Teaching ESL: Everything You Need To Know Part 1

Congratulations! If you are reading this then you possess an extremely employable skill. For those of you who don’t already know, teaching ESL or English as a second language is arguably the easiest way to make a living while living and travelling abroad. The ability to write and converse in English can provide top level positions to candidates in some of the world’s most competitive markets. This makes education in the field of English language education one of the most highly employable skills in the world. Everything from public high schools to private training centers requires native English speakers. However given the sheer amount of different ESL companies and contracts to choose from it is very important that you educate yourself on the advantages and disadvantages of the positions available. If you don’t you can easily wind-up working for less pay and more hours than EVERYONE else you meet. Before you start filling out applications though, there are a few basic things one should keep in mind.

Types of ESL Jobs

One of the biggest problems facing prospective ESL teachers is deciding what type of institution to work for. You need to ask yourself, how serious am I about teaching? Do I want to teach children or would I be happier with adult learners? Let’s start with state run schools.

State-run Schools

State run schools can be extremely rewarding. The students usually come from middle or working class families which means that they are generally respectful and genuinely curious about your life and where you came from. As for the amount of work you will do, that depends on the individual school but one of the best things about a public school is that you’ll get the same time off as the students. That means weekends and all state holidays. This leaves you time to enjoy cultural festivals and makes coordinating day-off plans with other people all the easier.

However public schools can be boring. Often you’ll be told exactly what to teach and often you will feel as if you’re not being given your own class. Most state run schools give their ESL teachers a ‘teachers assistant’ who is technically your handler and will watch you like a hawk. If you find yourself in this position it’s extremely important to develop a good working relationship with your handler. If you do this you’ll be given more authority and freedom during class time.

Private Schools

In a private school, especially an international school you stand to make a lot more money. The students are usually more fluent in English which gives you as a teacher more scope in what you can do in the classroom. Some private schools are also more flexible in what you are able to teach. Depending on your major you can easily find yourself teaching math, science, history, or even physical education. Much like public schools you can expect weekends and major holidays off. The downside of a private school is sadly, the children themselves. Although in my experience most students will be generally enthusiastic you will always have a handful of spoilt brats. The fact that their parents pay such high tuition can also cause the school to overlook problems with behaviour or poor grades. This leaves you cleaning up the mess which can get ugly when this happens with more than a few students in one class.


Universities are a mixed bag. The respect you’ll receive from friends and the temptation to call yourself ‘professor’ is attractive to say the least. For added awesomeness, most positions only require 15 teaching hours a week. The downside is that you will make significantly less teaching ESL in a university. Universities often expect their professors to fill out the remaining hours of the week doing private tutoring or whatever else you have on the go. If you’re thinking about starting a side business and need the extra time, a university gig is definitely the way to go.

Language Training Centers 

Private training centers are hugely popular anywhere there is an ESL market. They can offer sweet to horrible salary packages and the hours are whatever you can negotiate. Be prepared to work weekends though as those are their busiest times. These places are whatever you make of them. Some are fantastic places where you can work for years and make awesome friends while others are places you only stay until you find something better.


Kindergartens are becoming really popular in the ESL market. The push to teach your child another language before they’ve mastered their first one can seem ridiculous but some people really seem to find their calling here. Like private training centers the salary and working conditions can vary. However one thing to keep in mind is that the school will often try to pay you less than someone who is working with older children or adults. Stick to your guns and demand a fair wage because as everyone who has taught toddlers knows, no one is going to be working as hard as you.


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Adult Training Centers

Conversely, many suggest that the best positions are at adult training schools. Adults usually know what they are getting into and the lesson plans are most often pre-made with the expectation to put more into them as you see fit. Teaching adults is also a good chance to meet some actual locals, learn a bit of the language and become familiar with the culture. All that while getting paid a descent salary with premium opportunities for after work socializing and private tutoring on the side.

Private Tutoring

One of the biggest surprises that really shouldn’t be is the huge amount of part time and private work that is often available to ESL teachers. Understandably, many people feel that hiring their own private tutor will be more convenient than dealing with a training center or school. Often time’s you’ll be asked to teach more than one member of a single family thereby doubling or tripling your client base. This path can be much more profitable than working for an institution but it does have its drawbacks. The main one is that working for yourself will often leave you without a working visa which can lead to arrest and deportation if you’re not careful. Also, the travel time between teaching locations can have you running around all day earning just a little more than the guy sitting in a class all day. Other drawbacks include clients cancelling, trouble getting your money at the end of the week, and trouble finding enough clients to fill out your day. Because of this, many people feel it is better to supplement their main job at an institution with some part time work on the side. Be careful though, private teaching can lead you into some interesting (though not all unpleasant) situations.