Teaching English in the Czech Republic can be a huge amount of fun. Just be sure to avoid these deadly pitfalls, warns Mark Pickering.
There will be occasions when you’ll get angry as a teacher. Perhaps not with the giant CEO of a huge corporation who brings you free doughnuts each lesson. But with one or two students – probably teenagers – you’ll get rather irked. Maybe it’ll be with weird Tomas who spends the entire lesson on his mobile looking at pictures of animal poo. Or perhaps with dopey Lenka, who, after three dozen explanations still can’t tell you what the word ‘dog’ means. But you have to be calm. Do not shout, and even though you may be tempted, definitely do not perform a 100-hand slap to the student’s face.
In a country where pints are cheaper than water, and plates of food are the size of a hippo’s face, it’s easy to get nicely settled in the pub. A recommended pastime for sure, but one thing to be wary of are Non-Stop Bars, especially when you’ve got an early start. These bizarre establishments are fairly self-explanatory: bars that serve non-stop. A couple of fruit machines in the corner, a few warty-looking drifters passed out on the tables, and a group of newly-qualified teachers excitably quaffing more of that lovely beer. However, trying to teach two business executives at 7.30 in the morning after a late-night skinful of sub-standard lager is not a great way to start the day. Sorry Ondrej and Vasek!
For our American teacher friends, it must come as some inconvenience to have to teach British English. Most of the textbooks are in British English, and the exams too, so you have to correct your American grammar, say words like dressing gown and wellington boots, and be prepared for an assault of British-centric questions. But don’t be proud. If you shrug off your militant patriotism and your resistance to the language of the US of A, you’ll enrich your vocabulary by discovering some of the most delightfully silly words in existence. Gobsmacked, hanky panky, kerfuffle and codswallop to name but a few.
Teaching in the Czech Republic will open your eyes and ears to many beautiful things. One of those is beautiful Czech women, the other is fried cheese. It is the latter that I warn you of, however. Every time you see that tantalising plate of bread-crumbed camembert on the menu, you’ll want it like you’ve never wanted anything else in your life before. You’ll find yourself eating it daily, twice-daily and then even for snacks too. You’ll dream about it, and eventually it’ll distract you from the nice students in front of you. They will no longer be students, just giant slabs of fried cheese. And you will want to eat them. And eating students is bad.
Do not envy other teachers. When you’re sat there in the computer room and you catch a glimpse of the prepared activities of the person next to you, do not be filled with jealousy. If you see neatly-bound flash cards, perfectly photocopied grammar exercises or – God forbid – a vocabulary game that has been laminated, merely nod in appreciative respect. At the same time, make a fiendish mental note of it, steal it, improve it and use it in your own lessons.
Do not be greedy, especially when it comes to accepting teaching hours in the Czech Republic. When you first get a job after doing a TEFL course, you want teaching hours. Loads of them. Your enthusiasm will lead you into accepting more and more hours. You’ll accept a lesson in the depths of Zlicin, then speed across Prague to another lesson you’ve taken in the pits of Cerny Most. All day long, from 8-8 you’ll be instructing, correcting, running between lessons. But then you’ll be burnt out, and end up hating it. Like your belly, you need to keep your schedule full but not over full. Otherwise you might vomit.
Laziness is a key factor that could actually haunt your teaching. It’s easily done. You’ve been teaching a while, you think you can just rock up to a lesson without any preparation. And then – bang – right in the middle of the lesson, you get the equivalent of writer’s block – Teacher’s Freeze. It is a common academic condition whereupon the teacher, inexplicably, completely runs out of all ideas and inspiration. The students sit there, waiting for some direction, guidance, some actual teaching, and yet no words come. You make lots of odd, guttural noises and rummage in your bag that you know contains nothing but a MP3 and a banana, and try and ride it out. Eventually, one of them asks if you are ok, and after some unconvincing nodding of the head and heavy sweating, you regain some composure, look your students in the eye, and finally say, “So, what you doing next weekend?”