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How to Choose the Right Job Teaching English Abroad -Part I

Posted By in Teach English, What I've Learned | 9 comments

How to Choose the Right Job Teaching English Abroad -Part I

It’s often said that finding a job teaching English abroad is easy; it’s finding a good teaching job that can be challenging. So how do you choose a job teaching English abroad? Ask these key questions before accepting a position with any school, anywhere:
choose a job teaching english abroad

Will I have a co-teacher?

Imagine a group of about 15 students who are just beginning to learn the basics of English, staring up at you while you try to explain something as simple as the verb “to go”. How would you present this verb so that you could be certain that the students understand what it means? You might try showing a picture of a person “going” somewhere; but then how do the students know if you’re teaching them the word for “person”, “go”, “walk”, or many other possibilities? Now imagine trying to teach this same verb with the help of a co-teacher who speaks the students’ language. The co-teacher can give a direct translation of “to go”, and you can continue with the lesson, feeling confident that the students understand the meaning of the word you’ve introduced. Of course, many people work in schools without co-teachers, and it’s certainly possible to teach effectively without one. However, from my experience, having a co-teacher makes teaching much easier and it’s a definite plus if your potential school tells you that you will be working with one.

Is the teaching curriculum standardized? 

Along with having a co-teacher, a pre-planned curriculum is the other advantage of the company we’re working for in Thailand. It’s basically a kind of agency that schools contract out to provide their required English curriculum. As with any chain of language schools, the curriculum is relatively standardized. We have a lesson plan book where every lesson is already planned out for us, including recommendations on how to present the topic and activity suggestions. I’ve heard stories of teachers arriving to begin work at a school, and basically being tossed into a classroom unprepared with the instructions “teach them English”. If the curriculum isn’t outlined for you in some way, you’re going to have come up with your own lesson ideas every day. Whether this is a pro or con for you depends on how confident you feel about creating lessons independently, and how much time you’re willing to devote to lesson planning each week.
choose a job teaching English in Thailand

A few of my students.


Is there a probation period?

If you’re considering a year-long contract, some schools will hire you on a probationary basis for month or two first. You need to pass probation before you’ll be able to sign on for the full 2 terms. This can be considered a positive thing because while the school evaluates you over this probation period, you can also decide if you like the school. It gives you the opportunity to gracefully move on if you don’t like the set-up, rather than the alternative of potentially committing to and then bailing on a one-year contract if you’re not enjoying it. On the other hand, you may not like the idea of leaving home, flying to a foreign country, and then finding out eight weeks later that the school doesn’t feel like you’re quite working out for them. Obviously, even if you choose a contract without a probation period, you can always be let go if you’re doing a terrible job; but the probation period makes it easy for the school to try you out for a bit, and then drop you for any reason.  

How many other western teachers will I be working with?

I can’t overemphasize how the presence of other English-speakers has an enormous impact on your teaching abroad experience, and therefore should be a key consideration when you choose a job teaching English abroad. You’ll be away from home, and your co-workers will be the most readily available social-support network.There’s a big difference in the kind of support you get if you’re the only western teacher at the school, or 1 of only 2 or 3, versus if you’re working with a group of 10 or 20 other western teachers. Also, consider the number of western teachers in the context of the city you would be living in. Working with 1 or 2 western teachers in a city like Seoul or Bangkok isn’t so isolating because there are plenty of other places to meet English-speakers; while working with 1 or 2 western teachers in a town where virtually no one else speaks English (the lifestyle that we’re currently rocking)? Well…I can’t say that I would really recommend it.
choose a job teaching english abroad

My classroom.

Can I contact someone currently teaching at the school?

You might think that getting in touch with a current western teacher at the school isn’t worth your time because it’s the equivalent of a resume reference: Presumably they’re going to have you speak with someone who has positive things to say, rather than with one of their more disgruntled employees. However, if the school is willing to let you contact a current employee, it means that there is at least one person who enjoys their job, and you can feel assured that working there won’t be an absolute nightmare. Secondly, when Brent and I were interviewing for jobs, I talked to western employees at a few schools in South Korea, and I found they were actually quite honest with me. One guy told me he had just started working at the school 2 days ago, and he was confused about why they had asked him to talk to me. Another guy admitted that the working hours at the school were quite long, and he felt like he didn’t have a lot of free time. So talk to a current teacher – it can be surprisingly informative.

Part II can be found here.

I want to hear about some of your experiences teaching English. What are the positive aspects of where you chose to teach? Or what do you wish you had done differently?

9 Comments

  1. Jeremy September 19, 2012

    This post is INCREDIBLY relevant to me right now as I'm trying to decide on whether I should accept a job offer I've been made teaching English in China, or whether I should seek out another one. The setup seems pretty awesome and my friend has been working there for the past year. She can't recommend it enough. I'm just apprehensive about the wage and the location…decisions, decisions!

  2. Jessica September 19, 2012

    If your friend is getting paid on time and likes the city, then it sounds like a pretty safe choice. I'll talk about this more in Part 2, but definitely ask to see a contract before you commit to anything. If the contract looks good, then go for it! Teaching abroad is an incredible experience.

  3. Elizabeth September 22, 2012

    great advice! man, teaching english abroad really is a crapshoot, you have to be careful you don't get stuck.. nice post!

  4. globetrotteri October 19, 2013

    Hi Jessica,

    I've been working in the ESL industry in Asia for ten years. Suffice to say I love it, otherwise I wouldn't still be here. I think your article is great and you ask some good questions.

    I wanted to comment on your point about asking about a probationary period. Yes, it's important to have this information in advance, but it's unlikely that a school will let you go at the end of your probationary period unless you've really done something wrong.

    I've seen teachers that haven't passed their probationary period because they were acting inappropriately in class or maybe even weren't showing up for class, but for the most part, school managers and administrators will take the time to help a teacher adjust to their new life abroad.

    The reason for this is that schools spend a lot of time and money getting their teachers set up with a work permit and residence visa. It's incredibly disruptive to bring a new teacher in, build up their classes and then let them go. It affects everyone at the school from parents and co-teachers to the students themselves. Most schools won't take the chance of letting a new teacher go unless it's a pretty serious infraction. I'm not saying it never happens, but it doesn't happen as often as you'd think.

    • waysofwanderers October 19, 2013

      Great points – the probationary period definitely can be a justified and positive measure. I just didn't like the way one of our employers handled ours. They used it to intimidate us, and pressure us into working overtime, implying that they could legally let us go at any moment if they felt like it. Obviously, they weren't the best company to work for, and I'm sure that most employers don't treat the probationary period this way.

  5. globetrotteri October 19, 2013

    That's awful, Jessica. That is not normal and I'm really sorry to hear it. There are good schools out there. It's just sad that there are so many bad ones out there too.

  6. KathyTESOL December 23, 2013

    Great points! I think it's important to emphasize that the planned curriculum is not very common and this is usually the case in large companies. In many programs, the Director of Studies provides an outline with topics and teachers need to create their own lesson plans, so lesson planning skills are crucial for the job (http://www.ontesol.com/tesl-canada-syllabus.php). In other programs, teachers have to follow a book, which may be outdated or even highly ineffective, and teachers who have acquired proper lesson planning skills can use authentic material to improve their lessons. It's true, however, that many schools provide little or no support and this is something that teachers can find out by contacting prospective co-workers, if possible, as stated in your article.

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