I was inspired to teach English after studying abroad in Mexico as an undergraduate. Learning a foreign language opened up my mind on so many levels that I wanted share the experience with others. Mexico, with its culture of hospitality, is one of the world’s most rewarding places to teach.
However, like most places in the developing world, it’s a challenge to earn a living.
Don’t be intimidated by all the acronyms for English teaching (TESOL/TEFL/TESL etc.) The skill-sets are mostly interchangeable. While some teachers do snag a job without certification, I strongly recommend having one.
Most reputable schools prefer to hire certified teachers. But perhaps most important: when you find yourself in front of the classroom, having training and a certification helps you feel less like a deer in the headlights!
Still, no four-week certification program is a substitute for classroom experience, but a reputable program (such as those offered by School for International Training, Trinity College, or International Teacher Training Organization will give you the basic tools to help you develop as a teacher.
Some of their courses are even offered in Mexico, with guaranteed job placement upon completion.
Average pay for English teachers in Mexico is less than you’d make flipping burgers home, about 50 pesos/hour (you may do a little better in urban areas like Mexico City and Guadalajara). In Mexico 50 pesos/hour is nothing to sneer at.
The problem is that few schools can offer you full-time hours. Most teachers cobble together a living by juggling classes at more than one school and giving private lessons on the side.
Foreign teachers in Mexico are required to have an FM3 work visa, which costs over 2,000 pesos (or 2/3 the average English teacher’s monthly wages). The visa can take months to process, and you can’t file for it without first obtaining a written job offer.
This is why most schools allow you to begin teaching as long as you’ve at started the FM3 paperwork (yes, there is such thing being as an illegal US worker in Mexico!). Sometimes it’s possible to expedite the process by getting an apostille stamp on your university diploma or TESOL certificate before departing for Mexico.
Types of Teaching Jobs
Never accept a job without first checking out a school’s reputation. If you can’t speak to current or former teachers in person, the best place to find the inside scoop on schools are Internet forums like the ones at Dave’s ESL Cafe or TESOL Worldwide. Another option is going through a job placement program like LanguageCorps, which I worked for in Oaxaca.
Private Language Academies
These small schools usually offer a relaxed (sometimes to the point of unprofessional) work environment, both in and out of the classroom. Pay is average.
These include chains like Berlitz, Cambridge Academy, and Harmon hall. These tend to have a more regimented work environment (you might have to wear an unfashionable uniform) and teachers have less control over curriculum and methodology.
While they pay only a little better (or the same) as private schools, some offer contracts guaranteeing a certain number of hours in exchange for commitments of six months or a year.
In general, university classes are larger and students less motivated. Public universities are also plagued by bureaucracy and labor disputes.
Pay ranges from 50 pesos/hour to 12,000 pesos/month with benefits (especially if you’re experienced, or willing to work in a remote rural area). Universities are more likely to offer contracts and assume the cost of your FM3. On the other hand, most will not allow you to start teaching without a visa in hand.
Some schools and private agencies provide teachers to big- shot corporate clients who don’t have the time to attend regular classes. The pay is excellent, 80-100 pesos/hour, plus transportation, but hours are limited. My best teaching experience was teaching corporate classes at the Oaxaca airport.
The interview/ hiring process in Mexico can be very informal by US standards, especially at small, private language academies. The most important factor is the personal impression you make on the director.
You may be asked to teach a class while the Director or EFL coordinator observes you. This can be nerve racking, but remember they’re probably more interested in how you interact with students than how well you can explain the mysteries of the past conditional tense.
They want to see that you care about students and teaching and not just looking for a way to finance a Mexican vacation! If the later is the case, forget: teaching is a demanding profession and at 50 pesos/hour you will not be able to afford the lifestyle you enjoy at home, much less that of tourist sipping tequila under the palms!
Matador contributor and podcaster Craig Martin has been funding world travels since 2003 using ESL. He explains more in his podcast How to Get Work Teaching English as Second Language.
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Anna Laird Barto holds an MFA from Emerson College and is an Assistant Editor at Fringe Magazine. She has published short fiction in Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built and Natural Environments, and her travel writing has appeared in GoNomad, Intravel, and Transitions Abroad. After living everywhere from Wisconsin to Mexico, she has settled in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where she works to broker peace between Townies and Toonies.
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