Friday, August 31, 2012

Developing curriculum to teaching English without a textbook

Some teachers prefer to ditch the textbook for more ‘creative’ endeavors.  I am personally a fan of textbooks (with appropriate supplements here and there) because they provide an overarching picture of what a student learns.  But what’s a teacher – creative or not - to do when there is no textbook?  In such situations, some teachers may jump from random topic to random topic, frustrating even themselves for lack of clarity and direction.

So where do you start if you’re in the boat without a book?[1]

Student Knowledge
  1. What do your students know? Determine an approximate level (beginner, intermediate, advanced).
  2. What do your students need to know? Pay particular attention to the kind of language skills the have – reading, writing, speaking, listening – over the specific knowledge they possess.
  3. Why are your students learning English? What kind of English do they need? Teaching English for university preparation will look very different than teaching conversational English to children.
  4. How are students accustomed to learning? Trying to impose a great deal of group work on children more used to rote drills will be challenging.  Make an effort to work within some of the context of the culture you’re teaching in so that the method doesn’t distract the students from the content.
  1. How much time do you have to teach and plan?
  2. How many other materials (including copiers, chalkboards, etc.) are available?
  3. What kind of training do the teachers around you have?
So now that you know where you are, what do you actually do?
  1. Determine the ‘big topics’ of what you will teach of the entire course. Students learn better when topics are loosely associated with each other (for example:  teach transportation modes together, teach food/restaurant vocab at the same time, etc.).  Topics will be influenced heavily by your answers to the questions above regarding student knowledge.  Some of these books may be helpful in the process.
  2. Break down the big topics into smaller chunks and determine what type of grammar might pair well with the topics.
  3. Focus first on practical language! Teaching obscure vocabulary and minute grammar points (unless it's appropriate for the type of class you're teaching) will only serve to frustrate everyone.  Make an effort to teach language skills – reading, writing, teaching, listening – evenly throughout the class.  Read Examples of language focused learning for some suggestions of activities that help do this.
  4. Don’t forget to assess what the students are learning.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Tips on developing culturally responsive teaching

Just because we teach students from other cultures doesn’t mean we necessarily understand or are sensitive to the backgrounds our students come from.  Recognizing differences in food, dance, and dress can create an appreciation for culture, but developing deep cultural sensitivity comes from a different place.  Being a ‘culturally responsive’ teacher involves a deep awareness of how our actions impact our students, and how our students’ worlds are affected by the cultures in which they live.
While this is a lifelong process, the journey begins with a few steps:
  • Know yourself. Spend some timereflecting on your own experience.  How does your background affect your perceptions?  What types of experiences do you have with people of different cultural backgrounds?  How might these experiences (or lack of) influence your understanding of your students?
  • Believe in your students. Regardless of background, all children have an intelligence in some area. Look for these skills and communicate this to them through your teaching style, the materials you choose, and your responses to them. 
  • Be proactive. Look for ways to actively support and advocate for your students.
  • Acknowledge difference.  ‘Being colorblind’ means you don’t see a significant part of who a person is.  Listen to Diane Harriford describe how to be ‘color conscious’.

{Free PDF} Graphic organizer for introducing vocabulary

It's important to pre-teach vocabulary to students to increase their comprehension.  This is a graphic organizer I use in one of my EAP classes to help introduced advanced academic vocabulary.

{Free PDF} Graphic Organizer for overall reading comprehension

Here's another graphic organizer based on Bloom's Taxonomy to help students deepen their understanding of main ideas when they're reading.  See the first graphic organizer in this series here.

{Free PDF} Graphic Organizer for Jigsaw Activity / Groupwork

The Jigsaw is one of my favorite activities to use for reading comprehension with English language learners. It allows them to organize information they have read in a visual way, thereby helping them process the material more deeply. (The picture above is a link to a generic graphic organizer for a jigsaw activity.)

Here's an example of how you might direct groupwork using this handout:

Sample topic:  American Revolutionary War
1.  Divide students into 3 groups of 3-5 (depending on class size). Each group should have the same number if possible.  Give these groups a number.

