One of the easiest ways of finding work teaching English abroad is locating private language schools. Also known as language academies, these are privately owned businesses that meet the local demand for learning English. These vary from the large international chains, like Berlitz or Wall Street Institute, to small family-run businesses. Being businesses profit inevitably comes before teaching and learning standards with some of the more short-sighted.
The better language schools will have carefully designed syllabuses and a library of teaching resources. Students will be tested fully before starting. Class sizes will be small. Some may have in-house teacher training programmes with class observations and group activities held over several days.
However at the lower end of the spectrum some language schools will want teachers to “keep the students happy and coming back”. With discount rates commonly offered, classes can be large. There may be little help or few resources available and teaching staff are expected to organise the course themselves with little or no input from above. This can suit some teachers who prefer doing “their own thing” and don’t want or need any assistance. This is usually those that have been teaching English abroad for some time and who have their own way of doing things and have built up their own supply of resources and materials. For the new and inexperienced this can make life harder. Still, there should be plenty of other staff around doing the same job who will be happy to advise and help
The typical private language school offers a variety of classes for adults, children and companies. Courses for adults commonly fall into 3 categories: general English classes, business classes and to a lesser degree specially designed courses, such as for English proficiency tests. Any teacher working in a private language school will more than likely find themselves giving Business English classes. Any kind of background in business, whether it be work experience or study, can help in getting hired but it is rarely a requirement.
Most language academies don’t have the resources to hire recruitment agencies or advertise internationally. In fact, most don’t need to. Instead they depend on attracting new staff by advertising online, locally or by word-of-mouth or may receive a steady supply of speculative applications. For these reasons finding work is easier once you are there, ‘on the ground’ so to speak. In most cases the school will want to interview applicants in person. Telephone or SKYPE interviews are becoming more common these days but any reliable employer will want to meet a candidate first and discuss the application.
Successful teaching candidates are then offered full- or part-time work. In the teach English abroad industry full-time actually means roughly 20-30 hours a week. This doesn’t sound like full-time but if you factor in preparation time and travel, 20 hours of actual teaching will take up nearer to 30-40 hours of your time. A common alternative to this is for the employer to offer a contract with a smaller number of hours per week, at least to start off with. The academy may not want to put “all its eggs in one basket” and contract someone with little experience on a full-time basis. Preferring to hire more teachers and split the hours gives them more flexibility. It also reduces the risk if a new teacher turns out to be ineffective or unreliable. For this reason you should continue your search for ESL jobs unless you have a signed contract from one or more academies giving you a total of 18-20 plus hours per week. This can also be an advantage for the teacher. Working for 2 or 3 employers you can choose who you want to accept more work from and fill your timetable more effectively. Relying on just one for all your income means you are often at their mercy, especially if you want to keep them sweet in order to get more classes. For example, they may send you to locations that mean 3 hours travel for a 1-hour class, which means only 1 hour’s pay, and there is little you can do about it.
Anyone teaching English abroad in a private language school will almost certainly be giving most, if not all, their classes to adults. Classes for children are for most a relatively minor source of income unless the academy specialises in them. As working people can almost always only have lessons outside working hours classes are typically early morning before work, lunchtime and after work. You can expect a working day that starts early and finishes late with long gaps in between.