Drop it all and Teach English

“If things get much worse, I might have to sell my boat” said a fat man on the TV news a few weeks ago.

That is hilarious on so many levels, but it goes to the root of why most people get depressed spending months looking for a new job like their old job instead of dropping it all and choosing door #3 instead—the exit door.

I’m a parent with a house and lots of stuff, so I get the concept of being tied to your possessions. But if you are young, single, and renting, why stay home when you’ve lost your job? Go take a one-month TEFL course in a cheap country and start teaching English. You may make lots of money or you may just scrape by, but it won’t be an ordinary year in your life. I did it at both ends of the scale. In Turkey I was making just enough to get by (and drink beer) in Istanbul while working a pretty slack schedule. In a suburb of Seoul in Korea we worked our butts off but made so much money that we saved 30 grand without trying very hard. In both places our apartment was paid for and we didn’t need a car.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing, but it was still a lot more fun than the demoralizing process of looking for a new job during a recession. In general you make the most money in Korea, Japan, and the Middle East, where it’s not uncommon to pull in  few grand a month and have your apartment paid for. In other spots, like China, Russia, and Latin America, you may only make a few hundred dollars a month and be struggling to scrape together enough hours to be full-time. But of course your cost of living will be a fraction of what it is in Europe or the U.S. and you’ll probably have more fun. If you are from an EU country, you can teach elsewhere in Europe very easily. For Americans it is much tougher. I’m generalizing here, so pick up the book pictured above if you are really interested. The 10th edition is about to come out. You will also find enough articles to keep you reading for weeks on the subject at TransitionsAbroad.com.

Yes, I know we’re in a worldwide recession and that means expenditures for English classes are down just like everything else, but there’s still plenty of demand. I walked by three English schools in Mexico City this month and all of them had openings posted on the front door. Same thing in Lima the month before. Talk to people who are living in Seoul or Hong Kong and they will tell you there are still slots open for qualified teachers.

Again, get one of the two world-recognized ESL certificates if you want to be secure in finding a position with decent pay. Here’s one place to check out: TEFL Corp. But here’s a good rundown of ESL training courses. Bye, and don’t forget to write!

  1. Tina Marshall

    Hello! There is a travel photo contest going on at the new Peterman’s Eye Travel….thought I’d share!



  2. tim

    Are they photos of ESL teachers? And are they clothed? I’ll leave this up to show what an off-topic blog comment looks like…

  3. Alex Case

    A surprisingly accurate assessment of something that a lot of crap is being written about at the moment… until the very last sentence! “the two world-recognized ESL certificates” ( guess you mean TESL, TESOL or TEFL, as the ESL certificates would be IELTS and TOEFL) are quite clearly Cambridge CELTA and Trinity Cert TESOL. Although TEFL International is becoming increasingly well known in some parts of the world, there are still plenty of schools that will only accept those two and there are a few others that are more respected than TI too. Having said that, I’m sure you’d learn a lot on the TI course too, and as plenty of schools will take you with no TEFL certificate anything that is not a rip off is worth thinking about

  4. tim

    Alex, good point, though to most people ESL is a generic concept—English as a Second Language—that applies to the job, the certificate, the school, or the opening. The two certificates that matter are indeed the CELTA and the TESOL. The organization I linked to offers the latter, but I personally earned the former many years ago while in Bangkok and therefore think it’s the best :>)

    There are plenty of options in plenty of places for either acronym.

  5. hugo

    English teaching in places like China and Southeast Asia is expanding quickly, so not only will you find jobs but also opportunities for career advancement. With the dollar dropping, a few hundred dollars is quickly turning into a thousand. And considering the cost of living (I can have lunch for about $0.75 out here in small town China), I’m actually sending money home and paying off debts.

  6. Alex Case

    Thanks for the reply Tim.

    TEFL International hasn’t offered the Trinity TESOL for many years now, but instead you get a TEFL International certificate. I don’t know anything about the quality of training you would get, but it certainly doesn’t have the recognition of Trinity, let alone CELTA.

  7. tim

    If you’re interesting in doing this, then do your homework. Buy a book or two, read lots of articles, get the background. I’m just saying that it makes a lot of sense for a lot of people and for me it was a great experience both times. But like anything, you shouldn’t go into it blind. Do enough research and you’ll know what certification employers are looking for (if any) and what you need to do to get it.

  8. Marilyn Terrell

    Great advice, thanks, Tim!

  9. Alex Case

    Hi Tim

    Good advice again, which again makes it a shame that you have recommended a course at the end of your piece that you obviously don’t know much about. It’s obvious that you get paid for sending people to the TI site (hover over the link and see what address comes up) and I have nothing against people being paid to write about TEFL, so I think you could’ve been a little more straightforward about it

  10. Sarah

    Hi Tim,

    I think the most important thing you’ve mentioned is to do your research. I got a CELTA in Rome from International House in 2004, and it was a great experience. Before I went, I spent months researching online, reading a book called “Taking a Gap Year” (also by Susan Griffith), and emailing schools to learn more about their programs. I agree with you that each certificate has its place – it depends on where you plan to teach and what you’re looking to get out of the whole experience. CELTAs are recognized everywhere, and are taken quite seriously, but for someone who just wants to do six months to a year of teaching, a TEFL might do just fine. Fulbright teaching assistantships are another great option.

