ESL/TESOL Teaching: Thinking of a career change but not sure if ESL is a valid prospect...read on to find out more on how ESL teaching is a great way to give to a community.

If your current job is getting you down, or maybe your life circumstances have changed and it's left you daydreaming for a chance to branch out and find new opportunities. Often one of the first things that people look at changing when they feel this way, is their job. The second thing is location. Depending on your situation, one option that opens up both of these life changes is ESL teaching. With courses ranging from a few weeks to a few months or years, gaining accreditation to teach TESOL overseas is relatively easy, Packing your bags, taking of for new experiences and the realities of the job however can sometimes be a more difficult situation to handle. Lets have a little look at the basics and see if you are cut out for ESL teaching.

Why ESL/TESOL Teachers Are Important For English Learning

TESOL is an acronym that stands for - Teaching English to Speakers Of Other Languages - TESOL/ESL students are people from non English speaking countries, who are endeavouring to learn the complex English language. TESOL teachers are the people who help them do that usually by modelling natural English speech via the use of activities , games and learning materials. 

ESL students could be any age and level and be found learning English at facilities encompassing kindergartens, primary schools, middle schools, high schools, universities, places of employment, private language schools and maybe even private homes in which they are tutored. These learners need authentic English speakers to help them learn the finer points of speaking our language more so than the grammar drills. 

Anyone who has spent considerable time learning a foreign language in their own country should already know that finding native speakers to practise your new second language with can be difficult.... and practising pronunciation, listening and conversing with a native speaker of that language is extremely important. Time spent alone with your head in the books...well... it just isn't going to be any replacement for digging in to listening and speaking in real situations  with real people. There are many stories about students learning a language for many years who "technically" excel and pass all their written exams, only to find that when they arrive in the new country, they can't understand anyone and have a lot of trouble being understood. This is a very real difficulty facing many English learners in non English speaking countries. Little to no opportunities for them to practice what they learn, means that the role of a TESOL teacher often plays a significant part in many language students lives.

The Realities Of TESOL Teaching as a Job.

Whilst jet setting off to many countries and cultures can be extremely exciting, being an ESL teacher is not easy and definitely not as glamorous as it may sound. The reality is that bundled in to excitement and new adventures is a lot of very hard work.

Everyday work and life as a TESOL teacher, right from the very beginning, starts in a rather chaotic fashion as you begin about packing up your life as you know it into a suitcase, selling things to fund your journey into unknown territories and say good-bye to your family and friends... This all takes a lot of courage... not to mention the work and funds involved in gaining your ESL certification, time spent deciding what country you will go to, finding a suitable job (dependent on what age you want to teach), signing a job contract and organising visa's, passports and health checks. You would think that finally getting on the plane should be a relief, but venturing into the unknown could leave you feeling a little like I did...I still have very vivid memories of sitting on the plane thinking "What am I doing on this plane? and then closely followed by "what the heck am I doing in this country? Arriving at the airport can be dizzying and confusing especially if you still have to travel from a major city to actually make it to your final destination of a smaller city or town. Trying to find your connecting flights, trains or coaches can see you having to face your first experience of trying to communicate using your new countries native language. It only takes a few minutes to realise that what at first may seem exciting, very quickly can become terrifying. The good news is that personally I faced that anxiety educing experience,  front on, in a totally foreign non English speaking country... and in return it gave me the opportunities I needed to grow in so many different ways.

The Life Of A TESOL Teacher (Based on China)

Depending on the contract that you sign, your working conditions including working (teaching) hours, time spent at your workplace (when not teaching), living conditions, class sizes and ages can all vary. Be very careful when signing a contract that you don't take on more than you can handle. When you initially see job advertisements touting  "no more than twenty teaching periods a week"  you may scream with delight, but be warned...twenty teaching periods (which in Chinese public schools are usually 45 minutes in length) may sound like a luxuriously short working week, you also need to consider these things-

1)You have to prepare your lessons - You can't just walk into the classroom with nothing to teach. This can take many extra hours on top of your teaching hours of scouring the internet and teaching materials for fresh and interesting ideas. To successfully prepare lesson plans you need to take into account the students different culture, meaning make sure you check for things like:

  • Taboo subjects - things that you should avoid teaching or even talking about because of cultural differences.
  • How willing to participate your students are (most Chinese kids are extremely shy)
  • Is the content age and level appropriate? - anything too difficult and you will lose their attention as they lose their ability to concentrate and vice versa.
  • Planning lessons becomes even more time-consuming if you are teaching a few different age groups, all needing different level appropriate material.
  • Does it have a fun aspect to it? - You are not the students core subject teacher. You have to make your lessons enjoyable, otherwise your life will become very difficult and miserable. Being faced with a classroom of up to (in my case) 60 children, who don't want to be there...I can guarantee is not fun.
2)Extra Responsibilities and Extra Curricular Activities - Make sure you check if the school also expects you to take on extra responsibilities and activities as part of the agreement. Some schools may have relatively few classes but in exchange expect you to still be at school in the office (on hand to talk to teachers and students and help out), conducting English clubs or English corners and maybe even teaching other English teachers or travelling to give workshops or lessons at other schools.

