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I spent a year in Northern China teaching English last year (2011-2012). I taught age groups from as young as five, to adults in their thirties. For me, it was a testing time. Standing up in front of a large group of people and directing a class is not my idea of fun. However, necessity sometimes leads to unusual circumstances: I was broke and a job offer was given to me, so I had little choice but to take it.

The most important thing to point out is that teaching is not for everyone. If you are the kind of person who likes being centre of attention, can be fairly authoritative and enjoy entertaining, it can be a great gig. To be honest, I sometimes wish I was more cut out for teaching because the opportunities to travel the world, to live in some amazing places, and to save money in the process is one that few other careers provide. Alas, for me, it is not meant to be.

If you are unsure, look for an opportunity to volunteer before investing in an expensive course. It’s also worth considering whether it’s the type of thing, realistically, that you’d enjoy. Consider taking a personality profile test to find out more about yourself. Remember that there are also other options available such as teaching one to one, or teaching small groups of adults rather than a class full of kids. This type of work is often easier to find or organize yourself, by posting ads online.

 

How to find a teaching job?

If you have decided that you do wish to give teaching English a go, how do you land your first job? Most would recommend that you do some sort of qualification before you go abroad (such as the Trinity TESOL or Cambridge CELTA courses). Whilst these can be expensive, they tend to be recognised worldwide, so are a good investment if you are considering teaching for a while. One alternative, if you are itching to quit your job and live abroad, is to take one of these courses at your destination. The price is normally similar, plus you get a chance to enjoy the new scenery and to get some decent practice with all the people who wish to learn English. Once you have obtained a teaching qualification, a quick search of the internet will provide thousands of opportunities – take your pick!

Those who are thinking of teaching for a shorter amount of time (over a summer vacation perhaps) may not consider the investment in an expensive, certified course, to be worthwhile. Not to worry, there are other options available, the qualifications simply tend to give you greater flexibility and better pay prospects. For example, in China, there are a number of key players dominating the market (such as the global English First). These large, international companies tend to have much higher entry criteria for their teachers (as any large recruiter tends to). They may demand a certified certificate as well as a couple of years of experience for example. Whilst I understand that more developed economies such as Japan (with more years of English study behind them) have become more consolidated, with just a few big companies dominating the market, in places like China there are still thousands of small independent schools, with less stringent entry criteria.

 

So, what advice would I give to those who do not want to (or cannot) take the certified certificate route?

  1. Look for work outside the many cities. In much of the interior of China, it is often poorer and there are fewer foreigners, so they are often crying out for a foreigner to come and teach some oral English classes.
  2. I got my job because my Chinese university teacher had a friend or cousin working as a secretary at an English school. It just so happened that they were looking for a native English speaker. Remember that in China, guanxi, or relationships, are very important. Many opportunities will arise through word of mouth. Therefore my next advice would be –
  3. take a course in Chinese in China. It will be a huge help if you can speak some of the local language, but it will also give you ample time to network (i.e. mention to everyone that you’re looking for a teaching job). See this article for advice on choosing a place to study.
  4. Look for volunteer opportunities. Whilst a great many of companies offering their services to find a volunteer placement are taking you (and your money) for a ride, there are some decent companies out there. Put in the search time: I tend to find that websites with forums or classifieds are much better for finding some of the smaller organisations, whose ranking on the search engines is rather low. I was almost tempted by an opportunity I saw in Bhutan, which charged a minimal fee for food and lodging, in exchange for volunteer English teaching in some beautiful surroundings, for example.

My experience was in China, so I do not know how well my advice translates to other countries. However, I would have thought that much of it is actually common sense and follows the law of supply and demand, so should therefore also be applicable in other countries.

Feel free to leave your advice below if you have any other good tips on finding work. I shall no doubt expand this post at some point to make it more comprehensive.

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