How to Be an Excellent, Award-Winning ESL Teacher

During my time here in Korea, I’ve had the opportunity to meet some great teachers. One of those teachers is my friend, Candice, from South Africa. It’s possible you’ve watched her in other videos of mine including one of her award-winning classes she presented to the Busan Office of Education.

Back in 2012 Candice was recognized by the Office of Education as the standout GET (Guest English Teacher) in all of Busan.

imageThere are many people who have questions about how to get started teaching, what certifications are best, how to plan and teach a lesson, and many others as well. I decided to take an opportunity to sit down with Candice to find out how she prepared for her open classes and what she believes has made her an effective ESL teacher.

The following are some of the details Candice pointed out that can help ESL teachers up their game as she did:

Get Certified – It’s safe to say that finding a decent ESL contract with a reputable school is becoming increasingly difficult. In some corners of the world it is still possible to find a spot with only a bachelor’s degree with no certification or experience, but that window is closing. My opinion is if you find a school that is willing to cut corners on requirements, they’ll likely cut corners with handling teachers. It’s just human nature and would be the same in any industry – not just teaching.

Some examples of the different types of certifications include TESOL/TEFL (preferably in-class), CELTA, teaching license from your home country, subject-specific endorsements on your teaching license (e.g. math, science, PE, etc.), Business English, and others. There are a lot of choices. Pick one and run with it. Staying stagnant will keep you, well, stagnant.

Cover All Four Skills of Language Acquisition – Reading, Writing, Listening, and Speaking. As Guest English Teachers (GET) in Korea, the hope is that we will affect speaking the most. That’s really the essence of our existence with EPIK. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should overlook the other skills because in reality all are essential and need to be developed holistically. The hope is that Korean teachers are building a foundation that will compliment the student’s ability to speak more effectively in the end. It doesn’t always play out like that, so putting an effort in yourself to develop all aspects will benefit the student.

Build a Relationship with Your Co-Teacher – I strongly believe that developing chemistry with your co-teacher not only improves teaching but will also improve your overall time abroad. Sometimes it’s inevitable that one is stuck with a lifeless, emotionless individual and there’s no way around it. However, most are generally decent and putting in a sincere effort to work with one’s co-teacher as a team can make or break your experience abroad.

In the classroom with kids it’s particularly important though. Sometimes you’ll need to split work that wasn’t initially scheduled. Working with sometime who works WITH you will make the adjustment easier. It also makes lessons more thorough and effective, as Candice explains in the video.

Having a good relationship with your co-teacher also send a strong message to the students. In particular, those who are unruly or tend to push the boundaries. If they know your co-teacher will back you up, they will show greater respect towards you. I say “show” because it may not change their outlook towards you or teachers in general, but will change their behavior towards you. This is CRITICAL in that Korean students know that foreign teachers from elementary up through University are not the same as the Korean teachers and instructors. So, it’s important that they either like/respect you, or know for certain that the co-teacher is in your corner.

Attitude – One thing Candice didn’t formally mention is attitude. However, as you can sense from this and other videos, she has a very positive attitude. It’s impossible to stress this enough especially for those who teach abroad long-term. We can all learn a little more about bringing the right attitude to class and checking the bad one at the door.

If you teach abroad long enough, you’ll definitely have a time when the irritation of students and culture shock converge. This can drive a sober man to drink sometimes, and having the ability to maintain the right attitude and perspective will make all the difference.

Don’t underestimate the impact of the points above. I try to apply them to my own life, and yet still fail miserably at times. Just another work in progress.


  1. These are great tips and points! Thank you for sharing them with us, Tom and Candice! 🙂 I leave this blog again having learned so much.

    I just started observing/teaching ESL here at home in order to fulfill my TESOL certificate hours and I am realizing how difficult it is to plan lessons, teach them, and to remain positive despite difficult days.

  2. Thanks so much for the share.


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