Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What if you have no skills? Teaching English

Not always a glorious job
Photo by Emma Taylor
If you have spent any time at all researching how to live in another country, you know how hard that can be if you don't have specialized skills which someone will sponsor you for. As a result, it can be pretty depressing thinking that you're stuck in your home country, but there is still hope! One of the most popular ways for people to work in Asia, South America or Eastern Europe is to teach English. If you've been reading this blog regularly and you paid attention to the lesson of Count von Europe, you know that moving to another country will require effort and sacrifice. Now you're going to see what some of that effort and sacrifice will look like.

Apply in Person

This is the toughest part for many of us. You don't have to apply in person, but résumés or CVs sent via the mail or email simply don't work for many people. The school will have no way of evaluating you and they'd rather have a bad teacher in front of students than a great teacher who may never show up. Just about everything I've read about teaching English in foreign countries is in agreement on this: faced with a mailed application and a person in front of them, many schools will take the person in front of them.

That being said, if you are properly TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certified and willing to be patient, you can apply from your native country and get a job, but you'll have to be more patient. This will likely involve many rounds of job hunting, sending our your résumé, phone interviews and may or may not be successful. I'd love to hear more about this from people who've done it and can share their experiences (see my contact info).

Look the Part

What many of these schools want is someone who looks the part. You have to stand in front of a classroom and look like both a teacher and an American. I've read about an American with Korean parents who had trouble finding work teaching English in Korea despite it being his native language: he didn't "look the part". This is unfortunate, but appearance means a lot here. Specifically, when you go for your interview (in person, don't forget!), you had better be wearing a suit, be clean shaven and respectful. You had also better convince them that you can teach English, which brings us to ...

Get Certified

You don't always need certification because there are a schools out there who will take any native speaker of English. Some are unscrupulous and just want to earn a fast buck, while others are away from major cities and can't find qualified candidates. Regardless, you'll not only find it easier to get a job, but also easier to teach if you get certified to teach English as a foreign language. Searching online for this can be frustrating as you see ESL, TEFL, TESOL, and other acronyms for these courses.

I can't really help you much here other than to offer a few tips on choosing a course. First, be aware that there are many scams out there. Online ads which say you can "Get your TEFL certificate for only $150!" are almost certainly worthless. You're going to pay at least $1,000 for most reputable courses.

Next, you're not going to get certified quickly. The Language and Culture Coaching (LCC) school offers a course for around $1,000 with 100 hours of training, along with job placement. They and other sources make it clear that you can't just skimp on the amount of training you'll need to teach English. Teaching is hard and it's often thankless work (I've a number of friends who are teachers who would back me up on this). It's going to be a lot easier if you take it seriously.

And Finally ...

Many schools don't require that you have knowledge of any language other than English. While this may be a great help, you're going to struggle if you don't know any of the local language. I'll cover some language tips in a later post.

If you want more information, I've read reviews that the "Teaching English Overseas" book by Jeff Mohamed (linked above) is a good source. I can't independently vouch for it, but I know many of us — myself included — like having a book in our hands.
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