This post was last updated on November 10th, 2013
This is a two-part series about teaching ESL abroad. In case you missed it, read part 1 here.
Last week we talked about why you should (or perhaps shouldn’t) teach English abroad. This week we’re going to focus more on the details: where to go, how to do it, and what it looks like.
Perhaps the most daunting part of teaching ESL abroad is choosing where to go. With options virtually everywhere, you must decide what it is you want out of your teaching experience. We have only taught in Taiwan and Italy, so we are by no means experts in teaching programs around the world. However, we have picked up a bit here and there from fellow travelers, bloggers, and our own job hunting. This is what we’ve learned:
If money is a consideration, than you are likely looking at China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, potentially Thailand, and the Middle East. These countries provide the highest salary with competitive benefits, and have a low cost of living. Other destinations in Southeast Asia and Latin America tend to be extremely popular, but not as lucrative—they might not even pay anything at all! Volunteer ESL teaching can be just as—if not more—rewarding; however, exercise caution before paying extortionate fees to volunteer recruiting agencies. Often this money is going to a select few at the top of the chain, not back to the community.
A few European countries also offer teaching programs and opportunities, such as Spain, the Czech Republic, Turkey and Russia. Unless you are going through a government-sponsored program, non-European Union citizens will likely have difficulty securing jobs in the EU for the simple fact that their EU counterparts already have necessary work visas.
Of course, money shouldn’t be the only determinate in choosing your destination; you also need to decide what types of teaching jobs appeal to you. For example: Do you want to spend minimal time in the classroom and maximum time learning the local language? Is flexibility important? Would you like to travel around neighboring countries? Do you prefer to teach kindergarten students or adults? Once you know the answers to these questions (and more!), you’ll have more success narrowing down where you would like to teach.
So Why Did We Come To Taiwan?
We didn’t think through all the questions listed above. Rather, it was a good ol’ Google search that quite randomly introduced us to Taiwan. We got lucky. It wasn’t long before Taiwan had utterly captivated us. That said, other teachers have been less than fond of their teaching positions, and this negative energy has infiltrated the rest of their Taiwanese experience. The lesson? Do your homework.
We could go on and on about why we adore Taiwan so much. Our love for the small island is probably obvious at this point considering we wrote a whole (free) book to make it more accessible to foreigners (cough, cough). With dramatic scenery, genial people, unique eats, and the perfect mix of modernity and exoticness, it’s hard to resist Taiwan’s charm. If you want to read more about why we recommend Taiwan (for teaching ESL, traveling, or both) check out this guest post we wrote for eTramping: 6 Reasons Why Taiwan Should Be On Your Travel Itinerary.
What Do You Need To Teach ESL In Taiwan?
While my first time teaching ESL abroad was via a brief summer camp stint in Italy, Dan signed up to teach ESL in Taiwan with practically no prior teaching experience. Neither of us had teaching degrees, TESOL certificates, or otherwise practical teaching knowledge. We choose jobs with one of the largest cram schools in Taiwan. Again, we got lucky. Not everyone has a good experience when working with chain schools, as naturally each school placement varies greatly. We were placed at great schools with amazing co-workers and fantastic students. Obviously we enjoyed the first year enough to sign on for a second.
Competition for ESL jobs is rising, and there are many qualified teachers in Taiwan unable to find jobs. This is especially true for ESL teachers in Taipei. While it’s not impossible to find a teaching job upon your arrival in Taiwan, we recommend securing your teaching position before leaving your home country.
For all teaching positions, you will need an undergraduate degree in any subject. A 120-hour TEFL certificate is advised. Not only will it provide you with additional, useful training, it will make you a more competitive applicant for the better (and higher paying) jobs. To obtain a job in a public school you will need a teaching degree.
Many schools will help you find an apartment, provide you with teaching training and materials, and generally streamline the transition process. Unlike South Korea, China, or Japan, it is very difficult to find a school that will pay for your airfare or rent in Taiwan.
If you want to learn more about teaching ESL, it’s best to find local advice from fellow expats. Get on forums. Ask to get in touch with previous teachers to hear about their experiences. There are a lot of amazing teaching jobs out there, but there are also a lot of…well…not-so-good ones.
Finally, don’t pay outlandish fees to a recruiter to find you a job! We’ve heard some recruiters take NT 100 out of your hourly rate, indefinitely. While we didn’t use them personally, we can recommend Reach To Teach as an alternative. They are a free recruiting agency that matches teachers and jobs in Taiwan, as well as China, Korea, Thailand and Georgia. They’ll help you find a job and provide the support you need both prior to and throughout your time in Taiwan.
What is it like teaching ESL in Taiwan?
Teaching hours are often after-school, 4–9 p.m. Teachers also work at kindergartens or private schools, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Hourly wages range from NT$ 580 to NT$ 700. If you are on an hourly wage, you’ll likely work 20-25 paid hours a week (not including planning and grading), though we often averaged 30 paid hours a week. Most schools will provide you with extensive materials to use in the classroom. While you will still have to lesson plan, you will probably have the resources you need on hand. If provided teaching material is important to you, be sure to clarify with the school before signing a contract. Also, note that some schools want you to teach ‘their way’, following their teaching steps and formulas. We often have a Taiwanese co-teacher with us in the classroom to assist us and also discipline the students.
From a foreign standpoint, the schooling appears extremely rigorous with a heavy emphasis on memorization rather than creativity. Don’t be surprised by the pressure placed on students in Taiwan. Many teachers are extremely strict with their students, and what might be perceived by a Western eye as berating is quite accepted in Taiwan (though corporal punishment is banned). We have found that the teachers truly love and care about their students even if they appear harsh.
The best part about teaching ESL?
Your days are spent with these guys!!
Although we wish we could give more specific details about teaching ESL in other countries around the world, we just don’t have the first-hand knowledge…yet! Did we answer most of your questions about teaching ESL abroad? Do you have points you can add about teaching English in other countries? As always, please share in the comments below!