If you've just finished college and aren't quite ready to join the rat race, you might have considered teaching abroad as a way to travel while also earning money and doing something meaningful with your time. There are lots of teaching English abroad programs out there, some more reliable than others. Choosing one can be difficult and complicated, especially when they all seem to offer completely different things. So what's the deal?
Before you sign up for a program, ask plenty of questions about what exactly you're signing up for. What kind of students will you be teaching, and how old are they? What kind of resources does the school have? There are lots of different options for an English teacher in China, so consider whether you would be more comfortable at a public school or a private language academy, and whether you'd prefer a big city where there are other expats or a small town where you might have a better chance at getting to know the locals.
Check if the program you've chosen includes perks like free flights, health insurance and paid holidays as well as the salary. It's also important to find out how many hours you'll be spending in the classroom and what other duties will be expected of you, like lesson planning or marking homework.
Don't worry if you've never taught before! Most schools require their teachers to have a bachelor's degree and a TEFL qualification before they can work abroad. Getting TEFL certified only takes a few weeks and you can take a course at home before you leave or in the country you're moving to. Some teaching programs offer TEFL certification as part of the program, and a good program will also offer you additional training or an induction when you start your new job.
Be wary of any teaching program that throws you into the classroom without any guidance or training at all; it's not a good experience for either the teacher or the student. You need to know enough to be comfortable and confident in the classroom.
That depends on which country you go to, but an English teacher in China usually earns a pretty good wage compared to locals. You won't make a fortune, but it will usually be enough to live comfortably and fund your travels during holidays. You're doing genuinely helpful work in these countries, and sharing your expertise as a native English speaker, so it's not unreasonable to expect a real salary.
There are some teaching English abroad programs that recruit volunteers rather than paid teachers, and they often charge a fee to be part of the program. If you specifically want to teach in a deprived area without access to resources then these programs can be helpful, but be sure to research carefully before you apply. Some schemes take advantage by replacing paid foreign teachers with free volunteers, or volunteers end up taking a job away from a local teacher in the country. Check that your fee is being spent on the schools that need it and not going to the recruiting company.
Any decent school or recruitment agency will offer you advice and support both before you leave and while you're in the country. This includes providing accommodation or helping you find accommodation, ongoing support and training for your teaching, language lessons or assistance with finding a tutor. Ask your new school what you can expect before you sign a contract.
While there are some schools that will let you work abroad for just a month or two, there's a reason most contracts last for a year. It takes new teachers several weeks to settle down into their new country, get comfortable, and get to know their students. If you only spend a couple of months teaching, then you're leaving just as you get settled. It's also disruptive to your students' progress to have a new teacher every few months. Shorter contracts might seem appealing as a taster, but it's more beneficial for you and your students if you commit to at least a year.
Although the convenience of short programs can be tempting, taking ESL seriously as a teaching job is a better career move. Demonstrate to future employers your ability to adapt to different circumstances and tackle big challenges, and develop a flexible skill-set for the future. Who knows, you might love teaching so much that you decide to make it a permanent career!