2.  Determine a subtopic to the main topic for the day, and assign to each group.  For example, if you are discussing the American Revolutionary War, the subtopics could be:  1) Causes, 2) Major Events, 3) Results.

3.  Students then discuss their assigned topic to determine 3 main ideas.  Each group member should each record these on the front side of the handout.

4.  Once students complete these steps, they will change groups entirely and form a new group with members from the other 3 groups.  (If you number the groups, you can tell them that there should be one member from groups 1, 2, 3, and 4) in each new group.

5.  In Group #2, students will begin to put together the big picture of the topic.  Each member reports their findings from Group #1 and students in Group #2 take notes on the second part of the graphic organizer.  Students take turns reporting until they are done.

I love jigsaw activities because they are student-centered and combine a variety of speaking, reading, writing, and listening skills.  They also help students identify the most important information and condense it into language they understand.  Make sure to visit for more information on jigsaw activities.

{Free PDF} Content suggestions for ESL by level

If you have few resources and need a general starting part for what to teach by level, look no further!
Content Suggestions in ESL courses by level

By no means conclusive, this is a *GUIDE* to give those without resources initial direction.  A textbook will usually be the best guide for giving the most consistent and comprehensive direction regarding what to teach, but this isn't always the reality!  If you can get your hands on a text, it would be a great guide to follow.

Some of the best known ESL textbooks:

{Free PDF} Graphic Organizer for vocabulary and reading comprehension

Graphic organizers are great ways to help English language learners deepen their reading comprehension and vocabulary skills.  This graphic organizer is based on Bloom's Taxonomy, Step 1 - Knowledge, and helps students with skills of selecting, listing, and defining.

Resource on Immigration

Matt Soerens, the author of Welcoming the Stranger: Love, truth and compassion in the immigration debate, moderates a great website to learn about and discuss issues around immigration.  Check it out here.

Differences among TESOL related masters degrees

Determining which type of program to pursue for TESOL qualifications isn’t as simple as one might think.  English language teachers come from a variety of training backgrounds – all valid and useful for their specific purpose, but quite varied in actual training courses.  Before pursuing training, it’s important to determine what type of job you are most interested in to identify the type of degree you’ll seek.  Each of the degrees described below provides English teaching qualifications, but for different contexts and settings.

Applied LinguisticsMATESOLM.Ed. / MAT
AudienceThose who want to use linguistics in a practical way

Those who desire to specifically teach English around the worldThose who seek teacher certification in the US
Sample CoursesLinguistic theory:Semantics
First language acquisition
Second language acquisition
Linguistic Theory:Sociolinguistics
Second Language acquisition
Structure of English
Language analysis
Curriculum design
Teaching pronunciation

Linguistic Theory:Linguistics for ESL teachers
Intro to linguistics
Second Language acquisition
Multicultural education
Assessment of language learners
Literacy for language learners
Technology in the classroom
SpecializationsLanguage teaching Bilingualism/multilingualism
Language acquisition
Language planning and policy

English for specific purposes English for academic purposesElementary Secondary
Content  based (e.g. math, science)
Professional OrganizationsCenter for Applied Linguistics(CAL) 
American Association for Applied Linguistics (AAAL)
Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages(TESOL) International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (IATEFL)

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages(TESOL) 
National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition (NCELA)
The rundownMasters in Applied Linguistics are best suited for those who want to study linguistics as well as teach English in a non-public education (US) setting.  The degree can also be used in other types of linguistic careers.MATESOL degrees are best suited for those who want to teach English as a career.  Typically, jobs in intensive English programs at the university level and the better international jobs hire only candidates with an MATESOL.M.Ed./ESL degrees are specifically for certification to teach ESL in American public schools.  Regardless of degree/experience, if a candidate does not have ESL certification of some sort, a school system will not hire them as a full teacher (though in high need areas, provisional licensures may be given.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Principles for using technology effectively in the classroom

While I am a huge fan of using technology in classroom, one of the trends I see happening is a thoughtless embrace of technology, e.g. “If I use technology in the classroom, I MUST be a good teacher!” and “If it’s technology, it MUST be good for the students.”

