Teaching English in the Czech Republic

Hana TicháTeaching English in the Czech Republic

by Hana Tichá


If you go online and search for the title of this post, you’ll get quite a few entriesYou’ll come across a plethora of job advertisements and blog posts which eloquently summarize the pros and cons of teaching English in the Czech Republic. One of the things you’ll discover is that Czechia is a great place to teach English because it’s a beautiful country with stunning architecture, great nightlife and eager students. Such articles, as you can see, are mostly aimed at unsuspecting foreigners. 

This post, however, is not going to be just another collection of tips for people making a decision about their next travel destination. After all, I’m not a language school owner so I have no desire to attract potential employees. Instead, I’d like to share what teaching English in the Czech Republic is like for somebody like me – a Czech currently based in a secondary state institution 

First things first. Not everybody can become an English teacher in the state sector of education; you’ll need some specific qualifications. Ideally, you should hold an MA degree from a pedagogical faculty or at least obtain a ‘pedagogical minimum’ certificate after you have graduated as an English major. This applies to the primary as well as the secondary level of education. If you want to teach English at university, you’ll probably need to aspire for a PhD.  

A typical English teacher in the state sector is a non-native speaker and female, especially at the primary level of education. The ‘higher’ you go, the more likely it is you’ll bump into a male colleague. Ironically, at our school, all the English teachers are women. Why is it so? Well, generally, you won’t make a fortune as a teacher and men are still considered to be breadwinners over here. But stereotypes aside, since the working hours are quite convenient – there are no night shifts, you have all the holidays and weekends are almost always free – aspiring for a teaching job in the state sector is not a bad option at all, especially if you have a family and kidsAdd to that the fact that the number of students in language classes is usually much smaller than in other subjects and that high proficiency in English may open some other doors for you – in the field of translation and interpreting, travelling, presenting, etc. Finally, teaching English can be enormously gratifying so in fact, it’s a win-win situation.  

As far as (non)native-ness is concernedthe lack of native speakers in the state sector is probably connected with the issue of qualifications. International certificates like CELTA or DELTA are almost unknown here, at least in my teaching environment. I can’t say for sure, but I don’t think they are even recognized as proper qualifications. Add to that the fact that native speakers seldom have the opportunity and/or desire to get degrees from Czech universities and you’ll see why they have become a rare species over the past few yearsI’m mentioning this because in the past, in the era of backpackers merrily marching from the west to the eastern and central Europe, native speakers of English were quite common, even as state school employees 

But some other things have changed as well. Gone are the days when the grammar translation method was in. Now, we like to say that we teach English communicatively. Whatever it means, though, it’s not proved terribly effective as of yet. The Czech Republic is not ranked among the top non-native English-speaking countries with the best English. Mind you, we’re not doing badly. In 2018, we came in 20th according to the EF EPI Global Ranking of Countries and Regions. As an excuse, let’s stress that Czech is not a Germanic language so it’s tough fous to master it the same way the Dutch or Swedish do. But once we stop dubbing English movies, we’ll definitely catch up with them. We will.  

Apart from teaching communicatively, we love using coursebooks. Our students and schools spend a lot of money on themIt doesn’t really matter that these days, loads of interesting teaching materials are accessible online and for free, and, most importantly, that some of the stuff found in globally produced coursebooks is unsuitable for a Czech learner. Wstill love coursebooks. This is probably because they represent something tangible – something to hold on to in the bad times.  

Another thing we adore here in the Czech Republic is British English. It’s OK except that many students, as well as some teachers, believe that British English is the only correct version of English. But recently, with the influx of American pop culture, particularly the film industry, the situation has changed a bitNow we have another version of ‘acceptable’ English, preferred by many students but still looked down on by some English teachers. It seems that not everybody has accepted the fact that there are more than one or two englishes out thereAlso, we need to start acknowledging that non-native speakers outnumber the native speakers by three to one and the imbalance will keep growing. Thus, it may not always be desirable to aim for a perfect English accent.  

