In living and teaching abroad, I have become aware of two starkly different reactions to the thought of teaching English as a Second Language (ESL Teaching Abroad). On the one hand, I often get the “You are so lucky” speech where it seems that my position abroad is glorified and unattainable. There is some truth to the fact that it is difficult to halt your current lifestyle and switch to a new one. However, this life choice is not closed off to an exclusive bunch of individuals.
On the other hand, there seems to be a sudden obsession and fascination with moving abroad for the traveling perks. When asked how to fund this measure, most people are drawn to the idea of teaching, thinking that this will be a quick fix to supplying travel funds. The reality of these two notions is actually merged in the middle and is influenced by each individual context.
For those searching for answers in a jungle of internet resources and personal accounts, I offer the 4 S’s of teaching abroad for consideration before making the plunge: Standardized Tests, Schedule, Salary, and Saving!
Standardized Tests. The first area is going to tell you a lot about your preparedness to become an ESL teacher abroad. Most of the material you will be asked to teach will cover standardized tests such as TOEFL, ISEE, SAT, and ACT. The areas of writing, reading, vocabulary, and grammar are significant categories. You need a fairly good understanding and ability to help others in these fields. Moreover, you need to be willing to refresh or learn more in these categories. I know more now about grammar and writing styles than ever before.
Furthermore, you must be comfortable working with different types of students at the same time. Some students are learning the concepts tested on these exams while others are attempting to not only learn the concepts but also to understand the meaning of the complex sentences. In my experience, no single classroom has ever been uniform in its level and style of learning despite every effort to establish consistency. Patience and improvisation are paramount.
Schedule.This area I believe to be the one with the biggest misconception. First, if you are planning on working with middle-to-high school students, your schedule will consist of mostly evenings and weekends filled with classes and tutoring. If you are planning on working with younger kids, you will find more morning and midday classes.
I am able to work a little more than part-time (although I do add unofficial time for prepping for classes) and make ends meet quite comfortably. However, the office I work with is very accommodating and understanding to my preferences. Other teachers prefer to work more hours or require more classes to meet their monthly expenses. Also, contracts for each company will be different. Make sure you completely understand the terms and conditions before you sign. Of which, it is wise to have a job lined up before arriving to your new home.
If your goal is to travel extensively, this might not be the job for you. Holidays and summers are the busiest times for work and are rather untouchable for negotiation. As most students try to squeeze prep courses and extra practice into their free times, moments without primary school courses tend to see an influx of students. Travel is not impossible but not as frequent as many people seem to believe.
Salary. Yes, I make close to $25 an hour. Yes, I work part-time. Yes, I can afford to pay my loans (although at a lower rate). No, I do not get rich from this job. I only make roughly $17,000 a year at my job.
Savings. Tied to the area of salary, saving money seems to be a common goal for those interested in the ESL job. More people are considering flocking to Asia as a way to work, travel, and save up a good chunk of change to bring back home. If you were willing to work full-time and live a very modest lifestyle, you could possibly save up some money, but probably not enough to pay off all your student loans or take a year off to bounce around the world. The reality is that the amount of money you earn still has to cover living expenses plus any airline prices for trips back home (which can be quite costly). Not to mention that the money you earn is in foreign currency and once converted into USD will not seem to stretch as far. Keep in mind also, that the more hours you work in the classroom, the more hours you will need for prepping and grading. It is not completely reasonable to think that you will live abroad happily and stress-free by working long hours. Plus, you miss the enjoyment of experiencing a new culture if you are cramming in working hours to your day. Why would you teach abroad in the first place?
I can personally attest to how rewarding teaching abroad has been and believe that I made the right choice. But before you make the decision to teach abroad, consider the 4 S categories and how your own preferences and agenda factor into them.