In the everyone-needs-to-read book The Shallows:  What the internet is doing to our brainsNicholas Carr makes a strong case that with the explosion of technology in the past decade, it is controlling us (and reformatting our brains) without our knowledge or consent.

As teachers, it is essential that we use technology purposefully, not as a time-filler or wow-factor.

On top of that, we need to consider the impact it will have on our students.  Here are a few rules of thumb that I follow:
  1. Content > Venue.What you teach must always be more important than the venue with which you present it.  Heck, showing students YouTube videos all days is a hoot, but if it doesn’t support the content, it’s worthless.
  2. Context > Tool.I love social networking for the ability it gives me to access so much around the world.  However, just because I like twitter, doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate tool for a first grader – kids need to first develop face-to-face relational before they encounter the world of social networking.  In the same vein, language learners need face-to-face practice with language before we set them loose on language learning sites and programs.  Clearly, this doesn’t mean technology is bad for kids (or language learners), just that teachers need to be careful to match the appropriate tool to the needed skill.
  3. Familiarity > Variety. When it comes to having students use technology for themselves, I find that just because they can text in their pocket doesn’t mean they know how to effectively use presentation software or great sites like VoicethreadEvernote or Twitter.
All things considered, technology is definitely still a great addition to the classroom.  My new favorite tech site for language teachers? TeacherTrainingVideos by Russell Stannard.

'English only' bill promotes divisiveness

In light of the current prevalence of English Only bills on Official English going through congress, I’ve been reading more about the controversy.  Part of the debate surrounding immigration in the US is the issue of making English THE ‘official language’.  While there is great value in a common language and English education being available more broadly than it is, as a TESOL professional, I maintain an English only policy would only have negative consequences for the country at large.  Here are a few reasons:

Single-Language policy promotes superiority of one group and creates a divisive atmosphere

Also known as linguistic imperialism, the use of one language to the exclusion of other languages has significant affects on the trust between majority-minority.  A good example of this is the Sinhala only Act in Sri Lanka.  When the newly independent Sinhalese government declared Sinhala the only official language, it forced most non-Sinhala speaking Tamils out of government work, effectively eliminating their power. In other countries, such as Turkey and Slovakia, minority language speakers are persecuted[1].

The US has a long history of multilingualism
Spanish actually predates English in the US, and the two languages have coexisted for over 400 years[2].  History of immigration shows that most of our ancestors arrived NOT speaking English.   The country began with fierce debates over the widespread use of German and has shifted to the current debates over the use of Spanish[3].  Our founding fathers determined to NOT declare an official language because of “a belief in tolerance for linguistic diversity within the population, the economic and social value of foreign language knowledge and citizenry, and a desire not to restrict the linguistic and cultural freedom of those living in the new country[4].”

English is not the ONLY language spoken in America.
Just because the majority speaks it does not mean that all speak it at the same level.  Immigrants currently make up 12.4% of America’s population[5].  To remove government documents, especially in Spanish (which is currently widely available), would be a slap in the face to Spanish speaking American citizens.  As the world continues to globalize, to establish a law which prohibits the use of other language only continues to make America less competitive globally.  Should we value it appropriately, multilingualism will be a benefit to our country, not a deficit as the English only advocates claim.

For further reading, James Crawford has an excellent FAQ about Official English that explores this issue in more depth.

Are there other important considerations you would add?  Further questions for consideration?

Top sites for teaching and practicing English vocabulary

Teaching vocabulary can definitely get a little boring and repetitive, here are some great sites to help keep interest high and activities varied:

The Flatmates is a pithy, entertaining series of four characters - students will love following the episodes.  What's great about this series is that each episode comes with materials, ideas, and worksheets for teachers, as well as quizzes and vocabulary lists.  This would be a particularly great resource for teachers with access to the internet, but lacking on extra teaching materials - everything you need for a whole series of lessons is on the website!

