“Cowboy teacher” was a common term when I started teaching overseas. Lone wolf nomads could swagger into a new town, scoop up a decent teaching job, intrigue the locals, break a few hearts, and ride off again. Romantic, eh? It always puzzled the hell out of me. When does the actual teaching happen?
There are still parts of the world where a cowboy teacher can rustle up a TESL job with a patchy CV and no long-term commitment. In most countries though, the TESL market has refined in recent years. Jobs are more competitive and employer standards are higher. “Well, I speak English and I’m here” doesn’t fly anymore.
Like any field, employers expect ongoing professional development, and lots of opportunities exist online or in teacher communities abroad. Below are five ways to further your TESL career, wherever you are.
1. Get a Masters Online
Don’t be skeptical of online education. These programs are a far cry from the blinking internet banner ads of “Study neurosurgery online at the University of Friendship!!!” In a field like TESL, where professionals work internationally, distance learning is in high demand.
Reputable institutions now offer Masters degrees in Education, TESOL, and Applied Linguistics, all with content identical to the on-campus courses. There’s a long list of reputable programs. To get you started, browse the University of Massachusetts Boston in the US, the University of Nottingham in the UK, or Macquarie University in Australia
2. Get a Certificate
I’ve heard veteran teachers grumble that TESL is a field too easily dazzled by bits of paper; that a stack of certificates, however pithy, mean more to employers than experience.
I don’t know if that favoritism is true, but I do know that in a field with international scope, certificates are a good standardized measure of skill. Organizations like INTESOL and the University of Cambridge offer specialized courses for teaching English to young learners or adults. There are also focused programs for teaching grammar or computer-based teaching.
If you don’t have a 100-hour TESL certificate, get one now. Regardless of teaching experience, this course will open more job opportunities, and push you into higher pay scales. These certificates can be earned online or in any number of attractive locations. Three weeks of teacher training in Seville or Phuket? Well, if I must…
3. Attend Workshops
Last fall, I started attending KOTESOL workshops here in Korea, purely (perhaps selfishly) for the networking opportunities. I didn’t know how much I’d gain from listening to smart, experienced teachers, and swapping ideas with peers.
Workshops are a great asset for accessing new ideas and approaches in TESL. It’s a great forum for discussion if you’re passionate about the field. I’ve learned the hard way that a debate on immersive language learning won’t always fly at the expat pub. At a workshop, though, your peers will dive in.
In South Korea, KOTESOL has chapters in ten major cities, each hosting monthly workshops. In other countries, workshops are often offered through the British Council, or in university Education departments.
4. Attend a Conference
Conferences are a one-stop shop for both theoretical and practical discussions on language education. Topics can range broadly, from sociolinguistics to preschool vocabulary. They’re also great places to stay current in terms of new trends and technologies in the field.
If you’re looking to learn from the experts and pick up new materials, conferences are the way to go. If you’re looking to make connections and put out the feelers for a new job, well, you’re in a networking goldmine.
TESOL.org and the Asian EFL Journal keep thorough lists of upcoming conferences around the world.
5. Get Licensed
I have two friends whose TESL jobs I covet. One teaches in Abu Dhabi and lives in uber-comfort at a 4-star hotel. The other goes on amazing school trips to Fiji and Australia with her international school in Singapore. The thing they have in common, apart from my unabashed envy? Both are licensed teachers in their home countries.
A growing number of schools are looking for TESL teachers with licensure. Teaching degrees focus on curriculum development, assessment methods, and compliance to government guidelines in a way that TESL certificates do not. If teaching children internationally is your long-term career goal, then a license is well worth it.