1. Education

ESL/EFL Job Possibilities

Working as an ESL/EFL Teacher

As in any field, it is important to first establish your objectives before working towards meeting your goals. The ESL/EFL field offers different levels of employment, from local classes given by volunteers, to fully accredited university ESL programs. Obviously the opportunities and required education for these different levels vary greatly.

First of all, some definitions are called for. ESL means English as a Second Language and includes students who are learning English to live and work in a primarily English speaking environment. This is quite different from EFL, which means English as a Foreign Language, and is primarily taught to students as a foreign language, which is not required for the living/working environment on a daily basis. TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language and TESOL meaning Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. TEFL programs are generally located in North America, while TESOL is preferred in Britain. Other common acronyms include ESP (English for Specific Purposes) and VESL (Vocational English as a Second Language). Both of these refer to teaching English for specific purposes such as Business English, Computer English, etc.

Teaching Credentials

The type of teaching credentials required in the field varies widely based on the type of teaching you will be doing. When I began teaching, speaking English as a mother tongue and a bachelor's degree was all that was required. This has changed greatly in the past 5 or so years. Most entry-level jobs now require a bachelor's degree plus a teaching certificate (TEFL or CELTA). This teaching certificate can be acquired in a relatively short course of 3-4 weeks in Britain or the US (and I imagine in Australia). This certificate will allow you to teach in private schools such as Berlitz, Kaplan, International House etc. These jobs tend to be paid at a survival rate with pay not going much higher than $22 an hour at the best schools in Europe. Usually, pay is around $14 - $18 an hour and the teaching week is usually 20 to 24 hours.

The next credential is the Teaching Diploma offered in Britain and recognized throughout Europe and Asia. This diploma takes from 3 months for an intensive course to 1 year for a normal course. It is extremely intensive with a good deal of testing. This is the minimum requirement for directors of most schools and is quickly becoming a teaching requirement for higher level and better paid jobs in Europe.

If however, you would like to teach in a higher education setting (I.e. University or College) you will have to have a master's degree. If you take a look at any position offered in the Journal of Higher Education, you will see that the master's is an absolute must. Any sort of department head position will then require a doctorate degree.

The Career Ladder

In the 70's, and 80's it was quite easy to get a job teaching English somewhere in the world. It was a job for people who wanted to do something else and needed a job in the meantime (that's how I got started, but that's another story…), or for people who wanted to do some travelling and see the world. Things have changed greatly (especially in Europe), and it has now become a career choice for many people, thus making finding a position all the more difficult and competitive. Add to this competitiveness the current difficulty of acquiring working papers, and you have a challenging proposition. In the European Community, working papers are required and are usually given to those who are not going to replace other European Community members. If you are British this is not a problem (as you are then EC), if you are American, Canadian or Australian it is a different story entirely. As far as I can tell, working in the Far East is much easier when it comes to getting permission to work in a country.

The basic salary of an ESL/EFL teacher averages about $12,000 - $20,000 a year. This often doesn't include a health care plan or any kind of pension. The teaching load goes from 15 hrs to 30 hrs a week depending on the location and how serious the local population is about learning English (here in Italy we have a summer break from June to October!). Payment is usually figured on an hourly basis.

If you want to make a career out of teaching and not end up in the poor house there are a number of different strategies. Probably the best area to consider entering is teaching ESP. ESP (English for Special Purposes) is required by many businesses and is generally well paid (up to $50 an hour). This type of position generally requires at least a Teaching Diploma and, possibly more importantly, expertise in the type of English being taught. In other words, if you've worked in banking or computing you may want to focus on teaching Banking or Computing English as a free lance teacher in various firms. These jobs are often only available in the larger metropolitan centers and they often require inside contacts to get in the door.

Finally, the most secure jobs are in the higher education sector. These jobs require a master's degree, plenty of experience and good contacts. I've found that the higher education jobs tend to not want teachers who have worked in the private sector. If you want to work in higher education, you should probably start working immediately towards that goal and not try working in the private sector as it will be difficult to get back in the higher education door once you have been out in the "real world".

A Final Word

Teaching English is a great experience, however it is not a well-paying one. I've found that teaching English also tends to be a bit of a representative job for the country you come from (this is certainly not desired on my part, but language is so tied up with culture that there is almost no way around it). It has become an increasingly competitive field, with the most beautiful spots in the world also being the most difficult places to find a job - sometimes with the worst pay. This is because everybody and her sister wants to come and teach in these areas (I'm in Tuscany, I should know) and drive the prices down because shady schools pay slave wages for "mother tongue" teachers. Asia and former East Block countries offer the most opportunities, while ESL programs in the USA and Canada are also experiencing a boom. In my opinion, the best thing about teaching English is that it is culturally enriching and offers a wonderful chance to really get to know a culture and its people from the inside.

Resources

ESL/EFL Employment
My employment link page

Teacher Training
Where to go to get those necessary requirements.

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