplace is not the norm. Not only will your students be from another country so will your co-workers. They can often be a great support network considering how far you are from home but it also can create friction when you have to work together on projects. For example, without naming any names, certain countries may have more “relaxed” time schedules compared to others in regards to completing projects. This may cause some tension if this is not the way you are used to doing things. It can be also be intensely interesting working with people you would have never had the opportunity to work with.
It's a great opportunity to meet some of the kindest people you will ever meet and may have never met had it not been for the opportunity. Even if you do not continue in the position as a career it can be a rewarding experience, one you will carry with you when you return home and an experience which will teach you more about yourself.