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My experiences teaching English in Poland has taught me a lot. Yep, being a teacher taught me things.
Firstly, what skills does it take to be a teacher? I’d spent the last 10 years as a welder. Do I have the skills to teach English abroad, let alone in Poland?
Click here to take the same online TEFL course I took. It’s all I needed to get qualified to teach!
Teaching English in Poland Checklist
This is what I did as a non-EU citizen to get a job teaching English with no prior experience or qualifications
- Get an online TEFL certificate (nice to have previous experience, too).
- Find a physical school on an online school that’s willing to employ you on an Umowa o pracę and apply for a work permit.
- Apply for the work permit and wait (you cannot start work until you get this work permit)
- Once you have the permit, sign the work contract and start working.
- Use the work permit and employment contract to apply for a temporary residence permit
Will this process work for you? Maybe, maybe not. You need to go job hunting and find work and schools that are willing to help you go through the process of working here. I did it the very hard way, as a non-EU citizen without prior experience or qualifications. But the fact that I did do it means that it can be done!
Becoming a teacher
Looking back at it, I don’t feel that I’ve ever actually learned English. I can’t really remember ever sitting down, even in primary school, and learning the rules of the English language. Past present, present continuous, these had no association to English to me.
Prior to teaching, I never knew the rules. I just…knew.
For example, why do we get on the train but get in the car? Many of my students have made that mistake – I correct them, but I have no honest answer why it’s like that.
How can I teach English if I’ve never learnt English?
I had very little teaching experience prior to moving here. I did though, have a passion for words, reading and using the language in general.
As a kid, most of my friends would wake up and eat their breakfast while watching morning cartoons. I, on the other hand, ate while reading the encyclopedia. I remember asking my mum how a suspension bridge works while she was frantically packing my lunch for school that day.
Throughout high school, I had always excelled in English, too. I was one of the few kids who read the books we had to read and understood what questions were being asked.
‘Write a 300-word essay explaining why the author decided to use era-specific language and a regional dialect’.
‘Explain why American English is different from Traditional British English‘.
I’ve always felt like one of my natural skills was my ability to analyze and use English, as well as the stories it tells. I have always admired my teachers, too. Even the ones that kept me after class for whatever reason, I admired the fact that they wanted to help little humans improve themselves.
I do believe that, despite my formal training prior to moving to Poland, it was my attitude toward English at a young age that benefitted me when I was to become a teacher.
To help myself out, I sat and studied a few online courses about teaching English – even one specifically designed to Teach in Poland.
I figured this would at least expose me to the idea of teaching English and teaching English abroad, and give me some kind of formal background.
That wasn’t too challenging. It exposed me to some fundamental principles, the idea of planning lessons and what parts of the English language more non-native speakers struggle with.
I then took to helping my 11-year-old step sister with her English homework, every chance I got.
So when I decided to move here and realized that I was to become a teacher, (a career I’d probably just fall into through convenience) I was in 2 minds about it.
Did I have the knowledge of the English language enough to teach it?
Did I have the life skills to help someone improve (what is for Europeans) an essential life skill?
Another question I asked myself – if I wanted to teach, what role would Poland play? How do Poles take to English?
I’ve met more English teachers in Poland that I have in my entire life. Being an English teacher is quite a common job in Poland. Perhaps it’s because it’s a skill that’s naturally acquired by the younger generation?
Perhaps it’s because there’s so much demand for high-level English amongst Poles.
Curious what the salary is for teaching English abroad? Or what the average salary is in Poland? Well knowing how Victorian teachers are paid, I’m probably earning the same amount as them!
As a native English speaker, teaching English is just something I naturally fell in to.
How I came to teach English in Poland
I’ve met more teachers here in Warsaw than I have in my entire life. Being an English teacher is quite a common job in Poland. Perhaps it’s because it’s a skill that’s naturally acquired by the younger generation? Perhaps it’s because there’s so much demand. As a native English speaker, teaching English is just something I naturally fell into.
First things first – It was important to know what I was teaching. I’m teaching English, obviously. But American, or British English?
I’ll be deep in the cold cold ground before I call it a flashlight.
If I was to teach Poles, what do Poles want to learn? Colour Color? Theatre or theater? ‘Do you have a problem’ or ‘have you got a problem?’ Knowledge of these things and their differences would make take from ‘a guy that spoke English’ to ‘somewhat of an English teacher’. This was to be my job and I wouldn’t do it half-assed.
While still in Australia, I was lucky enough to come across the Polonization blog, run by the lovely Leah. I read her blog about getting a karta pobytu (that’s a story for another day) and emailed her, telling her it really taught me a lot. She asked me when I was moving here and if I had work lined up. Sure enough, I didn’t and she offered me a job teaching for her English school, Talkback.
When I got here, I had my first class on Skype.
