You Shouldn’t Teach English While Traveling— Here’s Why

Photo Credit: Doug Linstedt

The horrors of teaching little kids in another country is far from the actual reason of why you shouldn’t teach English abroad. I’m writing this to expose the reality of the competitive ESL profession.

Yes, there is much adversity in teaching little kids a complicated language. Yet, there’s much more affliction when the teacher is apathetic, only interested in making quick money, and the children aren’t learning anything from their incompetent instructions.

My partner, Donald, teaching English grammar to his students.

English is a difficult language. As a native speaker, I didn’t realize how complex it was until I started teaching it. I also never took into account how hard it was for other people to learn it.

Now, try to teach a puzzling way to communicate to a class of 10 children who don’t know how to behave. . . best of luck.

As a current (part-time) English teacher, I cringe when I read articles saying anyone can teach English abroad. I look at articles, like this one, advising ‘The Best Ways to Make Money Traveling,’ when in actuality they’re some of the worst ways. They list Teaching English as their first choice. I’m going to highlight reasons why teaching English as a paid profession while you’re still traveling is not the best option.

1. Long-term Contracts and Relationships

As for any serious job, you usually have to sign a contract. Becoming an English teacher is no exception. Yes, there are contracts that can last as short as three months, but never just one.

Employers generally want to see how you teach in the first month before giving you a full salary, because they’re not naive. They know about backpackers and they’re not looking to hire someone who’s just going to bounce after a couple weeks.

My experience teaching at a high school in Vietnam

Instead of teaching at a school or an English center, you can give private lessons. The problem with this is that most students are looking for a consistent teacher. They don’t want to keep searching for a new English teacher each month.

I came across this problem when I advertised one-on-one English classes in Busan, Korea. I met with one student one time and I could tell she didn’t like the fact I was planning to leave after 3 weeks.

The better alternative is to advertize a private conversational tutoring session. If you’re interested in how I was able to make money while teaching and traveling without taking a full-time position, read my alternative tips (coming soon!).

2. This is an Actual Career, Not a Gig

Becoming an English teacher is not a temporary gig. It’s not a way for everyone around the world to work in order to save money and travel. The reality for most people is that it’s a full-time profession and a dedicated one. I have had the honor of meeting amazing English teachers who have had to learn English as a second language. They have strived to teach themselves a complex language that I naturally speak fluently.

An English teacher I volunteered for in Sulawesi, Indonesia. This is his English center in his local village, made from recycled material and built by him and other volunteers.

So it would be a huge disrespect to pretend that you’ve been teaching for three years or you’ve dreamed of becoming an English teacher your whole life. Because for most people, they’ve aspired to become an ESL teacher.

They’ve had to master the English language and receive a degree. Not just an ordinary TEFL certification, which most foreigners who teach abroad get. It’s tremendous work to become a teacher. It’s even harder when you have to teach a language completely foreign to yourself.

3. Not Everyone Can Teach

Teaching requires many skills that are not only learned, but sometimes even innate. Here are motivational quotes describing qualities you should possess if you’re looking to become a teacher:

”Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.” -Tom Peters.

Running a business and being a teacher are two very different positions. As a teacher, you need to be able to lead a classroom and inspire your students to learn at the same time.

”Patience is a virtue” -Many Successful People.

If you’ve worked in a restaurant and have dealt with “hangry” customers, then you know that patience is the key if your diners want free dessert. As a teacher, you need to be patient with your students. Even if one of them is starting a fight with another kid and a different student is taking their clothes off in the middle of class (true story).

”Let thy speech be better than silence, or be silent.”

You must have great public speaking skills. You must also not be shy of standing in front of students who all have 20 or more eyes on you.

”It’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring” -Marilyn Monroe.

Marilyn is definitely right when it comes to teaching. If you can’t act silly or pretend to be funny, then your students will instantly lose interest. You must be entertaining.

”SPEAK OUT!” -Anonymous

Not sure if this is an actual quote but the point is, you have to speak loudly. If you hate shouting or being a human microphone for a long period of time, teaching is not going to be your favorite job.

”There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self” -Aldous Huxley

Improving your teaching skills and being able to receive feedback is crucial. If you’re not willing to learn yourself, how are your students going to learn from you? Especially if they’re reacting negatively from your teaching approach.

The Extended Truth

I often felt exhausted when I first started, thinking I was the worst teacher ever and I was never going to get it right. But I learned that there is not a perfect way to teach. Every class is filled with different kids who have different minds, IQs, ideas, and attention spans.

Instructing my students during a class on classroom objects (as you can see, they’re almost taller than me!)

You’ll have to try different teaching methods to see which approach your class responds to best. You’ll also have to be willing to receive constructive criticism and feedback. It’s the only way in not just becoming a better teacher, but a better person overall.

If you’re not interested in excelling as a teacher and only looking to make fast cash, don’t teach English abroad. There’s more to teaching than a quick pyramid scheme and it’s a competitive profession abroad.

Obtaining a full-time position and getting paid over $1,000 a month requires at least one year of experience. I’ve met people who’ve been fired because they couldn’t cut it and they could easily be replaced.

So if you’re looking for a better way to make money, or cut your costs of traveling, read my next piece on better ways to teach English while traveling.

Interested in traveling around Asia? Check out Mustard Mayo Travels, the blog I started with my love where we write about the countries we’ve visited in Asia over a 7 month period. I’ll also be sharing the ways I was able to make $1,000 while traveling (without teaching English)!

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