10th October 2017

Mistakes to avoid with your career: 5 things I wish I'd known when I started teaching

By Bryan Holmes

When I decided to do a Trinity Cert TESOL my main reason for doing so was escapism. I wanted to run away from my life in the USA, travel around the world and meet people from all walks of life. I had lived in London and Paris as a student in my early 20s and the experience was incredible. I developed life-long friendships and was exposed to a new way life that didn’t mirror my US existence. Mind you, I was quite young and very naïve so when I first arrived in London, I went absolutely bananas.

I barely attended my university courses and working part-time allowed me to pretty much live in pubs and night clubs where I explored the seedy underworld of London’s night life. I loved it, it was amazing! Shortly after the disco lights dimmed, classes finished, and my student visa expired I loathingly returned to the States. I finished university and took employment and thus began my bog-standard, middleclass American life.

That was fine for 5 years until I turned 28. I thought it’s now or never. I was looking to recapture that drunken carefree spirit so what better way to do so by completing a TESOL? In my mind, a short, one month course would act as second passport to exotic destinations, interesting people, and new experiences. However, it had its fair share of challenges too, and as a novice to the industry I was unaware of what to expect. 

This week’s blog will focus on what I wish I knew as a newbie to TESOL. We’ll discuss what to expect and the do’s and don’ts while providing some general advice.   

1) What are the visa requirements for English language teachers?

After spending loads of money on a surprisingly intense and difficult course, it was time to find a job. I had planned to move to Paris at this point and went looking for work. Well, much to my dismay I wasn’t going to find it. Being a non-EU citizen made securing a work visa more difficult than obtaining a student visa. This was unbeknownst to me at the time. Realizing this wasn’t a viable option, my friend convinced me that my future lay in Taiwan.

2) Do all jobs come with accommodation?

I swiftly went to London and secured an interview with an organization that employs teachers in mainland China and Taiwan. While interviewing I was shown these amazing photos of a tropical paradise with teachers appearing to be having the time of their lives. This exotic location was called Taoyuan (‘Peaches Garden’ in Mandarin). Immediately, I packed my bags and left for my new and improved life. Upon arrival my airport pick-up was a no-show. Not speaking a lick of Mandarin and three unsuccessful attempts to ask for help, all I could do was stand and wait, hoping someone would collect me.

Eventually 2 hours later my pick up arrived and apologized then whisked me away to the hotel, which still to this day is one of my top ten most unusual experiences. The hotel itself was a "Love Hotel”, a place where people have sex by the hour or day. The room had no windows and was surrounded with mirrors stretching from ceiling to floor! After a long 24-hour flight, a round, pink, rotating bed awaited. I could only imagine who and what had been happening on it before I arrived. Next to it, perched a gold, plastic cat waving its arm staring at me coupled by the most unusual noises coming from another room. Regardless of my accommodation, I took a shower and fell asleep.

3) What are the best English schools to work for?

The next morning I thought what on earth have I done? This wasn’t the tropical paradise shown in the photos nor did I see any other teachers having the best time of their lives. In fact, many whom I met fled after a few days. I wanted to flee as well but I was skint and couldn’t. The cautionary tale here is to do your research regarding training, orientation, accommodation, and the overall living conditions of your host city/village. There are plenty of blogs and websites to gather this information.

Reflecting back on my first job, I realized how inexperienced I was, having only just completed a TESOL course. I was expected to teach 30 contact hours a week and I hadn’t the faintest idea what I was doing. The senior teachers were just as clueless as my employer, because they didn’t value training or professional development. For the next two years I was pretty much left on my own and I didn’t take my job very seriously. I thought the whole industry was a farce. I held that perception until I was employed by British Council.

I went to British Council Tunisia for 4 years and then to Hong Kong for 8. In my opinion this is where I learnt to properly teach English as a Second Language. I was given loads of support, educational opportunities, and observed regularly. Teachers were knowledgeable and cared about the lessons they taught.

4) What is this "professional development" stuff?

I wish I’d known beforehand that good employers provided opportunities for professional development. For example, I became an IELTS examiner, completed the CELTYL, a DELTA and MA. All of which were funded or at least partially by my employers. Additionally, I didn’t know what constituted acceptable working terms and conditions, such as holidays/sick leave, pay, and health insurance. I foolishly took the first job that was offered with little consideration to my well-being.

5) What conditions and benefits should I expect as an English teacher?

Make sure you accept a teaching post that provides two consecutive days off a week. Do not teach more than 24 contact hours, and make sure they provide health insurance. My first employer didn’t pay mine! Furthermore, an ethical employer will give you adequate paid holiday as well as sick leave. A paid return flight should be expected as well as reimbursement for traveling to the post and assistance finding accommodation.

Remember, living and working abroad poses difficulties and setting up a life requires plenty of support. Your employer is not only responsible for your employment visa: they should look after your welfare so make sure they provide the necessary support as well.

On a final note, being a good English teacher takes time and practice. There is a difference between backpacking and teaching English and being a professional ESL instructor. It takes experience and professional development beyond a CertTESOL. 

So ask yourself, are you ready for an adventure? Are you committed to professional development? Do you see TESOL as a viable career?

If you'd like to know more about careers in TESOL and English language teaching, contact our TESOL training team in Hong Kong to find out about upcoming training and CertTESOL taster sessions.

Bryan Holmes is teacher trainer and the part time course director for the Trinity CertTESOL English for Asia. His qualifications include the Trinity CertTESOL , MATESOL, and Cambridge DELTA. He has a special interest in phonetics and phonology and has been teaching for 10 years.