Nearly every person I’ve taught English to since that first lesson has been incredibly nervous. But on that first lesson, I was the nervous one. I sat in the same position I am now with a notebook and introduced myself. I took notes about the person I was talking to in the hope that I’d use it to stir up the conversation in the future. I wrote down e.v.e.r.y. l.i.t.t.l.e t.h.i.n.g they said wrong and then corrected them on it.
It didn’t take me long to see a few things amongst Poles and their English.
- They’re all shy and nervous.
- They all make similar mistakes (eg, ‘I made a photo’ because ‘zrobiłem zdęcja’ instead of ‘I took a photo’)
- They lose all motivation when you correct every little thing they say.
I soon understood that all those things applied to me and my Polish, too – especially the 3rd point.
English teaching tools
When I was struggling to keep a student entertained, or for some reason, my planned lesson couldn’t go ahead, there were two tools that I relied on heavily.
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I really suggest that you go and buy yourself a deck of these things. On one side of the card is an English phrase, and on the other is the same phrase in Polish.
Grab the cards and mix them up and throw them on a table. Have the Polish side facing up. Your student picks up a random card, reads the Polish phrase, and then has to tell you the English version of that phrase and then explain it in English.
Make it even harder by mixing it up – give your student the Polish version for them to translate and explain, but then the English version.
And Story cubes:
Story cubes saved many a lesson for me.
Story cubes are simply cubes that have a picture of something on each side. A turtle, a question mark, a pyramid – usually random physical things.
These work best in a group setting. Each player creates a character by rolling 3 or 4 dice. Each thing represents a characteristic or defining feature of that student’s character. You can then create a role playing game using your character, or simply ask your students to describe their character, and then a day in the life of that character.
The bad things about teaching English in Poland
Since I’m not a ‘career’ teacher, I struggled in a few areas with my role as a teacher. I had some students who had very little understanding of the English language. I couldn’t make small talk with them, and most of my classes were exactly that – conversation classes based on small talk. It’s hard to make small talk if your student says things like ‘We yesterday go to shopping and food buy’. I struggled with that kind of student. I really truly wanted to help them, but my skills and knowledge as a teacher just couldn’t. It didn’t take long for both student and teacher to realize that a better teacher was needed.
The other problem came at the other end of the scale. I was teaching a group of 3 people in their early 20’s in their work office. Their English was fantastic. They spoke with a slight accent but had no problem communicating and articulating their ideas in a variety of ways. We played a huge range of games to boost their confidence and increase their vocabulary. But I didn’t feel like I was teaching them. I felt like I was merely entertaining them.
This DIY RPG was by far the most complex and fun game I’ve ever played – and I was the teacher.
This was frustrating in a way. Their English skills were fantastic, but not perfect. I wanted to help perfect it, but with only 2x 90-minute classes per week, how to help individuals reduce their accent? Sure, my girlfriend – who I’ve lived with for the last years – is developing a bit of an Australian accent, but with students for who you only have limited time, that’s tough.
So you can see, I struggled at both ends of the spectrum.
One struggle that I’ve faced is that being an Australian that’s teaching English, a lot of my students want me to talk. They want to hear my accent and hear how we ride kangaroos to work and how drop bears will tear your face off.
Like I explain in my previous post, Poles love Australia.
On the other side of the coin, I’ve had some students end regular lessons with me because they just don’t understand my accent – for example, the way I say ‘era’ and ‘error’ is exactly the same. 2 different words, 2 different meaning, pronounced 2 different ways by both British and Americans. But for me, nope – same sound.
To combat this, I’ve gotten into the habit of mentioning a reassuring disclaimer the first time I have a lesson with someone.
Little tricks like this help build confidence and trust between you and your scared English student.
The good things about teaching in Poland
One incredibly huge upside of teaching is the bonds you build. I feel like most of my students have turned into genuine friends. When you go out of your way to spend time with each other, you cannot help but build a rapport and some kind of emotional investment in the other person.
Most of my classes with my students now are no longer built around a framework. Instead, we discuss what’s happening in their lives – and, to a less extent, my own. They talk to me about what’s happening in their lives and I intentionally encourage that.
Why? Because people learn when they don’t feel like they’re learning. If it’s fun and enjoyable, the skills are retained easier. I feel that my role is to provide a comfortable and encouraging environment, and the rest takes care of itself.
Teaching is great fun and very rewarding. You do, however, have to be upbeat, proactive and think on your toes. As a native speaker, your role is not so much to ‘teach’, but to communicate.
You need to be able to explain why ‘making a call’ means you calling someone, and ‘taking a call’ means you answering the phone. Little gems like this are things I never understood until teaching the language.
Just remember, if you’re teaching English while also learning Polish – well, you have it a lot harder than those who are learning English.
For those of you that are really wanting to teach English, I encourage you to get a qualification, and this is the qualification I now have.
It’s this that allowed me to get a job, a work permit, a residence permit and ultimately, my karta pobytu.