Getting Started Teaching English Overseas

Given my dread of public speaking, my friends and family were taken aback when I first started giving serious thought to becoming a teacher. Standing up in front of dozens of students and trying to keep them interested—and not lose my bottle—seemed like an odd choice. But the simple fact was, when my husband Tim and I started to plan our roving retirement at the tender ages of 44 and 49, the argument for using our English skills to fund the travel-rich life of our dreams was overwhelming.

How many other professions allow you to readily get a job in dozens of countries abroad, earn more than enough to lead a very comfortable lifestyle and work flexible hours to fit in other pursuits? Getting in on this teaching English gig seemed like a no-brainer. So, we took a teaching English course before leaving Brisbane in 2010, little knowing how important it would be to the success of our travel plans.

Our first 12 months of travelling was paid for by my accumulated Long Service and Recreation Leave, but we’d planned to stop and teach soon after that. Around month 11 I started to cruise the ESL (English as a Second Language) job boards and found a Summer School Job in Haiphong in the north of Vietnam that seemed perfect. A 12-week contract offering a liveable salary of around $300 per week, with accommodation included. My visas were arranged and paid for and a flight allowance covered our journey from Thailand (where we were prior to starting the contract).

I figured that those 12 weeks would be enough time to find out if I could cut it as an English teacher…or not.

The school was great. We had three days of induction and training in Hanoi and then a further intro when we got to Haiphong. There were several other brand-new teachers in the group and it was great to share our fears, expectations and ideas.

Tim quickly picked up a job in a local school teaching kids aged between six and 12. It was all quite informal, but the school was keen and they paid well.

The first time I stepped in front of a class, I was feeling all those reactions I’d had before. Sweaty palms, knocking knees. A group of around 14 Vietnamese adults sat up to attention as I came into the room. “Good evening teacher,” they said in unison. “Hi there,” I replied. The respect for teachers was evident and entirely different from what I’d observed back home.

And then the questions started… ”What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “How long have you been in Vietnam?” “Do you like Vietnam?” On and on. And the amazing thing was, just by answering these simple questions, I was helping them learn. And, of course, we eventually did get to the lesson. Before I knew it the two-hour class was over. Afterwards, I realised my nerves had gone too.

The first kids’ class I taught was a similar story. They were so adorable and excited to get a new teacher and I had a local teaching assistant on hand to help with any language difficulties. In the induction we’d learnt a few games to help the kids learn and retain the lessons and they lapped them up. Add in a few songs, activities and their workbooks to consolidate the teaching and two hours flew.

At first, I was putting in an hour or more preparation for every hour taught. But as I gathered together a suite of resources from my research and other teachers, that prep time came down to less than 15 minutes—which left a whole lot more time to enjoy living in a new culture.

After summer school finished, Tim and I moved down to Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) where that three months experience was enough to get me a job with one of the best private language schools in the city. Tim has since started working for them as well. And the rest, as they say, is history. We’ve completed three, one-year contracts so far, with 12 to 18 months travel in between. A month before we are due back in HCMC, I email the school and ask them if they have any positions. So far, they’ve been overjoyed and within a week or two of getting back, we’re both teaching as many hours as we want.

Our school helps us with all the paperwork for visas and work permits. I get paid around $29 an hour after tax and Tim around $27. Our living costs are around $2,000 a month, so if we both work 23 hours a week, we can save $3,000 per month, which bolsters our travel funds nicely.

I no longer fear speaking in front of a group of students. In fact, I enjoy it. And talking in front of other groups of people has become a whole lot more comfortable too. Tim and I have even received Teacher of the Year awards—twice. If you told me that would happen a few years back, I would never have believed you… Yet here we are…

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