Recently, I was offered a job teaching English in China. I’m very excited about it. Teaching English is a great way to live in another country, be immersed in a different culture and make a little money while doing it. It can be really rewarding and something you will never forget.
More and more people have been asking me for advice in finding jobs abroad, so here’s my two cents worth.
I will be working for Helen Doron Early English in Kunming, China. The Helen Doron method focusses not on reading and writing, but on learning English the ‘natural way.’ Think of how a baby learns their first language – they hear it, they speak it and they get positive reinforcement when they learn new words. They don’t learn grammar first, they learn words. They don’t learn writing first, they learn pronunciation. Using these ‘natural’ ways of learning a language, the Helen Doron method begins teaching at infants at age 3 months.
The centre I’ll be working at will open in April 2011 when I get there. I will be one of the first teachers in the centre, so there will be a lot of work to do and standards to be set. Props will need to be made and organised for each age group and I will have to familiarise myself with the books and songs they use. It will be a lot of work, but also a great opportunity to start off on the right foot and set the centre up for success.
There are a lot of things to look at when choosing a school. One of the most important is to see if you will be comfortable in the country. If you don’t like humidity and you pick a sweltering hot climate, you probably won’t enjoy yourself. If you find a school in a town where you don’t always have running water, you might not be as comfortable as you like. If you are in a heavy meat-eating culture and you’re vegetarian, you’ll probably end up cooking for yourself a lot.
Of course, you can adjust to anything (and you must be flexible if you want to live abroad), but there will be some things that you won’t want to adjust to. I suggest asking the advice of someone who has lived in or travelled to the city you will be in. You can also research online to get a better idea of the area. I like to poke around on Google photos to explore the area and see if it appeals to me.
There are different types of English schools. Some focus on young children, some act as a tutor programme for kids learning English in school (kids in some countries start learning English in primary school) and some are geared toward adults. Teaching adults is very different than teaching children, so figure out what teaching style you are best at and find a school that fits you.
Some schools require that you know some of the local language, but some schools teach English by only using English. Instead of the typical American school way of learning a foreign language (where you learn ‘azul’ is Spanish for ‘blue’), many English schools with foreign teachers give classes only in English. Students see a pen and learn the word ‘pen’ instead of hearing the word for pen in their native language and translating it to English. This association with the object rather than another word can be a lot easier to make and students can learn better. It also makes it easier for teachers because they don’t need to know another language for classes. Of course, you will inevitably pick up some words while living there, but you won’t need to use them in classes.
In the school I’ll be at, teachers give ‘demo lessons’ to parents and students before they sign up for a class. The parents then decide if they want their child in the class and if the teacher is a good fit for them. From what I’ve heard, parents prefer native speakers to teach their children, so native English speakers have a better chance of ‘earning’ students. Each class is made up of maximum of 8 students and if the minimum isn’t achieved (5, I think), there is no class. This is obviously an important reason for teachers to present themselves well at the demo lesson and get the parents to sign up for the class. If there isn’t the minimum number of students, there isn’t a class and the teacher doesn’t get paid.
Some schools require you work a certain number of hours each week. My school pays by the class, so each class I have means more money. If you move to a new school that has this system, be warned that you might not have many classes at the beginning and it could take awhile to get enough to sustain your budget. My school offers a housing allowance, so that will help my finances in the slower first months.
To teach English abroad, some companies require that you have a degree. They don’t always care what degree you have, as long as you have one. The Helen Doron centre puts all teachers through a training course and I already have other teaching experience and plenty of childcare history on my CV. Take a close look at what your school expects and be sure you meet requirements of the country’s work permit guidelines. The country might not approve visas to applicants without a university degree.
English teachers generally aren’t paid much, but there are many factors that go into whether it’s a fair wage. I won’t be getting paid a lot by American standards, but the school gives me a housing allowance that should be about half my living cost and the rest can be made up by teaching about two classes a week. Since it is so cheap to live in China, it makes my finances more manageable. If I was to start in a country that was significantly more expensive and I was not able to have many classes in my first few months, I would have a lot of out-of-pocket expenses. It’s important to get a realistic view on how much you will be working if you are living somewhere expensive and money is tight.
Besides teaching on a year contract, there are many English language camps. If you only have a few months free, these can be a great way to get away from home and have the experience of teaching English in a foreign country. Some are day camps where the children sleep at home and some are week camps where the children sleep overnight with the teachers as their counselors. Often in day camps the teachers are housed with host families (usually the family of a student who is getting a discount on the programme) who take care of your room and board. This can be another interesting way to get a unique perspective on a culture from the inside.
There are many different things to look at when trying to find a job teaching English. When you find the right school, it can be an experience of a lifetime. Sometimes people think they’ve found the perfect school, but a few months later, they leave because they just can’t stand it. You really won’t know until you are there, but by looking at these points, hopefully you can have a better feeling about whether it’s right for you or not.
You can see more of my planning tips here.