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Teaching English in Mexico

Don’t Come Expecting to Earn a Living

If you do a phrase search on Google for “teach English in Mexico” you will get almost 900,000 hits. Some of these sites are filled with tantalizingly appealing phrases like: “For only a few dollars a week you can have_____in Mexico.” Or “First-class bus travel to such and such a place is only____.”

All are allurements, teach-English-in-Mexico websites trying to sell their how-to book, tapes, seminars, or placement service. They give the impression that you will be able to make enough money to live a life of luxury and ease.

We’ve met many young women who come to Guanajuato with the dream of getting a teaching job and making a bundle. The word “shock” hardly describes their reaction when they find out what their salaries will be in some of these private schools. A good hourly rate is less than $3 an hour. Some schools pay even less. Minimum wage is about $400 a month. Granted, many Mexicans live on that. But could you downscale to living on so little?

Four types come to Mexico to teach English:

1) those who want a new adventure

2) those who want to build a resume, no matter the salary

3) those who want to earn a little traveling money

4) those who think they can earn a decent living.

Groups 1 through 3 don’t care what the dollar sign is in their salary. They have other sources of income to help support them. These “floaters” are the most transient. Here today, promising their employers a year contract, and gone tomorrow. Schools would love to hire those with ties to the community, but they are rare.

Group 4 is composed of people who think they can make a living. They are like those who go to Hollywood with the hope of becoming an actor: “Oh, it’s a long shot, but maybe I can do it.”

In an informal email survey I took of Mexican schools that offer ESL classes the overwhelming majority agreed that it is rare for anyone to make a living teaching English in Mexico. One called it “an unrealistic expectation” to believe otherwise. Another director told me that unless the teacher had signed a contract with a large established organization before departure to the country, it was unlikely that a good salary would be waiting for them. Countries like Japan or China offer a competitive salary with benefits. Mexico does not. Most available jobs are with small private schools that pay little.

Some who come to Mexico do make a living teaching ESL. But that is all they can do—work until they drop. They usually have to teach with at least three schools to get enough hours to pay cost-of-living expenses. There is little time to anything else. But they keep coming, filled with the delusion that perhaps they can make it work. n

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