By far, this is the best vocabulary website I've seen.  It's well thought-out and easy to navigate, with a variety of vocabulary sets for different levels, purposes, and ages.  Some of it's greatest features:
  • Diagnostic test that measures your ability and places you at a specific level.
  • Audio files with word pronunciation
  • Progress reports on the words you are learning
  • Recent news articles to read which contains the words being studied
  • Ability to print sentence completion or matching worksheets.
Really, the only downside to this website is that it's not free :(.

Though simpler than Vocab Sushi, it's a great FREE way to practice vocab at a specific level as it also guages the level you are at in vocab and teaches words from there.  Another great perk is that for every answer you get right, Free Rice donates 10 grains of rice to the World Food Programme.

Word references offer English dictionaries in 13 languages, plus a monolingual dictionary.  What I LOVE LOVE LOVE about this site is all the extra usage tips it provides to give the words contextual meaning.  It offers forums for native speaker / L2 learner interaction, as well as multiple forms of usage for each word.  While the interface looks fairly simple, the breadth and depth of tools on are fantastic.

Book Recommendation: Teaching in a Distant Classroom

by Michael H. Romanowski and Teri McCarthy

Summary:  this book helps those considering teaching overseas reflect on the many aspects of and skills needed for this endeavor.  Chapter topics include:  worldview, philosophy of education curriculum, practical applications, qualities of good teachers,  expectations and accomodations, and culture shock.  Note:  it is written from a Christian perspective.

I was quite excited when I saw Michael Romanowski and Teri McCarthy’s new book Teaching in a Distant Classroom: Crossing Borders for Global Transformation (Intervarsity).  I supervise international TESOL practicums during the summer and have been looking for a book like this for quite sometime.  I had high enough hopes that it would be suitable for my students to read that I assigned it to them before I had actually read it.  I’ve now finished, and am delighted to report that it’s even better than I’d hoped!

One of the most frequent misunderstandings I encounter with people hoping to teach overseas is that they don’t really take the actual task of teaching very seriously.  Some assume they can  use “teaching English” 1) as a mask to do “real ministry”, 2) a way to travel and see the world, or 3) an easy way to get a visa into a closed country.  Romanowski and McCarthy quickly and clearly dispel these myths on page 1 of chapter 1:
Often when Christians decide to go outside their homeland to teach…friends and family ask, “If you can’t talk about Jesus in the classroom over there, how on earth are you going to be a missionary?”  For the missions-minded North American evangelical, it’s a legitimate question.  But the question is not what is troubling.  What is more disturbing is the common response, “Oh I’m going as a teacher to get into the country so that I can do my real job of evangelism.”
So begins their case for competent, well-trained, serious professionals – especially among Christians.  They assert that “teaching should flow out of a Christians’ sense of calling” – not “merely moonlighting.”  They provide a variety of charts (one of my favorite parts of a book!) such as:
  • motives for teaching overseas (non-religious and Christian)
  • worldview influences and teaching
  • various educational models/methods
  • my favorite chart goes quite in depth comparing culturally responsive teachers with Jesus’ teaching.
Other interesting components of the book include a plethora of personal perspectives from people who have taught abroad, helpful websites, movie recommendations and a variety reflective questions for the reader.  On top of this, the entire book repeatedly explores how committed faith and excellence in teaching integrate.

For the Christian overseas teacher, Teaching in a distant classroom is a thorough, honest, and challenging introduction to teaching abroad.  I’m completely thrilled for my students to read this as they complete their practicums as it synthesizes so much of what they have studied in their coursework.  I’m excited to hear their responses.  I’ll be highly recommending the book to every TESOL practicum supervisor I know, plus to the many others who contact me regarding teaching abroad.  It is a realistic, practical, and wise guide for those heading down the path of teaching in a distant classroom.

Overview of TESOL Certificate Programs

Certificates vary widely in quality and degree. You can get a TESOL certificate online or in class. You can get them from a well-known organization such as Cambridge or Oxford or from very local or purpose specific organizations (such as churches training for their mission or literacy organizations training for tutoring). The challenge is that there is no regulation of quality in TESOL certificates apart from institutional reputation.

