GoNOMAD MINI GUIDE: Teaching English Overseas
By Nicole Rosenleaf Ritter
The day I taught my first two English classes in Prague, I brought a couple of boxes of candy with me for an opening exercise. I figured that if I bombed completely, at least my students
would like the chocolate.
If you’ve ever thought about working abroad and you’re a native speaker of English, you’ve probably been told that teaching English is the easiest way to do it. While that’s true in some respects — finding work, proving your qualifications, breaking into the field — you should be aware of what’s involved before making the decision to do it.
Here are some things to consider if you’ve got the travel bug and think that teaching English abroad may be the way to satisfy it:
Where do you want to go?
In all, though, you should feel free to choose your dream location — but be prepared to research the working climate both for legal and linguistic restrictions.
- How do you want to teach?
The downside is that if you sign a contract, you can be legally obligated to see it through: you can’t just quit any time you want to go travel. Read the fine print VERY carefully!
Working as a private teacher or tutor can be more lucrative, since you can eliminate the “middleman” of a school and charge what you like. You are also your own boss, meaning that you can set your own hours. That freedom has its pitfalls, however. Finding reliable clients can be tough, and you may find that you spend more time in unpaid marketing efforts than in paid teaching.
Additionally, if you want to become legal where you’re living, you’ll have to do it on your own — and some countries make it very difficult to get residency papers if you don’t have a traditional employer. If you decide to work without the required permits, you can be deported and/or fined, but hundreds (if not thousands) of people do it. It’s not at all uncommon and depends entirely on your own risk tolerance.
- What are your skills?
You could also teach English as part of a volunteer program overseas. These placements generally require no previous training or special skills and are short-term enough to give you a taste of the real thing. Check the GoNOMAD ALTERNATIVES LISTINGS for volunteer programs with English teaching.
- To TEFL or not to TEFL?
If you have a Bachelor’s degree and a little experience, you may find that jobs are relatively easy to come by, especially in Latin America and Eastern Europe. However, if you lack a degree — or if you want to teach somewhere that places more value on titles and certificates, as is the case in many Asian countries — you may want to consider making an investment in a course.
The other reason to consider a course is simply to gain skill in the classroom. Many schools throw you in without any training or guidance. Ideally, a TEFL course will give you some of the tools you’ll need to be effective as a teacher, which may be comforting when you’re staring down a roomful of eager students.
- Where are the best resources?
GoNOMAD.com is a good place to start. There are also a lot of books about teaching abroad, but some of the best real-life info about it can be found on the Internet. Dave’s ESL Café daveseslcafe.com provides job listings, teaching tools, and inside views from teachers worldwide. Transitions Abroad (TransitionsAbroad.com) maintains a list of TEFL training facilities and contacts for teaching worldwide, as well as numerous personal accounts of teaching.
You may also want to visit teflboard.org to check out many different programs available around the world offering teaching certificates.
People who are actually teaching are probably the best resources. If you find a school or a country that interests you, try to find a teacher there who will correspond with you via email. They are your best bet for reliable info.
Just because you can speak the language doesn’t mean you can teach it. The most difficult thing about teaching English to non-native speakers is trying to explain complexities that you probably haven’t even thought about in relation to your native language. Why doesn’t “through” rhyme with “tough,” “cough,” or “though”? Why do we say “the wallet is in the street” but “the building is on the street”? Sometimes there isn’t an explanation to the questions students have, but you have to know enough to decide that.
If you like what you discover through your research, consider joining one of the many global nomads who use their tongues to travel! The financial rewards aren’t always great, but the personal growth can be. By the way, my students loved the chocolate, and they didn’t seem to think I was so bad either.
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