10 Lessons I wish I’d known before teaching abroad

Teaching abroad is full of excitement and nervous anticipation. When it comes to those sorts of experiences, few other feelings come close. And it takes time to get used to everything. Not only have you started a new job, but you’re working in another country as well. So if you’re wondering how it’s all going to pan out, you’re not alone.

Juggling life as a travelling teacher is right up there as an experience where you figure it out as you go along. You have to meet lots of new people in a short space of time, overcome jet lag, and adapt to a different type of lifestyle. Some things you learn quickly. And that’ll be that. But there are things I wish I’d known in advance.

So to help you hit the ground running, here’s a list of important lessons that can help you settle in a little faster:

1. Differentiate

Getting your resources at the right difficulty level is a minefield. If tasks are too easy, everyone finishes too early. If they’re too hard, nobody finishes them in time. It takes a balance.

The simplest way to get around it is to have ways of making tasks easier or harder depending on whether you pupils are struggling to access the lesson, or need a challenge.

You can do this in lots of ways and reward accordingly:

  • Start everyone on the easiest task. Then plan every activity afterwards so they get more difficult. All pupils should be expected to reach a certain point in their workload, but if pupils need to challenge themselves, they can go further.
  • Have easier and difficult versions of the same resources. Then offer the choice to your classes.
  • Give everyone the same activities for the lesson, but plan in ways to make tasks easier or more complex depending on how the pupils complete them. For example you could make the task longer, shorter, or encourage pupils to practise different skills.

A good way to check if your tasks are the right level is to have a copy of Blooms Taxonomy for reference. You can download one by following the link.

Pupils looking for more challenge should practise higher level skills, whereas making activities easier would mean revising lower-level skills instead.

2. Use Lesson Plan Templates

When I first started teaching, a colleague sent me a lesson plan template and said it’s one of the best tools I’ll ever have. She wasn’t wrong.

Lesson plan templates aren’t just about evidence. They encourage you to think about your activities, what they’ll accomplish and help with timings. They’re also invaluable if you need cover and someone else needs to see your lesson plans.

Where can you find lesson plan templates?

You can find lots of lesson templates online. I’ve included links to several providers, so feel free to pick your favourite:

3. Plan Ahead

Maya Angelou once said: “if you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know where you’ve been.”

Schemes of Learning Sheets are an amazing resource. They help you stay on track, set the pace of your teaching calendar, and give you a snapshot of what you’ll be teaching over the year.

Where can you find schemes of learning templates?

You can find a few examples of schemes of learning below. They’re good as a starting point, or as examples for you to copy:

4. Worksheet Generators = Best Friends

When I first started teaching, I was keen to build all my resources from scratch. I’d leafed through a dozen teaching resource books. And nothing really fit around what I needed. So it seemed like a sensible move at the time.

But what I thought would be a simple job became more and more complicated. Looking back, I could’ve saved loads of time if I’d just looked around for some of the resources teachers have at their disposal.

Where can you find worksheet generators?

Worksheet generators can be found all over the internet. Some are better than others depending on the activity, but some of the more popular ones can be found below:

5. Lessons Start At The Door

Every minute counts. And your lesson will go much faster than you think. So when your pupils arrive at your lesson, you want things to run like clockwork.

Having an activity ready to go from the second they arrive means you can make the most of those first five minutes. It’ll also help to settle your class and let you complete the register in peace, without having to rush around too much.

Where can you find starter activities?

  • You can find a lot of free starter activities on Twinkl.
  • TES has a community of teachers sharing their resources online for you to use.

6. More Quizzes, Less Tests

 Tests are a part of school. They check progress and help recap knowledge. There’s no avoiding them. But if your test to check knowledge isn’t a formal assessment with a grade at the end of it, why should the test feel like one?

Instead of an hour of silence, try something new.

Quizzes are a brilliant way to make testing feel less stressful. They can be done as games, creative challenges, and can be useful team-building activities.

Where can you find quizzing resources?

7. Technology = Game changer

Technology and education go hand in hand. Master all the gadgets and gizmos and your lessons will be a breeze. Avoid them and things get tricky. A lot of schools use technology for completing registers, using interactive whiteboards and making the most of online teaching resources.

It’s helpful to get acquainted with the technology your school uses. Practice using it before you teach. Trust me. The last thing you want is to have a problem at the start of your lesson.

Typical technology and online resources you might be expected to use:

  • SIMS
  • Show My Homework
  • Twinkl
  • Oxford Owl
  • Class Charts
  • Class Dojo

This list isn’t exhaustive. So whatever technology is used in school. you need to be confident when using it. Otherwise it can disrupt your lesson. And cut into pupil learning time massively if you have to send for help or find a workaround.

8. Be prepared to teach without technology

Having just written about technology, I wanted to include a section on teaching without it as well. Technology does fail. Internet connections drop, too. And not every school will use technology.

With that in mind, it’s worth having a back up plan. Nothing fancy.

What would you recommend?

  • Having a stash of plain and lined paper in reserve is a life-saver when the computer doesn’t work.
  • Keep an updated supply of printable activities nearby, such as word searches, puzzles, etc.
  • Write a to-do list of what you need to finish in the lesson on the board. This is for the pupils. And for you. It’s a good way to keep on track.

9. Some pupils will finish early

You can plan all the activities in the world. Some of your pupils will still finish early. It’s great news. But it’s worth having more activities prepared so you can help them to overachieve or practise their learning.

What would you recommend?

 These ideas tend to work really well in the classroom and require next to no preparation:

  • Offer out classroom admin tasks to pupils who finish early – tidying up, packing away.
  • Ask them to design a starter activity to help the class practice what they have learned for your next lesson. Then use that task in your next lesson.
  • Recruit pupils who finish the work early as teaching assistants and ask them to support other pupils who might be finding the work more challenging.

10. Be Open to Change

Working abroad is one big change. But change is good. Change means learning opportunities. And as you start your career in a new school, there’ll be loads of chances to pick up new skills.

New experiences can be nerve-wracking at first. But the more time you invest in your development during the early stages, the more you’ll feel organised and better prepared long-term.

This will benefit you as a teacher going forward.

Class dismissed.

Author Profile

Adam Morris is a content executive at Twinkl. He specialises in KS1, but works with lots of educators to support them with teaching and resource planning. When he’s not writing blogs or working with other companies, he likes to read, spend time outdoors, or swim 40 lengths in the local pool.