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As seen in the Transitions Abroad 2014 Webzine Asia Issue

How to Choose Your English Teaching Work Abroad

Descriptions, Requirements, Pros and Cons of Different Job Types

By John Clites
TEFL Abroad Columnist

Teaching students in Ethiopia

Editor's Note: The following is part of John Clites' series of columns as our TEFL Abroad Columnist, where he approaches in practical ways issues relating to teaching English abroad. John has spent many years of his life traveling abroad, visiting 25 countries at last count. John has a particular penchant for travel off the beaten path and for mixing with the locals. Through the years he has sponsored numerous children abroad through, in Bolivia, India, Ecuador, and currently in Peru and Brazil. He has lived and taught English in Brazil since 2008, and has written a book on teaching English in Brazil.

Perhaps when you read about “teaching English” you flash back to 5th grade and Miss Whitham droning on about transitive and intransitive verbs on a hot May afternoon when you really just want to be outside playing wild games with your friends and…

Or maybe that’s just me.

You may be in the position—as I was not so long ago—of wanting to go abroad for an extended period, but searching for a way to finance your sojourn. You know (or should) that there are many teaching jobs available, but teaching English just doesn’t appeal to you.

And I do understand. Teaching English isn’t nearly as glamorous as being a dive master or airline pilot or runway model or—well, almost anything else.

But teaching EFL (English as a foreign language) does have many pluses. First, there is a huge demand for English in many, many countries, meaning there are many jobs. Also, since requirements aren’t always that strict (or necessarily enforced), EFL jobs typically are the easiest ones to find abroad, if you are a native speaker or at least fluent. Such is the need for teachers that official red tape often can be circumvented.

Also, whatever you picture “teaching English” to be, I can promise you that it’s only a part of the picture. “Teaching English” comes in many different incarnations. Let’s look at several of these, including the typical requirements, and the pros and cons of each. You might spot one or two that actually seem especially appealing to you.

1. Primary or secondary school teacher

Description: You teach children or adolescents in a classroom setting, either in the public school system or in a private school. The best gigs are at “international schools,” which the children of corporate executives and diplomats attend. These schools pay well (often comparable to what you’d make back home as a certified teacher), and you’ll generally be teaching a higher caliber of student.

Requirements: An education degree and/or certification to teach in your home country is usually mandatory. Often some actual classroom experience is expected.

Pros: This is a “regular,” secure job, with a contract, decent pay, benefits, and often offers paid holidays as well.

Cons: As a certification is required, most would-be applicants won’t qualify. Also, for some this type of teaching may be too much like a regular job back home.

2. Teacher’s assistant

Description: Some countries, such as France and Japan, have formal teacher’s assistant positions. You will work in a primary or secondary school classroom assisting the teacher. Your duties often will be simply to engage the students in English conversation. You may not even be expected to teach English grammar; often this is the responsibility of the local teacher.

Requirements: There may be an age limit. Also, generally you’ll be expected to come from a country whose native language is English: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa, the U.K., or the U.S. You may be expected to have at least a basic command of your host country’s language.

Pros: Expect a light workload, with lots of time to play. Since these programs are often government sanctioned, you’ll probably receive some benefits such as health insurance and paid days off.

Cons: Low pay (though good for the limited number of hours), and little autonomy. With the current economic woes in Europe, there are fewer such positions available there these days.

3. University professor

Description: You may not have considered teaching in a college or university abroad, but such jobs do exist. You will teach in a classroom in English. You may be teaching in your field of study, rather than teaching English.

Requirements:  A master’s degree or doctorate will be required. Some classroom teaching experience may also be desired.

Pros: Good pay by EFL standards, and a benefit package is very common. Sometimes campus housing is provided, or a housing subsidy. You’ll have a relatively light workload.

Cons: These positions require an advanced degree. There is a lot of competition for these spots, which often go to those with significant time in country and/or with local connections.
4. Teaching for a private language school
Description: Private language schools abound in most foreign countries. You might teach in a classroom at the school, or you might travel to teach students, often business people, in their homes or businesses.

Requirements: These vary widely, but in most countries, if you are a native speaker, you’ve met the primary requirement. Some schools, particularly in Europe and Japan, will want you to have a TEFL or CELTA certification. (We’ll talk more about these in the next column.)

Pros: These are generally the easiest jobs to find. Demand is such that you can often start right away. Schools generally provide some teacher training and materials. They also supply the students and handle the admin work such as scheduling and collecting payment.