  11. Lynn

    Thanks for great advice. Research on this subject has been confusing and I wish I would’ve come here first as I would’ve saved heaps of time before I finally found what I considered a good situation with my limited knowledge. Now I have confidence about deciding on booking my CELTA course in Thailand for next year at this time. Thanks again.

  12. tim

    Alex, you appear to run a TEFL site that is mainly an ad vehicle, so who is not being straightforward? If I made a note of it every time I linked to a commercial site where I have an affiliate relationship (including Amazon, the link at the top) it would be really annoying. But for anyone who cares, here is my (non)disclosure policy. As I’ve stressed multiple times in different ways already, anyone who reads this and wants to teach abroad should do their homework. ‘Nuff said.

  13. Alex Case

    Hi Tim

    Didn’t spot the (non)disclosure policy before, but you do put it very well. As you mentioned my blog, here is mine as it stands:
    – TEFL.net is not my site, just the TEFLtastic blog
    – I get zero money from the blog. If anyone has ever clicked on the Google ads, that went to the site owner. However, people who have read the blog have offered me work doing pre-publication reviewing of materials etc, and that is half the reason I started it. I think you’d have to be crazy to blog once a day without something to gain from it personally. I have never taken money for recommending something to anyone, but I’ve never needed the money and I have other ways of making my blog worthwhile financially, so I don’t judge other people who do.

    In this case, I still think you could’ve done it better, maybe:

    “Again, most people find it is best to get one of the two world-recognized ESL certificates, CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL, if you want to be secure in finding a position with decent pay. Here’s another one worth checking out: Get paid to travel through TEFL International! (sponsored link)”

  14. Paulie

    Be warned, I took the CELTA course, and was so turned off by the process, I never taught. CELTA has the most screwed up grading system, it encourages what is called grade rationing. Most students get a pass in the course and the number of Fs and As is about 2% each, and a lot of pressure is put on the teachers to pass everyone, but nothing else. So if you’re a high achiever, don’t expect any amount of effort will get you anything but a passing grade because the teachers can’t afford to hand out more than two As for every hundred students. That’s like one A for every 4 classes.
    Before CELTA I had already taught on the college level and received accolades for my teaching and I have an advanced degree in English and little but As in all my education. There was another student in my class, who was a former department chair, who, like me, was also trying to update his skills, and he was brilliant in every way–great command of the subject, amazing classroom skills, presence, etc. He didn’t get an A either. Take CELTA, just don’t get your hopes up.

  15. Alex Case

    I had endless problems with American students when I was a teacher trainer on one of those “less than but copying CELTA” courses. I’d only ever heard “but I’m a straight A student” in the movies before I started that job, but I heard it at least once a month for the next few years from then on. It’s a cultural difference.

    In the UK, there is almost no such thing as a straight A student because of the way the level is set (or at least that was the way in my day, before “grade inflation”). I got about half As at 16, at that is about equivalent to a straight A American student, at a guess. Having a B in CELTA or equivalent marks you as an exceptional teacher, and sometimes the only difference between that and an A is that the student with the A got on a roll. When recruiting, I put much more importance on the difference between a B and a C than I did between a B and an A. A school I used to work at pnly employed people with CELTA B or DELTA, but I’ve never seen the equivalent with schools asking for an A. Etc.On our course, most teachers with TEFL experience Bs, and a few even just got Cs.

    Anyway, we all got so tired of that particular misunderstanding that the organisation changed an A to “merit” (or “distinction”, can’t remember) to make it seem more exceptional. Kinda worked, maybe Cambridge would do the same too if it wasn’t so UK-centric.

  16. Thea

    Lots of fantastic information on this blog, as someone who is about to go travelling with a view to doing a CELTA course in Thailand it is great to get real people’s opinions on the matter.

  17. Gregory Hubbs

    Great article Tim. There are as many experiences as there are people, so I do suggest reading student participant reports and reports from those experienced in the field before making any decision. After all, the Internet was created as a research tool and no one person has all the precise answers given the location you wish to teach, your specific ambition, the required certificates for a given country, and other factors. We have been receiving an extraordinary amount of submissions of late by people who are leaving the country in search of jobs overseas–and most of these authors find jobs teaching English initially or for the duration of their travels or careers.

    Finally, Susan Griffith’s book is a very fine resource which has stood the test of time, as is “Teaching English Overseas: A Job Guide for Americans and Canadians by Jeff Mohamed,” host of English International, http://www.english-international.com.

  18. tim

    Thanks Greg. And yes, Susan’s book is more slanted to those in the UK, while the one you mentioned is geared more to those on this side of the ocean. Outside of Europe, however, it doesn’t matter much where you are from. Asians prefer an American accent it seems, but they’ll still hire a Brit or an Aussie if there’s an opening.

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