How You Can Make ESL a Long-Term Career

ITA - Photo LogoTeaching ESL abroad is becoming more and more popular by the day for a multitude of reasons.

First, there is a bad economic disease circulating the globe and as much as the spin doctors try to paint a rosy picture of improvement, things are still just bad. Jobs are not only less plentiful, but requirements have become more robust and often people are being asked to do far more for less pay these days. This is assuming you can find a job within your line of work in the first place.

This includes teachers. Teachers are being laid off, which is an oddity in and of itself being that it’s typically a secure, government job. All of this makes for a lot more people looking for work, even if it means going abroad to find it. The pool of people has increased greatly and the proof of this can be partially seen in the changing requirements for ESL instructors compared to a decade ago. Remember those laid off or out of work teachers I mentioned? Why would they hire someone with no experience and maybe a TESOL over a licensed, experienced English teacher? They wouldn’t. Things are changing.

Second, teaching abroad is seen by many as a means to travel and see other countries. How else can you just up and pick a country and go there for a year while getting paid at the same time? It’s hard to duplicate that benefit. Many people know this and use teaching as their ticket to ride.

In countries like China, Vietnam, and all throughout the Middle East, ESL jobs are coming available in leaps and bounds. In many cases, a job will provide a teacher with an apartment as well. How could someone with a bug to travel pass this up? They can’t. They don’t.

Finally (at least for this post), teaching ESL abroad gives fantastic international experience. Not just in terms of work, but that too. However, being abroad develops a person in very different ways and creates in them the ability to understand issues and situations from other angles and to be more compassionate.

For work experience, teaching abroad is a great resume builder. As a slightly older chap than most, I can tell you that one of your key advantages in an interview in any industry is your ability to create genuine conversation during an interview that wins over the employer. Having international teaching experience will be a conversation piece and you can and should use it to promote conversation in interviews that highlights your strengths for the job. Obviously, this will be very useful if you want to go on to be a teacher back home.

Most people in the ENTIRE world view teaching ESL abroad as, well, a joke quite frankly. But it’s not a joke. At least it isn’t anymore. If you want to secure decent paying jobs (in ESL terms) with reputable schools or education departments, you need to be qualified.

250_250A great percentage of ESL jobs will still hire almost anyone who is technically still breathing, but once you push past that first level, you’ll need to be qualified. In fact, you’ll need to be just as qualified as any potential teacher in any school back in your home country. For example, if you see a position for a math department head in China, you’ll need to have a degree in mathematics. In this case a “degree” means a Master’s at a minimum. You will likely need specific experience not only teaching, but in developing curriculum and running a department, if not in whole, at least in a supporting role.

In other words, you need to be the real deal.

So, how do you bridge the gap between where you are now and where you want to be to make ESL a long-term endeavor, or dare I say, a career?

You need to improve your position. That is, get specific schooling and advanced degrees. Obtain industry standard certifications like the TESOL and CELTA. You also need to get out there and teach a little to build up your experience as well.

Also very important in this whole equation is the DESIRE to be abroad. That sounds pretty dumb, doesn’t it? Who doesn’t want to be abroad?

Well, just ask one of the many thousand and thousands of people who made the trek before you. Many of them had their fill during their one tour of duty and that’s it. There are many reasons why people don’t teach abroad long term, but one of them is being away from home and loved ones can take a toll on a person.

You have to be willing and able to sacrifice some of that connection to make this happen. Even though today it’s much easier with the myriad of ways to stay connected (e.g. Facebook, Skype, etc), it’s still tough being away for some people.

If you have this willingness, and you’re working on your credentials as a teacher, and if you’re looking for a job, then maybe ESL could be something for you long term. If you find that you really love the lifestyle, be prepared to prepare yourself, but rest assured – it can be done.


  1. How do we start being qualified for ESL? How important is grammer? ( I.e. “Dangling participles”,etc) I am in USA and would like to be certified.Thank you. (I saw your video on youtube).

    • Qualified for most ESL jobs means being a citizen of a native English speaking country and having received your education from one of those countries as well. If you want to teach you can get certifications like TESOLs and teaching licenses which help you to qualify for more jobs.

  2. Avatar Kara Lee says:

    For example, I want to get a bachelors degree in teaching English, then get a TESOL and CELTA certificate and minor in Japanese (or Asian languages). Then I want to move to Japan and become a JET (EPIK equivalent) ALT teacher for 4 or 5 years, then move on to teach in an eikawa (conversational school) for 2 or 3 years to get teaching experience (because most employers in Japan don’t count ALT as teaching experience) and then move on to teach English at an international school. International schools in Japan are competitive and require teaching experience for at least 2 years (usually). Is this a solid plan for my future? I want to live in Japan for a very long time, and simply being an ALT teacher isn’t going to achieve that. JET only lasts for 7 years, and eikawas are known for bad working hours and bad job conditions so I’d only want to get experience there. So, in your opinion, is this the plan I should stick with? Or is there anything you add to it or take away?


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