Your Career Teaching English—from Start to Finish
Teaching English is a wonderful job and it can provide you with an even more wonderful career. Teaching will grant you a sense of accomplishment and, along the way, you will change lives, meet outstanding colleagues, and make superb friends. ESL (English as a Second Language) is also a job that will pay the bills, provide a nest egg, and allow you to travel, or to put down roots in a community—but for all of this to happen you need a plan.
First, a little about the job. It seems that few people decide from the outset that they aspire to a career teaching English. It tends to be a path that originates from a desire to travel, or to make quick money while travelling. This is not a bad thing. We reach where we are in life from various routes.
To start, you need to take the job seriously. I say this as many teachers begin as “backpackers”. This is always a sneering term of contempt. “Backpackers”—the image of the unwashed young, short of cash, who find a semi-legal job teaching English poorly to those who know or can afford no better. It is true that some do fall into this category, but far fewer than is generally imagined. At the very least, if this is you, take the time and a little trouble to give yourself basic training. Take a TEFL course. This is Teaching English as a Foreign Language. These courses come under various names, with different emphasis, but they will give you the essentials: an idea of how to retain your student’s attention, what to teach, and what you should expect to achieve.
Why should you do this? I mean, why? You can find yourself a job teaching English with no greater qualification than being a native speaking westerner in many countries. There are two reasons. The first is your students. Take what you do seriously. Your students and their parents are entrusting you with their time, our most precious commodity. Don’t waste it. The second follows from the first, when you do something do it well. Do not drift, slack, or fritter away your time. If you teach, learn how to teach. If you do something else, learn how to do that. We have a short time on this earth, if you are doing anything useful, which teaching definitely is, take the time to learn how to do it well.
So, get yourself educated with a certificate course, but which certificate? There are many options, online or face to face. At home or on the road? Do your research, ask around, find out the situation, and make your choice. Then ensure that you get as much as possible from that course. Learn as much as you can.
Next, after you have been teaching a while, ask yourself a vital question. Do you enjoy what you are doing? Important question. By this I mean, should you continue teaching? When I say enjoy, be assured that teaching is demanding, stressful, and difficult. You are responsible for imparting information, and creating new identity in the minds of your young charges, however, if you are a teacher you will look forward to this challenge, and feel rewarded when you see the result. This is my question. Do you enjoy this exhausting and demanding job?
If the answer is no, then I suggest that you look elsewhere. You will not be a good teacher, and most likely do more harm than good. Find a different path.
For those who answered “yes” then a new career awaits. There are seven billion plus people in the world, and only 500 million are native speakers of English. That is a lot of students! You can spend the rest of your life teaching these people—and let me assure you, most of these good folk want to learn, study, and eventually master English!
What should you do next? The answer is to get serious about your academic background. You will need to educate yourself with an ESL degree, or, if you have a degree, a graduate diploma in teaching English. These qualifications come in various names, from various institutions, but they all have the aim of giving you the background knowledge and awareness to be an effective teacher of English.
Your degree will open new doors, foster new opportunities, and give you fresh knowledge. It will impart the history, background, and the theory and practice of your career—the condensed wisdom of generations of teachers who have gone before you. More importantly tertiary education will teach you how to reason, analyse, and understand the world. At the end of the process you will be a better and different person. Someone who can comprehend and measure the world, not simply react.
A degree takes three to four years to complete. At the very beginning of your career this will seem a long time, and it is, but the time will pass irrespective. It is up to you to get the most from these years. A degree will do this. Bear in mind that it is possible to teach while studying, it is also possible to teach and travel while studying, or to complete you study in a different country.
My recommendation, study where you want to teach. If it is Asia, look for a degree in Asia—study, teach, and experience your new world directly. Look for a course with teachers teaching, look for a course with community involvement, one that schedules your employment into the curriculum, and most importantly, look for a course that is demanding and difficult. Don’t waste your time.
You might want to consider learning a second language while you study. This is not necessary to teach English, but learning your own second language will give you an insight into the thought processes of your students, demonstrate a commitment, and benefit your own mental development.
Upon graduation a new career waits. You can teach in a primary or secondary school, public or private. Also private language schools, private coaching, and the special projects that come along. You can work in Asia, from the huge city of Bangkok, the mega cities of Tokyo, Beijing, and Shanghai, from Indonesia to the less developed countries of Myanmar and Laos, and others. Also look elsewhere, there are excellent and highly paid opportunities in Europe, the Middle East, there is also work in parts of Africa and Latin America.
When starting out—acquire experience. Move around, do you prefer high school or kindergarten, Japan or the Netherlands? Read education journals, discuss with colleagues, conferences, stay up to date, and learn. Make contacts, network, become known, get ideas, think short term and plan long term. Also, teaching. Teach, when and as often as you can.
Teaching English as a business.
Regard your career as a business. I say this as opportunities abound for good ESL teachers, but these require a degree of entrepreneurship. There are teachers who make a living from English camps. These camps run for a few days to a week, have various themes, and are self-funded by parents. Create a program, find an interested school, talk to the director, and then win the hearts and minds of the students and their parents with your camp. You can return several times a year.
Outside school there is the corporate sector. Businesses want their staff to speak English well. Think 5 star hotels, executives, sales staff, import and export departments—create a course and market. There is always corporate work around, but you have to ferret it out. Get into self-promotion. There is also the larger option of opening your own language school, or being asked to open a school. Be a capable teacher and opportunities will present themselves.
Returning to the academia, and if this appeals, think of further study. There is the prospect of a masters or even a doctorate in education in order to improve your teaching, or to move into the field of tertiary education. Also, a career as a specialist teacher. Does the combination of math and English appeal? Students with disabilities? Medical English? Gifted children? All are possible. Also, education itself, do you want to move out of the classroom and become a director, HR, an Ed advisor, curriculum development, or school design? Opportunities exist. They will come along, be ready for them.
A new development, over the past three or four years, is online teaching. You can sit comfy, in your shorts (as the expression goes) anywhere in the world and teach. Not a bad choice. Though I will state that to be regarded as a teacher, you should be able to teach face to face, and keep a class of youngsters on topic and learning. Online teaching is an excellent option. Either work for yourself, which requires a degree of marketing and effort, or find a suitable company(-ies) to work for.
To return to the point of this essay, teaching is a wonderful job and career. You will improve the lives of many people, and see them grow and move out into the world. Over the years you will ‘bump into’ your students, who will be overjoyed to see you again. No feeling is better. No accomplishment greater.
This article about “You Career Teaching English – From Start to Finish” by Dr. Ian Reide – Freelance English Teacher, academic and IELTS English. A great big thank you from TEFL International Cambodia to Dr. Ian Reide for giving permission to share this very informative article.