Cons: Formal contracts and benefits are the exception rather than the rule. Typically, these schools just pay by the hour, and pay may be good or poor. Generally, regulation of these schools is lax, and so the quality of schools varies. Expect classes to be early in the morning, at lunchtime, and at night.

5. Teaching private students

Description: You procure your own students and teach them in their homes or offices, or perhaps in your home. Usually you’ll teach one-on-one, but perhaps two or a small group. You might even land a lucrative corporate account. You’ll assess the students and prepare lessons. You set the policies and handle the administrative work such as collecting payments.

Requirements: You’ll need to be able to market yourself. It’s easier to strike out on your own after gaining some experience with a school. If you possess special knowledge—such as business experience and vocabulary, knowledge of IT terms, medical, or aviation experience—you can likely command a premium.

Pros: The money is better than at language schools, as you eliminate the middleman. You choose which students to accept, and have greater control over your schedule. You don’t have to deal with school administration.

Cons: You have to find your own students. Your workload—and income—may be subject to seasonal slumps. You have to handle the collections, which some find distasteful or daunting.

In addition, there are non-teaching jobs that utilize many of the same skills. Here are several:

Editing English: You edit documents written in English by a non-native speaker. You may or may not review these with the writer as a teaching exercise. I’ve edited scholarly articles, application essays, and a biography, among other work.

Translations: The next logical step, as you improve your knowledge of the host language, is to do translations into English. Note that translating into your first language is much easier than translating into a second language. You don’t need a perfect command of, say, Portuguese, to be able to do a solid job of translating documents in Portuguese into English.

Assisting with applications: I’ve assisted university students and business people to apply for study abroad programs in the U.S. and the U.K. This often includes reviewing essays as well.

Preparation of resumes in English: If you happen to relocate to a large city with lots of international companies, you could probably make a career of doing just this alone. I am hoping to make this a major sideline myself. If you price your services high, as you should, résumé preparation can be very lucrative.

Test preparation: There is big business in helping students to prepare for tests such as the TOEFL. Ideally, you should have knowledge of the test; you may want to purchase some relevant materials. You may be competing against established schools or programs that offer this service.

Interview coaching: I’ve coached many people who were going to have interviews in English with companies or universities. This involves creating a list of probable questions, drilling the student, and attempting to address the major pronunciation and grammar mistakes in a short timeframe.

Interviewing job candidates: Working on the flip side is also possible. I’ve been engaged by companies to evaluate the English of potential new hires.

Writing: You might write for a local English-language newspaper, or even be a regular contributor to your hometown newspaper. You might write travelogues about your host country. You might even write for a website about teaching English abroad!

Simultaneous interpretation: If you gain a good command of your host country’s language, you can branch out into doing simultaneous interpretation. This is a valuable skill, really an art, and the pay is generally quite good.

Being a local guide: If your host city is a popular tourist spot, you might find work as a guide for English-speaking visitors. I’ve done a bit of this. The pay isn’t great, but it’s not strenuous work either.

There are many pros to these side jobs. The pay may be higher than for regular teaching. Some of the work can be done in your off hours to fill otherwise dead spots in your schedule. If, for example, you teach private students in the early morning, at lunch, and in the evening, translations or writing can fill in the gaps in the day. Also, sometimes it’s just nice to have a change of pace.

There are cons as well. Some of these jobs require additional skills, such as greater knowledge of the host language, or knowledge of the test to be taken. Because these jobs are often “one offs” rather than regularly schedule work, the income fluctuates, and more marketing is typically required. You’ll need to price your services accordingly.

As you can see, there is a whole constellation of jobs available out there in the world. If you are going to be in the host country only for a few months, or find the idea of marketing yourself unappealing, you may opt just to teach at a school—although you’ll be limiting your income potential. In my experience, those teachers who do best teaching abroad are those who are open to opportunities as they present themselves, and who have a confident, freelancer attitude.

John Clites currently teaches English in Brazil. He has written an eBook on the subject.

Related Topics
Teaching English Abroad
More by John Clites
Is Teaching English as a Foreign Language Right for You?
Requirements for Teaching English Abroad
How to Create a Great Resume for Teaching English Abroad: A Comprehensive Guide to Landing Your First Job
Teach English and Live in Brazil: No Better Time Than Now
Asia Webzine

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