How to Become an English Teacher: A Short Guide
Being an ESL teacher in another country can be amazing. It looks great on your resume, it gives you a unique, more in-depth view of the world, and it leaves you with incredible memories. But it isn’t easy to make the decision to leave your home for a foreign country. When you’re an English teacher overseas, you have to leave behind all the familiar things, places, and people. And the last thing you want is realise you’ve made the wrong decision once you arrive and slink back home a month later.
If you’re struggling with this decision, then you can make it easier by gathering as much information as you can before you leave. That way, you can be more sure that you’re making the right decision when you get on that plane.
Why Consider Teaching?
In most western countries, being a teacher isn’t a really prestigious job. You hear horror stories about the bad pay, abusive parents, out of control children, and an unsupportive education system.
But being an ESL teacher is different, really different. In fact, once you’ve taught English overseas, you might start to wonder why other countries seem to have a much better approach to education than your home country. Here are just some of the reasons why you should consider being an ESL teacher overseas:
Your pay rate is important, right? Although teachers back home usually aren’t paid well, the pay for ESL teachers is pretty good. Learning English is a highly competitive field and not everyone wants to move overseas. To overcome these barriers, schools offer the best pay possible to attract teachers. And they often add bonuses on top of the good pay as well.
So, unless you’re in the habit of buying designer clothes all the time, you’ll be able to live off your pay easily and probably save quite a bit of it too. Sometimes, your accommodation and utilities are included with your teaching package, so the money you get from your school each month is yours free and clear.
Well Behaved Students
You won’t often find badly behaved children in ESL schools. Parents usually have to pay a lot to have their children taught by a native speaker, so they tend to impress the importance of good behaviour on their children. They also like to see that they’re getting their money’s worth, so your students will be expected to work hard.
What this means for you is that you’ll have attentive classes with very little misbehaving. And if you make your classes fun, you’ll have enthusiastic classes too.
There’s nothing quite like giving your students skills they need and watching them succeed. When you start out with a class that can barely say their own names in English and watch them slowly transform into confident speakers who are understandably proud of their skills, there’s no better feeling.
Apart from being well behaved, many of your students will be absolutely charming too. As an ESL teacher, you can be a bit of a spectacle in another country. Your students will enjoy chatting to you and showing off their varied skills. And if you’re in a town that doesn’t see a lot of tourists, they’ll also want to show you off outside of school and introduce you to all the wonders of their city.
Basically, ESL teachers often get treated as celebrities, and this can be a wonderful and unexpected bonus to teaching English overseas.
You may hear horror stories about teaching in your home country. But it’s very different when you’re an ESL teacher overseas. ESL schools want to attract as many teachers as possible. So, they offer as many bonuses as they can like great apartments, free meals, or extra holidays as well as great pay.
ESL Teaching vs a Regular Job
ESL teaching is quite different to a regular job back home and you’ll need to be prepared for the differences. Here’s what you can expect:
After Hours Work
If you’re used to the kind of job where you work 9 to 5, then ESL teaching will surprise you. Of course, you’ll have your regular hours. But you’ll also probably have to work out of hours too.
Some ESL schools run promotional activities that you’ll need to attend or extra activities to enhance your students’ learning. This is considered part of the school experience, and it means you may have to work outside of your normal hours occasionally.
Meeting the Parents
Meeting the parents and making a good impression is incredibly important as an ESL teacher. Your students’ parents are paying good money for native speaker instruction, so it’s important that you convince them you’re doing a good job.
You may have to hold parent-teacher meetings or have parents observing you during classes sometimes. So, be prepared for observation during your classes, always dress neatly, and insist on discipline in your classes to impress the parents with your teaching skills.
You will get vacation days as an ESL teacher, but again they might be different to what you’re used to back home. Most ESL schools will give you at least two weeks’ vacation days along with public holidays. If you’re from the US, this will seem normal to you. But if you’re from Europe or Australia, where work holidays are longer, this might not seem like enough. This isn’t something you can change, so you will just have to adjust to it.
Homework isn’t just for students. The point of homework is to get your students learning outside of your classroom. And it’s essential because it’s almost impossible to make progress with just an hour or two of English lessons a week.
So, be prepared to give out homework and to mark it, perhaps even in your off time.
When you’re living in another country, particularly in Asia, you’re always on display. You’ll stand out as a symbol of your school and your country. So, do your best to act like it.
