So you were thinking of teaching overseas…how do I start?!


So you’ve decided you want to try your hand at teaching English in another country, and well if you’re reading this, you’ve likely chosen China. The question is where the HELL do you start??! Read on, I’ll show you how to turn fantasy into reality!

Lake Tai, Wuxi

The first thing you will need is a TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate. If you do not possess a degree, having a TESOL cert is enough to secure yourself a good position – just not in a university (but then again, in China, pretty much anything is possible so I wouldn’t count that out either).  The good news is they’re easily obtainable, are quick to complete (taking approximately three evenings and two full week-end days – though this will depend on where you study it), and will arm you with all of the skills necessary to undertake conversational English teaching with no prior experience. The bad news is it will set you back approximately $1900.00. But do not despair! This fee can also be an excellent way of committing yourself to the task. Some people (aka me) need a solid commitment to ensure they actually follow through with their plans, and once you’ve dropped that money, you’re not likely to then back out.

The other unexpectedly good side of having a TESOL certificate is that, while they carry no real weight back home, they do look superb on your resume. There are many skills you will pick whilst teaching which can be applied to a whole myriad of roles back home. Having this certification and teaching experience is an excellent talking point in job interviews, and will show your potential employers that you have some amazingly broad qualities.

I obtained my TESOL through the Australasian Training Academy  who I do recommend, if you are in Australia. While their training for the cert was really good, their follow-up service and support (one of the prime features they advertise) was almost non-existent – so don’t count on that. They say they will assist with looking over contracts and answering questions and the like but for my wife and I, we had no response to our questions – though this may have been just us.

Once you have obtained your TESOL, you then need to find a job. China is fairly unique in that you do not actually have to hunt down a job, but simply put up an advertisement and wait for one to come to you. There is such massive demand to learn English that you can literally pick and choose; with so many offers coming in that you’ll need to fend them off with a stick! This will likely change in the future, so I wouldn’t wait too long to take advantage of this.

A website I would recommend is Dave’s ESL Café. Dave’s is a fantastic resource for all things ESL teaching, from lesson planning and ideas, to discussion issues with fellow teachers. There are also very active forums full of other ESL teachers, where you can begin researching the many Chinese employers and locations. It’s also one of the best places to actually find a job, with many Chinese employers using the site to look for tutors.

Before you begin, create yourself a new email address just for ESL job hunting. When you put your advertisement online, you’ll likely receive a lot of spam back to the address – usually all job offers but you’ll find yourself unwittingly put onto various newsletters and the like. I still get them some three years after I put my application up.

You will then want to put together a resume detailing all of your relevant work experience and contact details (Only name, email address etc – don’t include phone number, address– it’s unnecessary at this point). Do NOT be as detailed as a normal resume as you have to remember, the people reading it will likely have very poor English. Include a summary about why you want to teach English overseas (ie your passion for exploring another culture etc), some details about your own style of English – clear, concise talker, patient personality etc etc. List what you currently do for a job, hobbies etc, but keep it simple.  Note down things such as whether you have run any training sessions in your current job too. The other thing I would recommend you do is attach a photograph. As I have posted previously, the fact you look foreign really does make you more appealing.

And then it’s time to actually create a free account on Dave’s and submit your application. Within a few days you should start to see a steady stream of job offers coming in – which means it’s time to start researching them!  Once you’ve thoroughly researched and selected a job, you’re one step closer to your overseas teaching adventure.

Before you actually select a job and enter discussions with the employer there are a range of things you need to consider – far too many for me to cover in this post. Next up I will detail the things you need to look out for, such as contract specifics, locational factors and perks. You really do NOT want to accept a role without knowing as many of these things as possible, so check back soon 🙂


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6 Responses to “So you were thinking of teaching overseas…how do I start?!”

  1. Austin Guidry Says:

    thanks for the post! I’m looking at doing this pretty soon! Once I get a bit of cash for the course, I’ll do it!

    What do you think about the difference between online and in-class courses, as far as credibility goes? I know that, in America at least, a degree/certificate from an online course does not seem so credible, but do think that skepticism for online certificates is also present in China?

    If not, I’ll probably go for the online course, because the price difference is staggering! 1000$ plus (easily) for the in-class course, and a couple hundred for an online course!

  2. Marcus Says:

    Hey Austin,

    What do you mean, an in-class TESOL as opposed to doing it online? I think to the Chinese, it doesn’t actually matter how you obtain it as long as you have the qualification. It’s pretty silly actually – you could have a degree in farm machinery and still be accepted as an English teacher, even if you spoke really poor English. Regarding what would actually benefit you though, that’s really your choice. Personally I liked doing it in the classroom as it not only taught me some valuable skills for teaching, but I made some good contacts there also which was useful during the application process, seeing what other people were doing and the like!

  3. Austin Guidry Says:

    Maybe I could have phrased it better – in the States, when people tell you that they’re taking classes online for a certificate or a college degree, and we always think (inside, anyway) that the person’s taking the easy road….in my experience with online classes and those of my friends, online classes are kind of a joke in a style-over-substance way.

    Because of that attitude, online colleges/courses don’t seem to have the credibility of courses where you have to actually go into a classroom. (In America, anyway)

    I’ve read a few articles and talked to a few of my friends who were teachers when I was over in China, and they said the schools were just basically paying them to be white Americans, not because their students got great scores. (They WERE all pretty good teachers anyway, or so I though).

    I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to spend a whole bunch of extra cash on an in-classroom course when an online course would work just as well – did I put it better this time? Hope to hear back from you soon!

  4. Marcus Says:

    Oh yeah, I know exactly what you mean. And right, completely irrelevant in China. Regardless of your teaching skills, you’ll be hired as a ‘whitey who can speak English.’ Crazy, but true. Most teaching positions are conversational English, so the students can basically hear a native English speaker speak the language, as opposed to a Chinese English teacher who is speaking in their second language.

    Unless you’re actually going for a proper teaching role (ie actually teaching as opposed to just helping improve conversational English) your qualifications will really not mean much. But when I spoke of the TESOL in-class experience being beneficial, I meant that it really helped me manage a classroom, come up with lesson plans etc. While the job IS mostly easy, you have to remember, you’re still standing there before what can be a very large class.

    I was teaching classes with 55 kids in them on average, and around 15 different classes of students per week – so like 1700+ kids or something ridiculous. Good luck remembering their names 😉

  5. Rob Walters (@RobsBooks) Says:

    I got to teach because my wife did, they needed a second teacher. She has a qualification, but as you say it doesn’t seem to matter that much and I am used to teaching (though not English).

    We worked through an agency and have taken two short contracts. The agency did give an introductory course on teaching in China and it was excellent. Just a few days, but given by a Canadian lady who really did know the ropes.

    The main problems concerned sub standard accomodation i but I won’t go into that (too painful). The teaching itself was hard work. I had a class of 86 at the last place near Xian – and I did not know their names – not one.

    It’s a great experience though. We were in remote areas and saw China as it mostly is: still pretty backward. And for me it inspired a novel called Shaken by China – now an eBook on Kindle and Smashwords.

    Would we go back? No, my wife thinks we have seen enough of China. I’m not so sure.

  6. Marcus Says:

    A class of 86! Man, I thought I had my hands full with 55! How the hell did you handle 86?!

    I’d like to hear about your sub-standard accommodation too – that was something that really affected my experience too.

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