TEFL Success Stories – Part 18

Jennifer – South Africa

When introduced to the world of TEFL in South Korea, I quickly decided that this was the career for me. A love of languages and a budding love of teaching made this a choice that outweighed the meagre salary.

So, once back in South Africa, I tried to get myself trained and ready to join a school and launch my newfound dream. Hmmm…not as easy as it would seem.

Back in 1998 when I wanted to do the TEFL, it wasn’t even offered in Cape Town, where I live. In fact, the whole field of EFL was (and still is, in some respects) in its infancy in South Africa. I eventually did the TEFL in Durban, a city at the other end of South Africa. Things are changing, though. The school I work for in Cape Town now offers the TEFL, so local candidates have it much easier than I did.

So what is it like to work as an EFL teacher in a place like South Africa, where EFL is still something of a novelty? Not to mention the fact that we live at the bottom of the world…nobody goes ‘via South Africa’ anywhere, so we’re kind of isolated way down here.

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That isolation crops up in many ways. One of them is the ‘simple’ matter of getting your hands on books and reference material. Easy, right? Just drop into the local English bookshop and get whatever you want. Wrong! There are no bookshops in South Africa that are dedicated to EFL materials, or even have a skeleton EFL section. All books have to be ordered from overseas, or from the local representatives of the publishing companies, which can take up to 8 weeks if the books are not stocked in the country. A pricey and frustrating venture, indeed!

Another frustration is teacher development. How can ambitious teachers, who really want to make EFL their career, further their training if it’s not offered here? Travel overseas, like I did? That option is not always open to people. So many of the teachers here in South Africa either remain untrained or have limited training, like the TEFL. How can the field of EFL mature here if further training is not available?

It would also be great for teachers if we could have seminars and conferences like those offered elsewhere. Until now, that’s been an impossibility. EFL schools here have worked in isolation, even from each other, and funding a conference is a huge undertaking even for well-established and sizeable organisations.

Attracting teachers from other countries with more than a year or two of experience is also difficult, considering the salary they might expect here in comparison with other countries. South Africans are notoriously underpaid, and teachers…well, we all know the salaries they get! People also worry about the crime, which has been highlighted in the media over and over again.

I can imagine what you’re thinking right now…”What a difficult and unrewarding place to work!” Or perhaps “What a negative attitude!”

So, let me tell you what I like about being an EFL teacher here, before you give up on me or South Africa completely!

The first thing I enjoy, though it’s certainly a challenge, is the excitement of being involved in pioneering EFL in South Africa. There’s something to be said for being part of the foundation of a burgeoning market for EFL edu-tourists. Not that I’m doing anything remarkable, but just being here and seeing the changes taking place makes me feel part of something bigger.

In addition, because there are so few well-qualified people in EFL in South Africa, job opportunities are quite good. If you’ve decided to make EFL your career, and you’ve done basic training like the TEFL, then doors really open up for you. It’s possible to reach positions here in a couple of years which would take much longer in other countries where the field of EFL is more developed, and the number of highly-trained staff much greater. It certainly means a lot of work, a lot of ground-breaking and reinventing the wheel because there are so few experienced people to learn from, but that in itself is part of what makes the opportunities for advancement so rewarding. You have to push yourself, and in doing so, may perhaps do yourself more good professionally and personally than if you were always able to depend on the experience of others.

The same can be said for teacher development within a school. Without a huge library to ‘resort’ to, teachers are forced to develop lessons and create their own materials. Yes, it’s difficult and frustrating at times, but I know that it has deepened my awareness as a teacher, and has also helped me to avoid the boredom of always doing the same things in the same ways – a danger all EFL teachers face.

Teaching in an isolated field where resources and training are hard to come by, has made me grateful for whatever I can get. I have come to see small things as precious, and do not take what I have for granted. Anything new is exciting, whether it is a new book for the library, a new teacher or a magazine with new teaching ideas. Every new student is welcomed into our small, family-like school and we know them all by name.

South Africa attracts a wide range of students from many different countries. There’s no chance to get blasé about teaching, when you might face a class consisting of Swiss, Colombian, Slovak, Korean and Italian students! Most schools here also run classes on a roll-on/roll-off basis, so every week means a chance for someone new to cross your path.

Of course, what really keeps a lot of us here is the country itself. Cape Town, where I live, is surrounded on three sides by ocean, and nestles at the foot of Table Mountain. The winelands are just a drive away, and in spring you can drive a few hours up the coast and see flowers carpet the desert in Namaqualand. Not to mention hiking, whale-watching, sunbathing…who wouldn’t want to spend some time here? People complain about crime, but I’ve been living here for 7 years and have been perfectly fine. Yes, there’s crime, but no more than what you’d expect in a large city.

Looking for lots of money? Don’t come to South Africa. But if you want to experience a wonderful country and culture, and gain a lot of EFL experience in a short time, then this is the place to be.

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