Just because you know English does not make you qualified to teach it.
Many volunteer programs involve teaching English in schools, but there is a difference between knowing a language and knowing how to teach it. Chucking some youngsters into a classroom with your fingers crossed will not result in able English speakers after 1 month. It’s not that you’re bad for trying, but really it is just a waste of time. Students get confused if their teachers are constantly changing, as this disrupts the structure of their learning. See it as someone trying to build a house, but every week the workforce is changed. TEFL courses can be relatively cheap, and if you can’t fid the money there are plenty of resources online for you to scratch up on your English grammar. No student ever wants to be taught by a teacher who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
Know your place.
Find out if you are going to assist a qualified teacher, or whether you are going to be running the show. If it is the former, then great; TAs are useful in every classroom, and when it comes to learning English exposure to native speakers and the opportunity to converse alongside learning is genuinely beneficial. However, know your place and work with the teacher, not as an individual body there to pursue their own aims. They should (hopefully) know what their doing, and you should be there to support. At first use your time to observe where you are needed. In large classrooms give students who are shy, struggling, or displaying behavioral difficulties, some extra attention encouragement to help them from falling behind. Get the students practicing their English as much as possible by making them feel that a) they are capable of it, and b) it’s an awesome thing for them to be learning.
Understand the wider social implications.
Why should they be learning English of all languages in the first place? I support the gift of a second language in general, and I have no strong feelings that we should be teaching English over any other language. Knowing a second language opens up doors for students in areas of poverty, for both work and further education. Because English is so widely spoken and has such a diverse history, it is relatively easy to learn, but I don’t believe it is superior and I don’t give off this impression when I’m teaching it in a classroom. This is something to consider if you are to volunteer, as pointed out in this video.
A simple way to do this is to make an effort to learn the native language of your students. In a month that may only amount to basic phrases, but showing your students that you believe that they have knowledge to pass on to you is incredibly positive. They will inevitably laugh at your accent, get you to say silly phrases (and perhaps naughty things), but they love it! Some schemes will prohibit you conversing in their language as this will discourage the children from speaking English (which is true), but you can ask them to teach you some phrases whilst still primarily communicating in English. It’s worth it if they leave the classroom feeling like you also value what they can give to you, and not just that you are some white, middle class westerner who has arrived to tell them how they should speak.
How would I know…
In case you were wondering, I’ve been teaching English as a Foreign Language since Summer 2013, and am currently working as an English Teacher in Madrid, Spain. I studied the 130-hour combined TEFL course offered by Tefl.org.uk; that basically means it involved both an online course, and a 30 hour intense course in London. I would highly recommend Tefl.org.uk as their courses are well accredited and very comprehensive. They offer shorter, cheaper options if all you want to do is brush up for a few weeks volunteering, however if you are to be the sole teacher in the classroom I would recommend investing in an advanced course.I felt like I was learning a new language, and definitely would not be a confident (or good) teacher had I not done so!