Landing an ESL Job

Many people who set out to teach English abroad, or even in the U.S., believe that simply knowing English is qualification enough to be an ESL teacher.

And many language schools abroad then substantiate this belief by hiring inexperienced and uncertified native English speakers as teachers with little more than a 20-minute interview. Part of the reason for this is that demand for English teachers is high and continues to rise around the globe. But think about your ESL teaching job this way: the more sloppy and unorganized the interview/hiring process is for you, the more sloppy and unorganized the school’s system probably is. For some, the freedom to choose your own textbook and organize your lesson in any way you want is very important. If you work for a small, mom-n-pop private language school, you will likely be allowed that freedom. However, if you work for a larger, well-established school or institution, plan on filling out plenty of paperwork and following a textbook that has been chosen for you. This also means that you may not have to put in as much thought and research into your lesson. During your interview, try to find out how much flexibility the school allows you in lesson planning. Also ask about the school’s library and resources that you will have access to as you plan your lessons.

TEFL Certificates – To Have or Not to Have

The most common certification that ESL teachers are asked to have is a TEFL certificate. These are certificates that can be earned by taking an intensive, approximately four-week-long course at a cost of around $1,000 or more. The courses, ranging in quality and accreditation (Cambridge Trinity being the most widely accepted and therefore more costly) are given in the U.S., but many teachers opt to take them abroad in the city they wish to teach in, which allows them to get a good taste of the culture and become familiar with the people and the region before they begin to teach.

Many TEFL-granting institutes guarantee TESL job placements or TESL job-hunting help once you have graduated from the program. A TEFL course can be taken online, but this kind of a program does not allow for the approximately 20 hours or so of observed teaching practice that is usually a requirement in an onsite TEFL course. Online courses can take less time (as short as 40 hours), cost far less (average cost is $350) and still offer one-on-one tutoring. But be sure to check the accreditation of the TEFL certificate offered by an online program and to find out if the country or institution you plan on teaching in will accept it.

TEFL certificates are not always essential to secure a TESL job, however – although the larger and more populated with English native speakers a city is, the harder it might be to find a well-paying, well-structured teaching position. Basically, what the school or language agency or corporation is looking for is a good teacher of English. And if they see that you have some experience in teaching (not even necessarily English) and have a friendly, outgoing personality, you have a good chance of getting the work. Some may not even require teaching experience, but will interview you and examine your background and work experience for your potential as a teacher of English. This can be extremely important when interviewing for a position teaching young children, where patience and a caring touch is more important than your knowledge of past participles or prepositions.

Sometimes, as part of an interview, you will be asked to give a sample lesson, anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes like an actual class would be. You may be allowed to run through your full lesson, or you may be interrupted at anytime, so prepare enough for the entire length.

A college degree is usually a requirement (especially with public schools), but then again, this is not always the case, especially with private language agencies. If you have some college experience or are in the midst of taking classes toward your undergraduate degree, then it is up to you to prove yourself to your employer through your enthusiasm, your professionalism, and even through your students’ feedback.

U.S. ESL Teacher Requirements

To teach ESL in the U.S., the requirements are usually stricter, dictated by the education board of the state and district within which you apply to teach. You will need to have a bachelor’s degree in education or applied linguistics, or may even need to have a master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages), even if the job is entry level. Teaching experience, at the grade level of the position you are applying for, will also be highly desirable, if not required.

In some cases, you might be teaching in a bilingual school, and in the U.S., the other language will likely be Spanish, as it is the second most spoken language in the country.

For this kind of work, you will be required to have an intermediate or higher level of Spanish, since you might be interacting with the students in Spanish. Also a degree or certification in bilingual education and/or teaching might be required or preferred by the employer.

Your interview may be similar to the process mentioned in the section above, and might involve teaching an actual class of students.

Sign up for our newsletter!