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If you like to teach and explore the world, becoming an English teacher could be a good option. Dave Gerow, who is traveling around the world using his teaching skills, tells us how it’s done.
Text: Dave Gerow
Country: Canada

ow long have you been an English teacher?

I started teaching English in 2005, the year I graduated from university. I had no particular direction in life, but I knew I wanted to see the world. Teaching English as a Second Language, or ESL, was a way to do that. I went online and found a job in China, and I left Canada a couple of weeks after I’d finished university.

China was a fascinating country, so I spent four years there. Then I worked for a year in South Korea, followed by a year in Venice, Italy. I’m currently working in Milan. In between jobs, I’ve traveled a good deal, visiting Nepal, India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Peru, and even North Korea. Teaching ESL really opened up the world to me.

What was it like living in China?

Obviously China has its downsides –the pollution is worse every year, the internet is censored (no Facebook or YouTube), and the visa procedures can be a headache –but the people of China are extremely welcoming to foreigners. This is especially true in the smaller towns and cities. In Beijing or Shanghai, everybody’s used to seeing foreigners every day and they pay you no attention, but when I lived in small-town China, I was nothing short of a celebrity. People followed me down the streets, took my picture, invited me to their homes, and sometimes even paid for my meals in restaurants! I knew some ESL teachers who found all this attention annoying, but I usually found it amusing. I just kept in mind that these local people had never met a Westerner before, and that by simply smiling or saying a few words in Mandarin, I could make their day.

Were you a certified teacher before you started teaching?

No. In 2005, all that was required to get a job in China was that you be a native English speaker and a university graduate. These days, however, the job market in China is becoming a bit more competitive, and it helps to have qualifications. And in places like Europe and the Middle East, qualifications are an absolute must.

What sort of qualifications do schools look for?

The most common certificate ESL teachers might get is CELTA. You can do CELTA courses all over the world; they’re run by Cambridge University in the UK. The course takes a semester, although you can do the whole thing in one intense month if you want. That’s what I did when I took the CELTA course in Toronto in 2010. I did it because I wanted to be able to teach in Europe, and when I went to Italy after finishing the course, I found a job within two days. And as a happy bonus, I met my girlfriend in that CELTA class; we’ve been traveling around together ever since!

As an experienced English teacher, what would be your advice for young or rookie ESL teachers?

In the classroom, the most important thing is to listen to your students, and whenever possible, keep your mouth shut. To improve their English, the students need to speak: they don’t need to sit and listen to you talking for an hour. A lot of young teachers just talk and talk, hoping that their students will understand them at some point; but too many words can be confusing for students. When you’re explaining a concept (for example, a grammatical point), you should demonstrate it through examples, then have the students demonstrate it to see if they understand it.

Is getting an apartment, papers and a good salary as easy as getting the first teaching contract?

It depends on the country. Pretty much anywhere in Asia, your school will provide you with an apartment. Most of mine have been quite comfortable. In Europe, you’re usually on your own. That can be difficult, so it helps to have friends who can help you get set up, or to find a cheap hostel you can live in while you’re looking for an apartment.

Travel documents vary from country to country, and some embassies will require you to have a letter of invitation from your employer before you can get a work visa.

As for salary, you’ll never get rich teaching ESL. In China, you might make less than $1,000 per month. That doesn’t sound like much, but then you need to remember that you can get a big dinner and drinks for $3: ESL teachers in China live quite well. If saving money is a priority, your best options are South Korea or the Middle East. Europe is probably the least profitable place to teach, because the cost of living is so high there.

What are the dangers of moving to a different country on a teaching contract?

There certainly are a few dangers. The biggest one is that you might end up with a disreputable school. The school might not provide teaching materials or a decent apartment. You might not get paid on time or at all! Before you accept any job, you should definitely Google the school, and it’s a good idea to ask for the e-mail addresses of their current foreign teachers, whom you can e-mail to ask for impartial information. That’s a fairly common practice at ESL schools.

What would you advise teachers on their way to China?

In China, nothing is ever going to go the way you expect, so you’ve got to be able to roll with things. There are two types of ESL teachers in China: the ones who get frustrated by the confusion and difficulties that arise every day (even buying a bottle of water might be a befuddling adventure) and the ones who laugh at those same situations. If you’re going to enjoy yourself in China, you’d better be mentally prepared for a truly bizarre experience!

Info Box about data on English teachers.

Terminology:

ESL: English as a Second Language (generally intended for students who wish to live in English-speaking countries)

EFL: English as a Foreign Language (for students living outside English-speaking countries)

CELTA: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults

Average salaries:

China: 800 – 1200 euros per month

South Korea: 1300 – 1800 euros per month

Italy: 800 – 1600 euros per month



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Speak English, Can Travel .

Dave Gerow travels around the world teaching English. He started teaching English in 2005, the year he graduated from university. He didn’t know what he wanted to do, but he did know that he wanted to see the world. Teaching English as a Second Language, or ESL, was a way to do that. He went online and found his first job in China and has been traveling the world teaching English ever since.

Working in China can be difficult, the pollution is very bad, the internet is censored, and the visa procedures can be a headache –but the people of China are very friendly with foreigners. In small towns people will sometimes invite you to their homes or pay for your meals in restaurants.

Dave was not a certified teacher when he started teaching, as it was not required in China at the time. Nowadays the job market is more competitive and it helps to have qualifications, especially if you want to teach in Europe or the Middle East. The most common certification is the CELTA and these courses are offered all over the world.

One of the dangers of teaching abroad is that you could end up at a disreputable school. To avoid this you should research the school before you accept a job there and email the current teachers for more information.

 

Comprehension

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Speak English, Can Travel

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Grammar in Use

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Elementary: Comparative and Superlative.

Intermediate: Homophones 3

Vocabulary

Speak English Can Travel

Summary vocabulary

Discover its sights, sounds, and tastes:

Travel and learn!

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