Teaching English in Asia for First-Time Teachers
A Realistic and Rewarding Way to See the World
|Two fourth grade students at Ma’anshan China Canada Bilingual School in Anhui Province.
There are a variety of ways to go about finding work in Asia. Being accepted by a placement program in the U.S. such as JET and AEON means a guaranteed job, a work visa, and a set income before you leave the States. While this is comforting, the programs’ regulations are very rigid, the application process extensive, and the odds of acceptance low.
Alternatively, many programs based in Asian countries help potential ESL teachers find work—again before leaving the U.S. In a contract signed before departure, these organizations promise to help prospective teachers obtain a work visa and find a placement. A word of caution: legitimate organizations receive their fees from the school from which they make a placement. Any organization that asks for up-front money should be avoided. Organizations have extensive websites with job listings, contact information, and online applications. A good place to start is Dave's ESL Cafe and our feed of the Top Jobs in Asia and associated articles and schools.
The third option is to buy a 1-way ticket and take off. With determination and some set-up funds, this option offers a lot of freedom and the ability to negotiate contracts directly with your future employer. The odds of finding a job are good to excellent, depending on your destination.
Obtain a tourist visa before leaving the U.S. After a contract is signed, the employer will help their employee get a work visa. This will work in China and Korea, but it is illegal to enter Japan with a tourist visa and look for work. Good places to start once you’ve settled in are local English-language cafes, English-language newspapers, and the Internet. In some places all that is necessary to find work is to take an English paperback and hang out in common areas. The number of job offers will be surprising: everything from one-on-one tutoring to waitressing to less inviting proposals (the School of Sensual Massage Therapy is a good one to avoid).
Before accepting a job offer, check the pay rate against the local cost of living. The same salary can provide a very different lifestyle in a city than in a rural area. Most good contracts include paid housing, but it usually is in dorm-like apartments on the school’s campus. If this is unappealing, look for apartments near the school. Keep in mind that the kind of apartment available on a teacher’s salary may not be much bigger than the school's housing. Also, many landlords require a large security deposit and nonreimbursable key money—which adds up to a large front-load stake.
Make sure the number of teaching hours is stated in the contract to avoid being taken advantage of. The average for an ESL teacher is 20 per week. Many schools will pay for return airfare at the end of your stay. Feel free to negotiate a contract for extras like language tutoring or free meals in the cafeteria. Odds are the school will be fairly willing to compromise.
OK, I’m a Teacher. Now What?
Once the job and housing is secured, many first-time ESL teachers suddenly realize that in the very near future they will actually be responsible for teaching classes. Many people who decide to teach abroad have unrelated degrees and little, if any, classroom experience. This can lead to a scary first day: “Well, I’m your teacher...yeah…so.…”
The Range of Students
Students may range from preschoolers with no English experience to university students who have a better grasp of grammar than most native speakers. Some schools will give their ESL teacher a ton of books and materials to use, others will feed them to the fifth grade lions with no defenses. A must-have before leaving the States is a solid English grammar book. We know so much less than we think about grammatical rules. A first-time teacher’s worst nightmare is having a pig-tailed 7-year-old correct his or her verb conjugation. An age-appropriate ESL book is also a good buy. But the ultimate first-time ESL teacher’s tool is the Internet. There are some great sites that provide everything from printable worksheets to educational games to full lesson plans. Some of the best are Dave's ESL Cafe, Bogglesworldesl.com, and esl-lounge.com.
Be warned that there will be days when Mrs. Phelps from junior high will be shaking in her support hose with the laughter of sweet revenge over your ignorance. However, with well-thought-out lesson plans and personal attention to students, teaching should be fulfilling at best, and at worst manageable.
Taking the first step may be daunting. But the fact is that teaching abroad is a realistic, exciting, and financially rewarding way to get out and see the world. Other countries encourage such trips as important horizon-broadening experiences for their twentysomethings. America is catching up