Types of programs:
  • Online training programs lack the crucial component of face-to-face and classroom experience. While a lot can be learned well on line, the actual interpersonal skills of being in front of and executing a classroom cannot.
  • I much highly favor hybrid training programs that are partially online, partially in person. These can often work well with teacher schedules as the in person component is scheduled during holidays. I’m not at all against on-line learning – in fact, I think there are times when you can actually learn MORE online – but for certain courses, face to face experience is a must.
  • University based programs tend to be more reputable when they are attached to accredited institutions. A for-credit university course certainly has the ability to cover more content than a weekend seminar that also offers a certificate program. It also carries the name/reputation of the university from which it comes (which can be good or bad, depending on the university).
  • I’m not very familiar with for-profit training programs such as Oxford Seminars or AmericanTESOL Institute, though reviews are pretty unfavorable because they lack classroom experience.
Region specific qualifications
  • Without a degree, it may be difficult to get into some parts of the Middle East and Asia.
  • European countries typically require CELTA Certification.
  • South America, Central, Africa and more developing countries will have looser qualifications.
  • In the US, a TESOL certificate is more likely to qualify one for part-time employment.  The full time positions usually go to candidates with an MATESOL or related degree.
Prospective employers will look at:
1) institutional reputation
2) classroom hours
3) courses taken
4) field experience in the classroom. (Generally, a program with a minimum of around 60 hours of field experience is more highly regarded.)

The Bottom Line?
The more desirable the locale (read: good salary, appealing destination), the better the qualifications needed.

Tips for teaching English in low resource areas

My first English teaching job was in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.  I had a box of chalk, a chalkboard, one florescent lightbulb, and two frayed wires sticking out of the wall that I had to (carefully) maneuver to spark so the bulb would flicker on.  That’s not to forget the nosy pigs outside my classroom and the braying donkey across the street.  We had no textbooks, no internet access, and limited copier access.  Surprisingly, it’s been one of my favorite teaching jobs in my life.
Access to funding for resources in English Language Teaching can vary widely depending on region and sponsorship.  Clearly, it’s easier to teach when there is access to resources than when there is not.  However, learning can still occur even without books, computers, and the like.  Here are some tips for those teaching in more limited settings where funds and resources are limited:

1.  Determine an overall direction/curriculum[1]
  • Analyze students’ needs
  • Analyze the cultural environment
  • Set learning goals
  • Decide how to assess progress
2.  Gather authentic materials.
  • If you have internet access, it’s a great place to find nearly anything you need!
  • When travelling, gather any materials in English to use in your classroom – brochures, advertisements, magazines.  They’ll provide great opportunities for students to practice reading authentic English.
  • Check libraries (if there are any) for materials in English.
  • Sing songs, recite poems.
3.  Get ideas from teacher forums.
  • Twitter feeds – use hashmarks (#) to search for terms like #ELT, #ESL, #EFL, #ESOL, #TESOL, #TESL, #TEFL.  Following twitter feeds helps like-minded people to each other.
  • LinkedIn groups for English Language Teachers
  • Dave’s ESL Cafe Idea Cookbook
Here are some helpful resources for those teaching English in low-resource situations:

ESL Teachers’ Book of Lists.  Filled with lists of anything an English teacher might need, this book provides a great starting point for those without textbooks or curriculum.  This site is specifically for young English language learners and has TONS of free PDF activities – lots of games, puzzles, and interactive activities.

Flashcard sites. Flashcards go a long way and can be used as far more than just flashcards – games, discussion prompters, partner activities, etc.  Here are a few free ones:
If you’ve taught in low resource areas, what have you found helpful?

[1] Richards, J. (2001). Curriculum development in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

What do all those letters mean?