How to Choose a Country
One of the biggest decisions you’ll need to make when you decide to teach overseas is to pick a country. At the moment, countries all over the world are looking for ESL teachers, so you’ll have your choice of jobs and locations.
Choosing the right country is essential for having a great experience. And with most countries, there are good and bad points. So, you need to decide what drawbacks you can live with and find your ideal teaching location. Here’s what you need to know about the countries who are always looking for ESL teachers:
Japan is amazing and very popular among ESL teachers. Here are some of the benefits of living and teaching in this amazing country:
- Hard-working, attentive students who will challenge and delight you.
- The country itself is beautiful and interesting.
- Public transport is great, which can make for amazing trips around the country.
- Incredible, healthy, and delicious food is available everywhere.
- A great standard of living.
Of course, there are drawbacks too, including:
- Fairly low pay in comparison with the cost of living, which means less savings at the end of your stay.
- Very crowded, busy cities, which is where most ESL teachers end up.
- You may be a little isolated if you’re in a rural area without other ESL teachers.
- Long workdays and even longer commutes.
Related: Teach in Japan, the land of the rising sun
China is a very popular location for ESL teachers at the moment. Here’s why you should teach in this huge and varied country:
- There are lots of jobs, so you’ll have your pick of positions and cities.
- Your students will be attentive, happy, and excited to be in your class.
- China is a huge, varied country that offers a diverse cultural experience to the brave.
- The pay rates tend to be very good and you will be able to save fairly easily.
- The food is incredible.
- You’ll have lots of support from other teachers and from the locals who are eager to get to know you.
This might sound ideal, but there are some drawbacks too:
- The facilities like bathrooms and hospitals can be a bit of a shock if you’re expecting clean, modern amenities.
- There isn’t as much English in China as you would think, so communication can be a problem.
- China has a major air pollution problem, so if you have weak lungs then you may end up sick.
- Huge, crowded, busy cities.
- Scams are common in China’s ESL community, so if you choose the wrong school you may struggle to get paid or get pressured to teach on the wrong visa.
Related: Living and teaching in China
Taiwan is tiny but has a surprisingly high demand for ESL teachers. In fact, it’s one of the most popular places to teach English and for good reasons:
- The standard of living is very high, with sleek modern facilities everywhere.
- Good payrates compared to a fairly low cost of living.
- Absolutely incredible food.
- The climate is warm and sub-tropical.
- The people are friendly, curious, and welcoming.
- Amazing public transport.
- When you get out of the cities, the local landscape is spectacular.
And here are the bad parts about teaching in Taiwan:
- English levels can be low outside of the big cities and even within them, so communication may be difficult.
- The big cities are crowded and busy all the time.
- You probably won’t be able to save as much living in Taiwan as you would in other countries.
Related: Living and teaching in Taiwan
Thailand is another popular choice for ESL teachers and for good reason. It has a lot to offer, including:
- Incredible food.
- A friendly, welcoming culture.
- Lots of available jobs.
- A great climate.
- Easy, fast access to other countries in Asia if you want to travel during your holidays.
- Friendly, happy, attentive students.
- Fairly good pay so you can live comfortably and still save some money.
This might sound perfect, but there are some drawbacks too:
- You may not always have access to modern conveniences at home or at school.
- If you’re teaching in a major city, you’ll have to contend with horrendous traffic, crowds, and air pollution.
- The level of organisation in your school may not be what you’re expecting, so keep an open mind.
Related: Living and teaching in Thailand
Vietnam’s government has been making a big push to get more students speaking English lately, so there’s a high demand for ESL teachers. The benefits of teaching in Vietnam are:
- You’ll have your pick of jobs.
- High pay rates because of the high demand.
- The cost of living is very low, which means you’ll be able to live well and save well.
- The locals are the friendliest, nicest people you’ll ever meet, and they’ll want to talk and interact with you even if they don’t speak English.
- Amazing food.
- Beautiful natural scenery everywhere.
And the drawbacks:
- The classes can be huge if you’re in public schools, up to 70 students in a single English class.
- Vietnam is fairly poor, so you can’t expect lots of modern facilities everywhere you go.
- Vietnam’s culture and norms are very different, so expect some shocks along the way!
- The treatment of animals in Vietnam is a loaded issue and if you’re sensitive to this then you’ll see some unpleasant things while you’re in the country.
ESL teaching looks great on your resume and broadens your life and your mind in ways you won’t expect. So, don’t let your worries or concerns stop you from trying it. It literally could change every part of your life for the better.