TESOL Teacher Tips

If your character type can take on board these next couple of basic tips, maybe you'd make a great TESOL teacher.

1) The most important tip is to "Learn To Adapt". From adapting your whole lifestyle to adapting games and lessons in the classroom... teaching TESOL gives NO shortage of chances to practise thinking on your feet, rolling with the punches and coming through the other side all the better for it all. 

2) Keep A Level Head -  Having an ESL certificate to teach does not necessarily mean you can teach well or are a great teacher. There are good teachers and there are bad teachers and to be one of those great teachers takes a lot of patience, resilience, hard work and the ability to accept the fact that you are indeed a visitor in your chosen country of work, who is (like it or not) representing your own country and it's people. Always remember that your students, work mates and new friends are highly likely to draw conclusions about your country and nationality as a whole, that is based on YOUR behaviour and work ethic. In China your visa will say that you are a "Foreign Expert". From my experience that is not the case until you can prove your worth as a teacher and part of the community.  There is a fine line to draw between acting too aloof and becoming unapproachable or on the other end of the spectrum, not caring about your job and responsibilities whilst visiting a country.   The important thing to remember is that when you are teaching anything, you are holding a position with responsibilities. On the end of the scale don't look at your job too unrealistically. Unless you already teach in your home country, you most likely haven't spent many years at teachers college nor are you likely holding a specialised degree in education, so stick to the job you are employed and contracted to do which essentially for a TESOL teacher is usually helping students primarily with Speaking English more naturally and getting students used to listening to native speakers of English.

3) Stay healthy by eating well (not easy to do in a new culture), get plenty of rest and relaxation, keep in contact with friends and family to stay grounded, make new friends and totally absorb all the wonderful new things in your new surroundings.

Life After TESOL

Teaching TESOL can be an amazing job. I turned my TESOL adventure in to an Asian teaching career for 8 years, which in the process led on to my own business designing Power-Point Games, lessons and activities that are all made specifically to make teachers lives easier and students lessons more fun.  

Taking on such a massive life change undoubtedly leads to equally huge personal growth. Learning to adapt, survive and take on challenges is one big learning curve, which if you treat with the up most respect will enable you to gain a whole new set of life skills, new friends and even a new language to bring on home with you.

How To Become Certified

If you think you've got what it takes to be an TESOL teacher, you can start your journey by joining a TESOL accreditation course at one of the many online companies. I personally am affiliated with and totally recommend ATA (Australasian Training Academy).

What Exactly Is ESL And Can I Become An ESL Teacher?

TESOL is a form of education provided to students all over the world whose primary language isn't English. TESOL/ESL/EFL/TEFL are all acronyms generally meaning "Teaching English to Speakers Of Other Languages". . .It's taught to all ages and levels from kindergarten and all the way onward and upward through primary schools, middle schools, high schools, universities and private language schools and collages. Many non English speaking countries often have a need to employ people to teach English speech and listening skills to their students. English is almost a "must have" second language in many countries all over the world making TESOL teaching a great career choice...especially if you love to work and travel.  
Can TESOL Teaching Be A long Term Career Choice?

Well the answer to that question really lays with you. My own personal experience saw me teaching at one school only in China for 8 years. Most contracts offered seem to be for 1 year and if the school is happy with your work ethic and you in turn also like the job and location you may get asked to re-sign a new contract , this can come with great incentives, many schools will often add extra bonuses like free return flights home, a rise in wages, free sight seeing trips within their own country etc. So for many people the answer to the question about teaching ESL's potential as a long term career often becomes "Why Not? Genuinely helping people makes the job satisfying, reasonable wages (comparatively speaking) and most living costs already catered for. You can potentially travel to anywhere in the world and often get free airfares back home every year if you re-sign. It's certainly worth considering.

Can You Make Money?

As far as wages go, it can depend on your location. Some countries pay much bigger salaries often akin to cost of living associated with the countries you choose. Your decision whether to teach at a private company, university, private or public school can all also influences how much money you can make and how many hours you are expected to teach each week. It can also sometimes depend on how many years experience you have and what kind of ESL certification or higher education you have obtained. It can be lucrative depending on the country you choose to teach in and you can usually find that even in the countries with lower wages and living costs, you can still save a reasonable amount whilst living quiet comfortably. Putting the money talk aside, teaching ESL can also be extremely satisfying and fun. There are many positions available all over the world for ESL teachers and most good and worthy places of employment actually cover most living expenses as well as giving you a reasonable wage. For example-

Accommodation is nearly always supplied, utilities paid for, general medical insurance taken out for you and even meal money could be on the cards, depending what kind of facility you teach at. These are good questions to ask potential employers when seeking ESL jobs.

