Here are some tips to help you on your teaching experience.
1. Dress right. Jeans, sneakers, and just-out-of-bed hair may be okay for teachers in the U.S., but in many parts of the world, a neat appearance counts far more than credentials. In Korea dark clothes lend an air of authority. Red is to be avoided at all costs. In Morocco female teachers don’t wear pants, sleeveless blouses, or short skirts.
2. Behave appropriately. When it asked 250 students at the Sichuan Institute of Foreign Languages in China what they liked and disliked about native speaker English teachers, the students’ main gripe was the informality of foreign teachers, who often seem to undermine their own authority by acting in undignified ways. In the U.S. teachers go on a first-name basis with students, sit on their desks, sip coffee, and even bounce off the walls without causing student discomfort or losing prestige. But these behaviors don’t export well.
3. Don’t worry if students seem unresponsive at first. Americans are used to participatory classrooms with plenty of teacher-student dialogue. Elsewhere, students are often trained to be silent, good listeners, and memorizers. It’s disconcerting to stand in front of a sea of blank faces, but expecting it reduces the shock. Introduce new concepts, such as discussion and role-play gradually. You’ll be surprised at how students will come to embrace the change.
4. Choose topics carefully. There are still many countries in the world where people are hesitant to voice opinions because of a fear of reprisal. If you’re conducting a classroom debate, remember that there’s a distaste for Western-style argumentation in Middle-Eastern societies, and in Japan it’s offensive for an individual to urge others to accept his opinion.
Certain topics may be taboo for cultural reasons: Most Americans don’t want to discuss their salaries or religious beliefs; Japanese may be disinclined to talk about their inner feelings; the French think questions about their family life are rude.
5. Don’t ask, “Do you understand?” In China and Japan, students will nod yes, even if they’re totally lost, in an attempt to save face for the teacher. Even in a country as far west as Turkey, yes often means no.
6. Avoid singling students out. Our society fosters a competitive individualism which is clearly manifested in our classrooms. American students are not shy about displaying their knowledge. In classrooms outside the U.S., however, showing solidarity with classmates and conforming to the status quo is often more important than looking good for the teacher. In Turkey and Montenegro students told me they disliked volunteering answers too often because it made them look like show-offs and attracted the evil eye of envy. If you want to play a game, make the competition among groups rather than among individuals. If you need to discipline a student, do so in private.
7. Be aware of cross-cultural communication styles. French students appreciate wit. Venezuelan students like boisterous rapid-fire exchanges. In Japan, where debate is not as valued as in the U.S., students appreciate long pauses in discussions and silent “think time” after you ask a question. “Hollow drums make the most noise” goes a Japanese proverb, and Japanese students are uncomfortable blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. American teachers, who are uncomfortable with silence, tend to anticipate the student’s words or repeat their original question—both irritating interruptions for the Japanese student.
8. Present a rationale for what you do in class. Your pedagogy is going to be very different from what students are used to. They’ll conform much more eagerly to new classroom content and procedures if they understand the benefits.
9. Expect the best of your students. They’ll be serious about learning English because their economic advancement often depends upon mastering it.
10. Relax and enjoy yourself. Happiness in the classroom is contagious.