Three Ways to Teach English Abroad
Should I Teach English Abroad?
As a tangent to my hub, How to Travel Cheaply (and Never Feel Like You’re Missing Out), I thought I would describe in detail one of the ideas I suggested, because it requires some time and planning to do it well. Teaching ESL has become quite popular in the past decade. The most typical scenario is young 20-somethings who want to take time off after college because they have no idea what they want to do with their lives. And so they go abroad for a year, or two, or three (or as long as they can possibly extend their adventure), before coming home to start a career or to continue schooling. I’ve also met those who taught English before college during a gap year, during college as a break, or in their late 20s before changing careers. The trend to see here is that most people do this as a break from “real” life, not as a career in itself, although there are exceptions. For me, however, teaching English in Spain has been as much an essential part of my life as a break from it.
Whatever your personal views, it’s important to recognize that ESL teaching jobs abroad are generally considered a break – a way to subsidize your travels – because this is the way your employers will often treat it. This means low pay, few benefits, and often little support. Don’t expect to start your retirement fund. You probably will have to budget carefully to be able to travel and buy the expensive ticket back home.
Teaching English Guide: What to Expect
Beyond the measly compensation for this sort of work, negatives are more related to the particular schools or regions where you end up. I, for one, loved Almería, my school and my esl students, but I was the first teaching assistant they had, and spent much of the year figuring how how best to use my skills.
One friend at a different school had a particularly boring experience. She sat in the office most days until called on to read from the book in English, to hear her American accent. And that was all. Surprising, given that she was a trained ESOL teacher back in the States. Other friends had great transitions abroad due to the faculty, location of the school, or the previous existence of a teaching assistant program. My point is that you can’t judge how your experience will be until you know who you will be working with, so unless you have access to that information, it’s best to not worry.
Find Teaching Jobs and Go Abroad
So, after these caveats, the big question still remains: HOW do I get an English teaching position abroad?
There are in general 3 ways to teach abroad:
- Complete a teaching certification program, and find a job on your own.
- Find a country or region with a government or private program for placing English teachers or assistants.
- Query international, American, British or religious private schools for openings.
I’ll explain all three options with varying detail, because I chose option 2, and didn’t need to extensively research the other two routes. If you happen to know more information, or think my advice is uninformed, please leave a comment below!
With this route, you choose one of the English teaching certification courses, pay for the program and then, ideally, your certified status will help when looking for jobs.
Here is one hubber’s advice on the TEFL brand of this process.
I was advised to take the certification course in the country in which you plan to apply for a job, because at the end of the course recruiters often come hunt for good candidates. Other options are to take the course online, or to take it at home before leaving. The cost varies, and some courses are better than others, but I’m fairly ignorant of the differences here.
For TESOL, another hubber has a general description of the program here.
And CELTA, associated with Cambridge English, which has an almost monopolistic status in Europe, is another one, about which hubber maddot has a few words of wisdom.
In sum, I don’t prefer one over the other. It’s a matter of your preferences, location, time and money. The negatives are that you don’t automatically get a visa for extended stay and you don’t automatically get a job. Which brings me to the next option…
2. Apply for a program, have your visa and your job when you arrive.
This is the route I took, and am happy I did so. It was a huge relief not having to worry about extending my stay, or staying illegally (many countries have 3 month tourist visa rules, so these teaching “tourists” hop over to the next country and back to stay another 3). Plus arriving with a job was a lot less nerve-wracking than stepping off the plane into uncertainty. With the other ways of teaching English overseas, you may end up with a better or higher paying job, but to me, having a job, any job, on arrival was better than the alternative. But, I’m not exactly a risk taker.
The two government-sponsored programs than I know of are in Spain and France (the links go straight to the program websites). These programs place you as a language assistant at a public school, with the level and location often being random. The pay is about the same, starting at about 700 Euros a month, but I’ve heard the French TAs complain that the money doesn’t quite go as far as it does in Spain. To those in the US, 700 Euros a month may seem shockingly low (I believe it’s actually a bit more in Madrid and Barcelona), but it’s livable, and with private lessons even more so. Attention: you MUST apply early – deadlines are at the beginning of the calendar year.
Then there are the private programs like CIEE Teach Abroad and the one I did in Spain, JYS TAS. The downside is that you pay an initial program fee of about $2000, which guarantees you a position at a private or semi-private (ie partial government funding) school, pays for a better orientation/training than the government program, and for insurance. Honestly, I would have done the government program if I hadn’t MISSED THE DEADLINE. But I was determined to go abroad, so I forked over the money. After the initial fee, the school still paid me a monthly stipend equal to that of the government program and it worked out just fine in the end. Between the two, CIEE by far has more locations to teach, but if you want to teach in Spain, consider JYS TAS for its small size and attention.
Specifically for US citizens, there is also the prestigious and notoriously selective Fulbright ETA program, as well as Peace Corps. These two are a bit different in nature, so I won’t comment on them here. And lastly…
3. Skip the Middleman, Apply Directly
Private schools often don’t require applicants to have a certain certification – having a university degree and/or experience can sometimes be enough. Another advantage is that you could end up teaching another subject besides English, like history or science, if those are your fields. It completely depends on the school and their needs, be they religious, American, British, International, etc. Some consortia of private schools actually organize conferences and job fairs in your home country. This would be an excellent option to look into. You have a chance to get a feel for the people running the school, and if hired, they will probably aide you in your visa situation.
Teaching abroad is not the only way to live in a foreign country, but it’s often the most accessible. For me, at least, it was a wonderful, if challenging, experience, and one that I would recommend. I realize that the multitude of options on how to teach abroad can be confusing and overwhelming, but hopefully this outline has made it a smidge clearer! If it hasn’t, or you have specific questions, please feel free to leave a comment. And good luck!