Teaching English as a foreign language: the good, the bad and the ugly

Today is my day off and instead of being in class teaching I am relaxing at home and having a well deserved break. Did I say break? Actually I’ve been updating my files, looking for resources, reading other ESL blogs, chatting to other educators on Twitter and writing this blog! I have booked 3 days of holiday and since teaching has become such a big part of my life I find it hard to switch off from it.

On #eslchat this Wednesday we were discussing our dream ESL job. In my blog I’d like to share my experiences of ESL teaching so far, looking at the good, the bad and the ugly.

Lets start on a positive note. The good. Teaching English now for over a year I am in love with my job. I feel like I am a good teacher and that I’m learning new things everyday. The people that I work with are great and supportive and the people who I see the most of, my students, are a pleasure to teach. I love how I can go into class most days and come out smiling. When a student tells me that they’ve enjoyed the class that day it can make all the effort I put in worth it. Teaching English is a fun and exciting job and I don’t think I could find the same level of job satisfaction anywhere else.

The bad. The past few months I feel like I’ve been working non-stop. In ESL you are paid for the hours you teach. There are no half-terms and no breaks. Classes are Monday to Friday and Sunday is my planning day so Saturday feels like the only time I get to relax. I feel exhausted. I feel like I work a 40 hour week sometimes when I only get paid for 20. I teach 4 hours a day, but if you count unpaid breaks and the time I come in to do printing and organise my files, I’m probably in the school for 5.5 hours a day. On top of that is lesson planning. Now I’m guilty of spending too long on my lesson plans. I think I should be spending no more than 15 minutes for every hour I teach. So 20 hours teaching should equal 5 hours planning a week. In reality I probably spend up to 10 hours. Now that’s not all planning. A lot of it is looking through the vast amounts of resources on the web, or creating my own because there’s nothing that works better than something you’ve designed yourself. So, if you want to teach English as a foreign language, expect to put those hours in.

The ugly. No sick pay and zero hour contracts, and that’s just in England! Schools can only give you hours if there are students to attend the lessons. I understand at the end of the day the school is a business and you can’t give work when there is no work to be had. After a great run of hours, with extra hours to be had from other teachers taking holiday or calling in sick, I have just been given the call that unfortunately there will be no hours for me next week, or possibly the week after, or maybe the week after that. Job security is one thing that a lot of people want from their careers. It’s unfortunate that a job such as this which I love doing will never have that.

If you are reading this and thinking about taking the first steps to becoming an ESL teacher please don’t let those bad points put you off. I love teaching English and wouldn’t change my job for anything and would recommend that you go for it and don’t hold back.

Since I have got this time off I will use it constructively. I’ll think of it as an unplanned half-term break. I’ll search for articles, watch webinars and do all those things that I’ve wanted to but just haven’t had the time for. Perhaps I’ll even write another blog or two.

Thanks for reading,




Filed under Teaching English

8 responses to “Teaching English as a foreign language: the good, the bad and the ugly

  1. “Job security is one thing that a lot of people want from their careers. It’s unfortunate that a job such as this which I love doing will never have that.”
    You can teach EFL and ESOL in state schools and colleges in the UK you know. There you have a lot more security than in private language schools. You get paid for the planning hours, you have sick pay, paid holidays, free training and you can even join a union!
    Nice post.
    All the best!

  2. You’re right of course, sick pay, holidays, pension and so on. But what other job allows you to get up decide to move to another country to work. And spend your life doing that? Having been teaching for 25+ years the idea that next year I could be in Bogota or Mongolia or wherever I want still fills me with excitement! Ok, one day I’ll have to sort out my pension plan but that can wait for now 🙂

  3. Pingback: #ELTchat summary: “Dream jobs: where do we TEFLers dream of ending up?” (21 Nov 2012, 12pm GMT) | #AusELT

  4. Nice post – We need more dedicated and enthusiastic teachers like you for the industry to change. My advice is get yourself a diploma and see where that takes you.
    Feel free to have a look at my new TEFL blog.

  5. Pingback: #ELTchat » Dream jobs: where do we TEFLers dream of ending up? – An #ELTchat summary (21/11/2012)

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