Teaching English abroad is a terrific way to experience a foreign culture while also saving money for future travel.
I taught English for two years in Japan after graduating from college, saved over $40,000, and really enjoyed myself.
There is tremendous demand for native English speakers to teach ESL classes in public schools, private language learning academies, and universities.
However, although it can be easy to find any old job teaching English overseas, it’s not always easy to find a good job, or to do the job well.
Here are some common mistakes I’ve seen English teachers make, in and outside the classroom. I’ve even made a few of these mistakes myself!
1) Acting like you’re on vacation
Sometimes English teachers treat their job as nothing more than a paid vacation, and demonstrate a lack of respect for their students, colleagues, and host country.
When I taught English in Japan, this subset of disrespectful teachers was sometimes referred to as “the punks on a lark”.
Although you can get away with a lot of poor behavior while teaching English abroad, there’s no excuse for a lack of professionalism.
2) Overdoing the grammar
Unless you’re teaching advanced classes, there’s really no need to hammer your students over the head with the difference between a comma and a semi-colon.
Mapping out subclauses and particles on the chalkboard will make your students think English class is boring.
It’s much better to focus on communication, using games, stories, and other active teaching techniques to engage your students.
3) Partying too hard
There is no worse feeling in the world than standing in front of 35 neatly uniformed seventh graders, talking about verbs, and trying not to vomit.
Drinking alcohol is an easy way to deal with the frustrations of culture shock and the isolation of living abroad, but try not to overdo the drinking. Teaching is hard enough sober!
4) Skimping on research
There are lots of excellent English schools and programs that pay a good salary, don’t overwork their teachers, and help teachers navigate the challenges of life overseas.
But then there are the scam schools - shady outfits that make their teachers miserable, and, in extreme cases, fail to pay the wages they owe.
A little bit of due diligence and advance research can help you identify and avoid the scam schools.
Don’t let your eagerness to land a job push you into signing a contract before making sure the school is a legitimate organization.
5) Stressing over pronunciation
Don’t get me wrong – pronunciation matters – but as long as your students can communicate, don’t worry too much about whether they mix up their “Rs” and their “Ls”.
Even native English speakers don’t pronounce words the same way.
Listen to a New Yorker speak with an Australian, or a Turks Islander talk to a Scot, and you’ll hear the tremendous diversity in pronunciation.
Again, the important thing to focus on is simple communication.
6) Missing home instead of living the moment
For those readers aching to travel overseas, it can be hard to imagine that the seemingly lucky people teaching English abroad might be aching to come home.
Let’s face it - living abroad is tough at times, and everyone will get homesick at least once in a while.
The important thing for teachers to remember is that homesickness will pass.
Instead of wallowing in homesickness, go out and climb a mountain, visit a friend, write a letter, or explore a new neighborhood. Life goes on!
The money in your pocket may be red, blue, shiny or fluorescent, but it’s still worth saving!
Many English teachers earn a good salary and have few expenses. With careful budgeting and a little bit of healthy restraint, you can save a lot of money to fund your future travels.
There are plenty of ways to enjoy life abroad without spending a ton of money. Often, engaging with local people is cheaper than the expat scene.
Limiting nightlife is also a good way to save, as going out to bars and clubs is often the most expensive part of an English teacher’s lifestyle.
Have you taught English overseas? What advice would you pass on to someone looking into teaching English abroad? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below!
If you liked this, you might also like: 10 Best Places to Teach English Abroad.
Main image: Steph and Adam