The TEFL Experience from The East to The West to The West of Africa

People often start a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) career for various reasons, including the desire for international travel, cultural exploration, and the opportunity to make a positive impact by helping others learn a new language. Additionally, the demand for English language teachers worldwide, the potential for flexible work arrangements, and the chance to engage with diverse students and cultures make TEFL an appealing career choice for those passionate about education and language. Sadly, when I embarked on the journey, I didn’t see many Black teachers in the places and spaces I found myself. 

In 2015, my TEFL journey started as a volunteer English teacher with Angloville in Poland. Angloville provides a unique immersive language experience where native English speakers engage in real-life conversations with Polish participants, fostering language improvement through meaningful cultural exchange in a relaxed and supportive environment.

After my Angloville experience, I decided to pursue teacher training in TESOL and enrolled in a Masters in TESOL at King’s College London. 

Upon completing my degree, I embarked on my TEFL career in Vietnam, which proved to be a unique and enjoyable experience.

Teaching in Vietnam was not just a job; it felt like a lively party, and my career advanced rapidly. Within six months of arriving in the country, I transitioned from a teacher to a teacher manager and in-house trainer. Vietnam presented numerous opportunities, and my commitment to continuous professional development distinguished me as a TEFL teacher.

Apart from being one of the few teachers of African descent at my language center, becoming a Teacher Manager highlighted the scarcity of managers resembling me.

Being Black in Asia presented challenges, as some employers showed a preference against Africans. Overcoming obstacles relied on the strength of my passport, educational background, and skills. Initially grappling with insecurities as a new teacher, I dedicated hours to meticulous lesson planning, adhering to standard language acquisition approaches. However, with time, I evolved into a more relaxed teacher, realizing that not knowing everything was acceptable, and authentic learning occurred when I discovered alongside my students rather than presenting “all the answers.”

Vietnam created an environment where teaching seemed accessible and lucrative, with minimal skill requirements, often providing lesson plans and teacher training support. While many teachers, mainly young White adults from the UK and Europe, viewed it as a temporary source of income for their backpacking adventures, saturated the market. I found joy in encountering fellow teachers of color and providing opportunities for their advancement. However, the atmosphere was competitive and lacked camaraderie.

Teaching itself was not overly stressful, but management added pressure, offering a great salary and comfortable living, enhancing one’s resume. Despite financial comfort, the observation that teachers of color, especially Black teachers, faced additional scrutiny compared to their White counterparts highlighted an underlying challenge.

Teaching in Europe and Africa, specifically in Poland and Ghana, during my TEFL experience felt like a complete turnaround. preconceived notions about technological disparities.

The teaching environment was more stringent, emphasizing the importance of qualifications over nationality. Unlike Vietnam, resources were less readily available, and surprisingly, language centers in Vietnam were more technologically advanced, equipped with digital whiteboards, tablets for students, and extensive digitalization, challenging 

TEFL is not widely practiced in Ghana, West Africa, as English is an official language, and most English language teachers are trained as ESL instructors without undergoing specific TEFL training. These educators are dedicated ESL professionals rather than individuals drawn to the field for travel opportunities. English learners in Ghana often come from neighboring Francophone countries. While ESL teachers in Ghana might not be familiar with TEFL methods, the salaries across Asia, Europe, and Africa exhibit significant variation. Despite the challenges faced as one of the first Black teachers in certain locations and the limited technological resources, my TEFL journey from East to West, and eventually to West Africa, has been exceptionally rewarding, providing valuable experiences in diverse cultures and effective teaching methods for various learners and situations. 

 “I am eager to extend TEFL training to aspiring teachers in West Africa, leveraging the language acquisition methods learned in both Western and Eastern classrooms. This initiative aims to bridge the gap between English Language teaching approaches in Africa, Europe, and Asia, offering valuable insights and strategies for effective language instruction.”

About the Writer:

Verdell, a Chicago native, initiated her TEFL journey in London, extending her impact across Europe, Asia, and presently Africa. With a rich background in classroom teaching and teacher training, she directs EEC, an online English Coaching Service, guiding learners and aspiring TEFL/TESOL educators globally.

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