Having said thatI believe teaching English in the Czech Republic has become much easier in the past few years. This is mainly due to all the opportunities technology offers these days. Unknown words can be instantly looked up in an online dictionary. There are useful apps which can help the learner to acquire English faster. English songs and movies with or without subtitles are just a click away. Sometimes it feels as if we are no longer teaching English in class; students learn it on their own outside of school and we only monitor their progress. The fact that our students can do without us just fine may appear a bit scary, but I believe there’s no need to despair. As our students get better, weCzech teachers of English, are gently forced to become better professionals too. And that’s what I really love about my job – I don’t feel like I’m getting fossilized.  

Teaching teenagers: a nightmare or a challenge?

Hana profile pic  by Hana Tichá

As a mother of three boisterous youngsters (two of them in their late teens), I can attest to the fact that adolescence is probably the most critical period of human development. Generally, teenagers are considered to be moody, impulsive and self-centred. They are seen as technology addicts constantly tapping their smartphone screens. Headphones, once defined as a hardware device, are now officially part of a teenage body, the same as ears, eyes or hands. What’s even worse, teenagers behave like totally carefree creatures who don’t care a toss about school.

Why on earth would one want to get involved in teaching teenagers then?

Well, teaching teens is my everyday reality; I teach English to groups of learners aged 13-19 and I have done so for many years now. Over time, I have gained a decent amount of experience and collected enough data to fall into the trap of seeing myself as an expert on the Teaching Teens Issue. So, I might easily feel tempted to start throwing my valuable insights at the reader now.

I won’t. Instead, I’m going to present the results of a little survey I conducted for the sake of this article. I asked some of my students what they think it is like for a teacher to teach teenagers these days. Apart from their answers, I’m sharing a couple of my random, spontaneous notes – thoughts and ideas that first sprang to mind while I was going through their responses.

What do you think it is like for a teacher to teach teenagers these days?

Hana's post pic 1Lucy (16): It’s very hard to teach teens because they are strange people. They say and do strange things because they think they know everything about the world and life. My note: There’s no reason to despair; their view of the world might be a great topic for conversation classes.

Niki (16): It must be very difficult. We are tired most of the time because we have to wake up early. We’re bored and lazy. During the lessons, we talk to each other because we have a lot to say. But sometimes, when we are in a good mood, we’ve got some interesting ideas and we can be really nice and fun. Note: Why not turn their enthusiasm to our advantage? Let them converse about things they are genuinely interested in.

Veronika (16): When you teach teens, you should be careful about erotic puns and ambiguous meanings. Also, expecting someone to start focusing right in the morning is foolish. Note: It seems we’d better start creating an extensive bank of classroom warmers and icebreakers. Also, we should think twice before we introduce certain PARSNIP topics, i.e. taboo issues in English language teaching. Sometimes it might be safer to avoid some of them completely.

Hana's post pic 2Pavel (16): If I had to teach teenagers, I’d be angry all the time, especially if they didn’t pay attention. Note: We should remember that our students realize how hard teaching can be. This can help us build a good relationship with them.

Tom (16): Teaching teens must be fun because they are almost adults and so they make intelligent jokes. Note: This is what I love about teaching teens! It is so refreshing and energizing.

Anonymous (16): The biggest advantage is when the teacher has his/her own teenage kids. Note: I can’t but agree! However, sometimes I feel knowing less would be to the good.

Anonymous (19): The teachers have to deal with the fact that everything they do is seen as awkward. I think teachers are poor human beings! Note: It’s incredible how compassionate teenagers can be!

Anonymous (19): Teaching is like driving. Sometimes you make the right turn and the students pay attention and you are full of happiness. Then there are bad turns and the students are bored. Note: This metaphor only proves how exciting it is to teach young adults.

Anonymous (19): I appreciate today’s teachers. Note: So simple and telling. Teaching is worth the effort in the end.

Nikol (19): I think that teaching teenagers is like trying to force huge mountains to move. Note: Well, who says it’s easy?

As the teenage brain has not fully developed yet, it may sometimes be extremely difficult for us adults to understand what’s going on in those little heads. Despite the fact we were all once teenagers ourselves, it’s still hard for us to fully appreciate what it is like to be one these days. Nevertheless, I’m an optimist and I’m convinced that it all comes down to communication.

I believe that regardless of our prior assumptions the only way to discover how our students really feel is to ask them. And to get frank answers, we mustn’t be afraid to be open ourselves. I can’t see any reason for worrying about their potential reactions; the results of the survey make me hope that most of them will always be encouraging and pleasing, rather than rude or arrogant.