Graduation is just around the corner, or you turned that corner a few years ago and things hit a brick wall. You have a title and a mountain of debt. What will you do next? What job will you be able to get? Will there be any work for you?
It’s no secret that things are tough in the job market. As any recent graduate knows, the skills of recent graduates with little or no experience are not highly sought after. Most of the job openings you see are pretty daunting with requirements far beyond those of most recent graduates.
What do you do for a living? Do not freight. There are places where jobs literally come looking for you. If you’re willing to get an extra certificate and travel far from home, you’ll be fine.
Unlike the cowboys of old riding off into the sunset after conquering a daring adventure, new and recent graduates can find solace in the rising sun to the east after realizing their daring adventure has just begun. Get your passport and pack your bags. Asia may have just what you are looking for.
I am referring to the teaching of English as a second language in China, Korea, Thailand and many other countries. Many expats, myself included, have found teaching abroad an attractive alternative to overcoming ongoing rejection or underemployment in our own countries. And, it’s not as difficult as you may think.
In fact, it’s pretty easy and it only gets easier once you reach your destination.
What do you need to get a job teaching English abroad?
To get started, you’ll need a TEFL or CELTA certificate in addition to your bachelor’s degree. For Americans, a TEFL certificate will be the best option as CELTA is a British qualification and is often not offered by American institutions. Check with your university for TEFL courses. If your university offers TEFL, you can easily get certified while you continue studying. If your university doesn’t offer courses, there are a multitude of online offerings for TEFL certification.
There are a few things to consider when choosing a TEFL certification program.
First, you must ensure that you obtain a certificate of 120 hours with observed teaching practice. In addition to a bachelor’s degree in any field, a 120-hour certificate is a common minimum requirement for a work visa in many countries. Make sure your certificate reflects that the course was in fact 120 hours! Also, observed teaching practice isn’t always required, but if you’re looking for your first teaching job, it can be the difference between you and the next best candidate.
Second, not all TEFL certificates are created equal. TEFL certification has become something of a money-printing business for some seedy online “institutes.” It is important to research the school before paying for a course. You don’t want to go through all the hassle of paying and studying only to have your grades questioned every time.
How do you find the job?
Once you have TEFL, you are ready to start your job search. You can go to an agency or contact a school directly. There are many ESL job boards on the Internet with thousands of job openings. ESL cafe and ESL Teacher’s Board are among the most popular job boards for ESL teachers. Please note that many jobs will require two years of work experience in any field to meet visa requirements. However, if you invest the time in your search, you may find schools willing to put in the effort to obtain legal documentation despite lacking some arbitrary requirements. Also, the requirements are often relaxed in rural areas and on the outskirts of the more popular cities. For example, in China, it is illegal for schools to hire non-native speakers in Beijing and other tier 1 cities, but regions outside of these cities can hire non-native speakers (or, no one checks in these outlying cities).
What should you look for in a job?
There are different types of jobs and each has its pros and cons. There are public schools, private schools, training centers and universities. My personal opinion is that public schools and universities are the best. You’ll earn less money, but you’ll have a less stressful work environment and more paid time off. At universities you will earn half of what you earn in public elementary schools and a third of what you earn in private high schools, but you will have the most freedom at work as well as the most paid vacations. In private schools you will earn more money, but you will be constantly under the scrutiny of owners and parents. Finally, training centers are the most stressful, with the least free time and the greatest potential for dishonest business dealings, but the greatest potential for profit. Training centers pay by the hour and rates can be as high as $50 per hour depending on clientele. Also, I should note that the highest paying private high schools will require a teaching degree from your home country or a master’s degree in an education-related field to qualify. Once you find a job and sign a contract, the school or agent will guide you through the visa process and you’ll be on your way in no time.
If you’re among the millions of young Americans burdened by a mountain of student loan debt and worried about working after graduation, teaching English in countries like China may be exactly what you’re looking for.