Like many fields, TESOL is a field filled with acronyms.  Here’s a guide to sorting through the alphabet soup:

Terms describing language learners
  • ESL = English as a Second Language.  Describes students learning English in a context where the majority population speaks English.  This term is being used less because of the seeming inaccuracy in the term ‘second language’ – many English learners are learning their third, fourth, or fifth language.  However it’s not as inaccurate as some might suppose.  ‘Second language’ is a general linguistics term referring to any language that adds to a person’s first language.
  • ESOL = English for Speakers of Other Languages. This term was next to replace ESL in an attempt to correct the inaccuracy of ‘ESL’
  • ELL = English Language Learner. The current word used by the US Department of Education to describe students learning English.
  • EFL = English as a Foreign Language. Describes students learning English in a context where the majority population speaks a language other than English.
  • EAL = English as an Additional Language. Commonly used in the UK for persons learning English.
  • LEP = Limited English Proficient. This is a dated term used to describe students learning English.  It has been phased out in an effort to define students by their proficiencies rather than their deficiencies.
  • CLD = Culturally and Linguistically Diverse. Sort of explains itself, not very frequently used, but known among professionals in the field.
Terms referring to specific sectors of the TESOL profession
  • ESP = English for Specific Purposes. Specialized training for very specialized content areas.  Some examples of ESP include English for Restaurant Workers, English for Medical Professionals, English for Business Purposes.
  • EAP = English for Academic Purposes. Specialized training for students who wish to study at the university level in English. 
  • IEP = Intensive English Program.  Typically located at universities, IEPs provide a base for students wishing to continue their studies at an English speaking university.
  • TESOL (TESL/TEFL ) = Teachers of English of Speakers of Other Languages. Refers to the international professional organization as well as the teacher training sector of the field. 
Other generally known terms
  • ELT = English Language Teaching. Describes the overarching field, regardless of context or population being taught.
  • EIL = English as an International Language. Term describing the use of English around the world as a lingua franca. 
Did I miss something that you know about?  Leave it in the comments and I’ll add it!

Where are TESOL/TESL/TEFL jobs available?

When narrowing down your focus for a job search, the most important step is to determine either 1) the location in which you want to teach OR 2) the organization with whom you want to work.  Obviously, this depends on which is more important to you – some people are tied to a specific organization and others to a specific location.  Upon determining which direction to take, you’ll need to determine what kind of institution is the best fit.  Most jobs in the TESOL field exist in the following institutions:
  • Private Language Schools. There is no shortage of language schools.  In many places, they will typically offer a higher quality of education and higher salaries than government schools (though this is not always the case, especially in the US where they often utilize part-time instructors).  The clientele are often highly motivated and educated.  Classes sizes are usually small.
  • Intensive English Programs (IEP). IEPs can be run by private organizations or universities in English speaking countries.  International attend IEPs to study English intensively and be immersed in an English speaking environment.  At universities, their purpose is typically preparation to enter an academic setting (see English for Academic Purposes).  The typically offer assessment and wide levels of instruction.
  • Government Schools. Due to the current nature of high-stakes testing in the US, public (government-run) schools teach English primarily through content-based instruction where students learn English through the medium of a specific subject.  This can vary significantly from an EFL approach.  I can’t speak to how other governments approach English language teaching – if you have something to share on your current country, please do so in the comments section!
  • Private Schools, such as international schools or faith-based schools, offer ESL in a similar fashion to public schools.  One difference from public education in private schools may be the resources the students have access to at home.
  • Government organizations. The largest and most well-known government run English programs are the Peace Corps (US) and Voluntary Service Organization (UK).  Other similar programs around the world are CUSO-VSOWorld University Service of Canada (Canada), and Volunteer Service Abroad (New Zealand). While they do not only work in English language teaching, this is often a large part of their work.
  • Private Tutoring. Tutoring opportunities abound from internet based to private tutoring.  Clientele also varies from high school students to diplomats.  In US cities, ESL tutoring  can pay between $25-$75/hour.  Tutoring for a pre-established organization may provide more contacts, but does pay less.
  • Non-profit Organizations and Non-governmental Organizations (NGO). While non-profits and NGOs typically utilized volunteers, there are many paid positions within their ranks. 
    • Literacy Organizations. Many local literacy organizations also run ESL classes.  Search for “literacy organization” and the name of your locale to get more information regarding these organizations.
    • Missions Organizations. Typically affiliated with specific denominations, missions organizations are rooted in religious institutions.  Many missions organizations use English Teaching as a tool alongside other works.  The largest and most reputable Christian English language-based mission organization is English Language Institute China (ELIC).  SIL also does a great deal of work in Literacy. Mormons also have a very established presence in TESOL, with a fair amount of research coming out Brigham Young University.
    • Refugee resettlement agencies. Refugees are resettled in the US by agencies who are responsible for their transition to a new community.  They often offer ‘crash’ survival English courses as a means to help refugees learn their new environment.  Some of the larger refugee resettlement agencies are World ReliefCatholic CharitiesChurch World Service.  The Office of Refugee Resettlement has a complete list of voluntary agencies operating in the US.