To Find out more about how to become an ESL Teacher see this blog post

I Want To Teach TESOL, How?

It is relatively easy to become qualified with the basic level ESL/TESOL/TEFL qualifications which enable you to teach in some (but not all) countries around the world. There are many ESL training companies either online or in your local city who offer courses offering a "Certificate in ESL Teaching" at its completion. Some of these companies can even guarantee job placement (if you're not too picky of course) when you have completed the qualification. You can't legally get an ESL job without this basic certificate (and that goes for all countries) and nor should you try. Depending on the particular qualification you wish to gain, the courses can vary from a few weeks to a few years. 

I am affiliated myself with ATA (Australasian Training Academy). I gained my own certification through this company therefor I can safely recommend them. Of course you may want to do some searching of your own depending on the country you live in and exactly what qualifications you wish to gather. Do try to find a company that includes a practical "in class" unit, giving much needed real hands on training to go along with your online units that need completing... It is extremely useful (when you suddenly find yourself in front of a class full of faces waiting for your lesson) to have experienced practical on site training.

Once you have completed the minimal ESL course and gained your ESL/TESOL/TEFL certification, you can teach in some countries immediately, but as I mentioned before... not all. Depending on the country you wish to travel and teach in, you will need to do some research to check if you need some form of teaching degree or other form of higher education to go along with your ESL certificate. This is not the case for all countries, sometimes all you need is your ESL certificate, the want to go and experience a new lifestyle and whole lot of guts, strength and determination to actually get on the plane and do it!

Find jobs you like, apply and see what they say. The more qualifications you have often opens extra doors to more countries, higher wages etc. But you just never know if you don't apply and try.

Where Shall I Go?

It could be an obvious decision for you where you would like to go. For instance if you've always had a dream to see China and climb "The Great Wall", or would love to embrace the harsh cold winter in Siberia, then it becomes a very real and exciting opportunity for you to embrace and run with. If you're really not too sure where you would like to go...that doesn't matter, a big part of the excitement can be surfing the net, perusing the library and watching travel documentaries to check out which country, city or even a remote little village in the middle of nowhere just might take your fancy. The company with which you have trained, can often directly help you with finding a job or at least give you all the internet sources advertising the positions available worldwide. Sticking with a good training company on into your job search can possibly help you find safer more reliable jobs that are often only advertised within that companies community and are therefor often already trialled, tested and trusted schools.  

There are many choices for locations and lifestyles out there that are sure to suit any of your destination desires but always do your research. Check for blacklisted schools on google, not all companies are good to work for.

What Does Being A TESOL Teacher Entail?

This can vary of course from school to school, but the basic requirements are planning and presenting lessons that aim towards getting the students to actually listen, understand and speak. Often the students already have a good knowledge of grammar from their everyday English classes but what they often don't have is a chance to put their English into real life practice. It must be pointed out that this job, whilst satisfying, can be extremely tiring. It can often seem that you need performance skills to go with your teaching skills just to get the point across, especially when teaching ages through from kindergarten to middle school. It could also be the case that when you arrive at your new job, you actually have no workbooks and little materials to work with, this means many hours searching the internet for teaching ideas that are not only informative but interesting enough to keep the students motivated and happy to learn.  What and how you teach ESL is variable depending on age groups, learning levels, teaching facilities, places of employment and so many other factors. Be prepared!

I Like The Sound Of Teaching TESOL but I Don't Want To Travel

If this applies to you, you can still teach ESL in your home country. As we know, the world is a big melting pot of races and many of these people arrive in your country with a need to learn the local language. It may however be the case that you will need a higher form of certification to teach ESL in your own country, where as teaching ESL overseas, in some countries, requires nothing more than your ESL certificate and your resume, which in turn then gets you your working visa.

At The End Of The Day  

Remember that even though you may get to wing your way to amazing places around the world, it is work. In fact it is hard and tiring but satisfying work. The whole experience of being an ESL teacher and visiting different places, gives you a tremendous opportunity to grow as a person. Life challenges come up that you could never have imagined. You get to see how people live in other countries and cultures, that are often incredibly different to your own...in fact it may feel like you've accidentally flown to another planet rather than just over to a different country. To get a return flight included in your job package, you usually need to work a 1 year contract and re- sign. 3,6 and 1 yearly contracts are commonly available. If this job appeals to you, if you need a change in direction or if you want to do something completely different whilst you are in a transition period in your life, this could be just what you're looking for!