Teaching English Abroad

A lot of prospective travelers want to teach English in foreign countries. So many people do it, and it can be so easy to find a job I was almost scalped several times in one trip to Bangkok and Shanghai! But once you get the job, it can be harder than you might have guessed.
The first time I was approached to be an English teacher I had wound up staying at an all girl’s high school in the more rural areas of Bangkok, living in the teaching quarters with a family friend. Literally the next day I was approached by the principal who asked me to teach English. And every day after that I had cars from random schools in the country side asking me to come to teach just one lesson. I received all sorts of offers, which included full accommodations, shopping stipends, and cable.  I don’t think I was a particularly special case: at the girl’s school where I was staying I met a random Australian couple who had walked up to the school and were looking for (and were offered) an English teaching job. But there are a few things you should know.

  • TEFL or TESOL Certificate 

Technically, to teach in Thailand as a native English speaker you need to have a 4 year degree and have a TEFL certificate. This was clearly not the case for me in Thailand, as I hadn’t even finished college yet, but if your is to teach you should come prepared. You wouldn’t want to suddenly lose your job, would you?

  • Teaching English is difficult!

You might think that just because you’ve been speaking it all your life, and you’ve always done well on papers, that you could probably handle teaching English. But I’ve seen friends in both Thailand and Shanghai flounder hard from that same mistake. If you don’t have a good grasp of how the language works, or aren’t willing to cram hard until you’re a grammar guru, then this might not be the job for you.

  • Come prepared with a lesson plan

If you’re teaching for the first time or your school is testing your abilities, the first thing you should always inquire about is the level of English the class is currently at or what they’ve been previously working on. The best, and easiest, thing you can possibly do for yourself for that first time is to make it a mixture of review on their past lesson mingled with a handful of new phrases or words to make it seem like you know what you’re doing… even if you explicitly don’t.

Games are also a great time waster if you’ve misjudged how long a lesson will take.

After you get a feel for class level, refer to the thousands of ESL guides online. ESLflow.com should have you well covered.

  • Finding a teaching gig

If you’re looking for a teaching job that’s under the table, the best place to go for school jobs is to rural areas. There’s far less competition and they’ll be more open to you walking straight up to their job and inquiring, especially if you 1) have some credentials and 2) are willing to get paid less than you would typically.

But if you’re looking for private tutoring (that’s also under the table), stick to major cities and frequent expat bars. You’ll have more competition but if you stick around long enough, another expat will probably pass along a lead.

  • Private tutoring can be the worst

In Shanghai, my friends and I were mostly approached by people who wanted their kids to have a private English instructor, or to help them with the SATs. (Some actually just wanted us to write their kid’s essays for them…) The money wasn’t bad but the position was incredibly delicate. One bad review by a kid could get you kicked out on the street before you ever receive your paycheck. I’d like to say that working with an agency or middle man provides some sort of protection but it really doesn’t. They’ll pick their client over you any time.

If you’re set on teaching, make sure to network and get a few prospective clients lined up before the shoe can drop. And if it does drop, don’t take it personally. You’ll find that your agent or other teachers  you’re working with are happier to help you get back on your feet if you shake it off.