How do I find an English teaching job?

In the age of Google, it’s easy to think all you have to do is search for “English Language Teaching Jobs” and – BAM! – there’s your perfect job.  In truth, it’s significantly more complicated than this – a Google search reveals over 8.5 MILLION returns.  How do you even start to sort through that pile?  Here are a few tips

1. Make personal connections. Talk with anyone you know – real or virtual - about their experiences teaching English abroad.  In making these connections, you are more likely to find a placement that is reliable and positive.  At the very least, it will help you determine what questions to ask agencies you’re considering.

2.  Check out job forums. My favorite is the International Job Forum at Dave’s ESL CafĂ©.  Here, you can search by country and see discussions of people I get many emails asking, “What do you know about teaching English in ___?”  Truth be told, I don’t.  The field is too big for even teacher educators to know everything!  However, you can ask these questions in forums and get straight answers.

3.  Request references from potential employers. If they won’t give you any, I wouldn’t go.  Make sure you contact the references and ask specific, hard questions such as:
  • What kind of internal politics affect the institution?
  • Were the terms you were given when you were hired the same as what actually happened?
  • Was there anything that frustrated you about working there?
It will be far better for you to go into a situation with open eyes than be blindsided in the midst of culture shock!

4.  Get experience.  The more qualifications you have the more likely you are to catch an employer's attention.  Even though you don't get paid to volunteer, it does give you experience which may eventually qualify you for a job.

Is English Language Teaching right for me?

When students come to me exploring the idea of getting training to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) or English as a Foreign Language (EFL) – read Segments of the TESOL field for more info regarding distinctions of each – I usually probe their desire with the following questions:
  1. Are you drawn to work with other cultures? Typically the most successful ESL teachers LOVE to work across cultures and have a desire to learn more about effective cross-cultural relations.  See Why ESL teachers need cross-cultural skills
  2. Do you see yourself living ever living abroad? While career prospects are plentiful in the English teaching field, their characteristics vary from country to country.  For Americans, the context of teaching English in the US has significantly different implications than teaching abroad.  I would recommend that all ESL teachers live abroad, even if only for a short time, in order to be a more effective teacher in the classroom.  See lessons learned from travelling
  3. What are your feelings about leading groups of people from the front? Many of my most successful students have a high comfort level in front of groups, not only speaking, but also directing and guiding.  I sometimes joke with my husband (a social worker) that he was far better prepared for marriage than I was because his profession taught him skills like empathy, listening, and compassion – mine (education) only taught me to boss people around and control them!  While I chuckle at this (and acknowledge they’re not always effective), these characteristics can come in quite useful in the classroom…
  4. Do you like to plan? I just heard a teacher say the other day that she’d love teaching if it weren’t for the lesson planning and grading. While her comment earned my sympathetic ear, being able to prepare and assess effectively are crucial and large components of any classroom.  Slapping together lessons or scantily grading assignments do not create a positive learning environment.
  5. Would you like to teach English for a short time or a lifetime? Depending on a person’s goals, their pursuit of training would vary.  Some people are interested in teaching English merely as a way to travel or gain entry into certain countries (see Ethics in TESOL for more dilemmas of this sort).  In this case, a short term Certificate training program would be ample preparation to teach.  However, once one identifies that they’d like to make a lifelong, sustainable profession out of English teaching, an MATESOL or related degree is a necessity.  For those interested in teaching in more reputable institutions or teacher training programs, a PhD is necessary.