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Tales from the Chalkface

This blog provides TEFL teachers with an opportunity to share their amusing and moving stories. The most popular anecdotes will be compiled into an online book where all the proceeds will be used to help schools in need around the world. If you have an interesting story to tell and want to share it with the TEFL community please use our contact form to let us know and we will email you back with instructions on how you can become a contributor.

Symptoms of Culture Shock: Face Ache and… Monday 09 Mar 2020

Possibly the biggest effect of culture shock I’ve experienced was during my first teaching contract in Japan.  Prior to the football World Cup in 2002 there were not that many signs or labels in English, so it wasn’t unusual for me to get completely lost and buy fish noodles instead of a lovely dessert. And of course, there’s the spoken language confusion – I ended up kicking out my slippered feet and shaking my chest samba-style (which doesn’t look great on a man) with a load of elderly Japanese ladies instead of the salsa lesson I had been looking forward to.                                                    By Dave

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A Crisis in Teaching Confidence - My Japanese Saint Trinian’s Experience Monday 02 Mar 2020

I had a confidence crisis in my teaching ability a few years ago on an intensive four-week English course for a cohort of Japanese high school girls who had come over to the UK.  Any positive preconceptions of what the class would be like were dashed during the first lesson… I realized I was in for a challenging time.  I had to explain to my beginner-level class that they had to use the door to enter the classroom, not the window.  It was also the first time I’d had to add to my classroom rules that you were not allowed to bark like a dog, it sounded like Crufts initially.                                                     By Dave


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TEFL Nightmares - ‘Enough is Enough, I Quit!’ Tuesday 25 Feb 2020

Doubts had already started to grow in my mind about the new TEFL job I’d accepted teaching business English in Benghazi, Libya (before the overthrow of Gaddafi). Just getting to Libya had been a comedy of errors. To cap a frustrating 48-hour journey from the UK I was then asked to do the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever encountered as a teacher.  Standing outside the apartment I was meant to share with my colleague my boss asked if I wouldn’t mind physically throwing out the teacher I was replacing who was refusing to leave the flat after being sacked.   I dropped my suitcases full of TEFL books on the ground and tried to remain calm as I informed my DoS that I was getting on the first plane out of Libya if they didn’t put me in a hotel till they sorted this mess out.

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How (not) to make an impression with your head of department Monday 17 Feb 2020

I arrived at the two-week teacher training session back in England full of excitement at the prospect of an opportunity to enjoy the comforts of home which I’d missed in the Middle East.  To add to the wonderful experience the college had organised a Welcome Pimm’s event where teachers and course leaders could meet and get acquainted over a relaxing drink.  I picked up my lovely tall glass of Pimm’s with the customary fruit floating in it and got involved in a conversation with two other teachers.

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Most Embarrassing Moments in the Classroom Wednesday 12 Feb 2020

This didn’t happen to me thankfully, but it happened to a former colleague of mine at my university.  After reading this, you will never make the same mistake!  Some of the lecture halls at the campus were fitted out with the most up-to-date audio equipment where instructors just had to clip a wireless microphone to their clothes and that would ensure that everyone in the auditorium could hear the speaker.

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Nightmare Job Interviews Monday 10 Feb 2020

My most embarrassing job interview occurred inevitably for a job I really wanted – teaching for a British university in China with a decent salary, 30 weeks’ holiday, free accommodation and flights home every holiday – perfect!

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Lost in Translation Tuesday 04 Feb 2020

I once had a lovely class of little old Japanese ladies who I used to teach every Wednesday morning at a school on the outskirts of Tokyo.  The ladies were really there to socialize – treating the class like a coffee morning which created a delightful atmosphere.  I was invited to join them for lunch one afternoon and gladly followed them to a traditional Japanese restaurant around the corner from the school. 

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My Worst First Day of Teaching at a New School Monday 03 Feb 2020

When I think of my worst first day of teaching at a new school my only consolation is that it is unlikely that I’ll have a worse experience in the same situation.  A cohort of native English-speaking language teachers and myself had just arrived in a Gulf state at the beginning of the second semester to enhance the English teaching at high schools for boys throughout the country.  On the plane over I’d opened my Lonely Planet guide for the first time and read that my destination city was described as the most boring place on Earth – not a good start.  Then, on the inset day before the students returned, my British colleague had an anaphylactic shock after eating something we’d been promised didn’t contain nuts – he almost died. 

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TEFL: Teaching English… For Love? Wednesday 29 Jan 2020

I think most of us will have been attracted to one of our colleagues in the staff room at one time or another.  At a school in Hong Kong I once became smitten by one of my co-workers; was it her looks, her charm, or her knowledge of English verb tenses? I don’t know, but I couldn’t get her out of my mind – it would wander to visions of us staring at each other adoringly over a copy of Cutting Edge’s Teachers’ book (Pre-Int edition), or imagining us skipping hand-in-hand to a lecture on the latest innovations in English language teaching by Scott Thornbury.   

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