The Reality of Teaching Abroad

The Reality of Teaching Abroad

Fun teacher

Teaching abroad is a fun and enriching experience for both you the teacher and the students, there is such a huge amount to be gained from the experience in aspects of teaching and being in your host country. 

Shock-edHowever, there seems to be a lot of bad information out there as to the reality of teaching English abroad. Slogans such as “Teach English abroad, it’s a fun and easy way to travel” are misguiding.

Teaching is fun, and you will have the opportunity to travel, but this shouldn’t be your main focus, here is the reality of teaching English abroad.

It’s a job, not a vacation

This is something that really needs to be driven home to a lot of teachers when they are thinking of teaching ESL English abroad.

There is an idea that teaching English abroad is a great way to travel whilst funding it through work, and that being paid whilst abroad is a great way to explore and see other countries in the area.

Whilst there is of course going to be time to travel and explore and feel like you are in a different country, you are working a full-time job, and this should be taken seriously. You are going to be teaching, sometimes long hours, a lot of the time at weekends and unless you put your all into it, you are going to have issues.

Vacation time

Of course teachers want time to go away and see other areas, and that time will be given.  Sometimes you have to work your vacations into the national holidays or there will be vacation time built into your contract.

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However, do not expect this to necessarily run in the same way it does back in your home country. Oftentimes if a teacher wants vacation the school will have to check to see if no other teachers want the same time off. You may not have advanced notice of when vacation time is, making planning cheap flights etc difficult and it can often feel very disorganized.

Unfortunately, this is something that you will have to get used to, often things aren’t as organized as you think they will be, but that is part of the experience you signed up for.

Above all, you are here to teach, not travel. Travel will inevitably happen whilst abroad, but your priority should be teaching. If your priority is to travel, then do just that, but don’t waste anybody else’s time by trying to mask a year long vacation with an ESL job. Doing it this way will make you see teaching as an annoyance on your travel journey.

Additionally, wait to take any vacation time for at least the first 6 months, this has two benefits:

First, you will be doing yourself a great service by allowing yourself the time to get into your stride with teaching, schedules, your class, your students and general life in your new country.

Secondly, you will be making a good impression with your manager. If a teacher arrives and starts asking for vacation time for a trip they want to go on in 2 months, then this will raise a red flag on the teacher’s commitment.

If you think about it, you wouldn’t do this starting a new job back home, so why do it with a job abroad?

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Honor your commitment

Just like any job, you have committed yourself to a school, parents, students, co-teachers, and work colleagues, and that is a commitment that you should honor as a lot of people are counting on it.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of teachers that use a school to gain their visa entry, stick it out for a few months and then see another opportunity that takes their eye and just leave their current position for the new one.

The effects of this go far and wide. First, this disrupts the education of the students. Whilst a school is scrambling to replace the teacher that just left, students are left with cover teachers who know nothing about the students, their individual personalities or the flow of the class, or worse without a teacher completely.

Next this has a knock on effect for how schools view ESL teachers in general. If a school gets their fingers burnt by new teachers then they will become less likely to take on first-time teachers in the future. Sticking only to experienced ESL teachers means that there is no market for new teachers looking to get a break.

Above everything, honoring a contract that you committed to is just the correct and responsible thing to do.


Don’t be fooled into thinking that a 20 hour a week contract is going to be a breeze. You may be used to working 35-40 hour work weeks back home but take into consideration that 20 teaching hours isn’t easy.

First, there is all of the additional prep time for these classes. Then, you will need to be grading any test papers, marking spelling quizzes, creating materials and writing in communication books.  A lot of the time you are only paid for those 20 teaching hours and the additional work is unpaid.

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And here’s a newsflash, this also happens in your home country too. *shock, gasp, horror*

Additional work goes into the teaching profession, I know plenty of teachers back in England that can’t come out for a night out because they have to grade the test papers their students took that day, they aren’t being paid to be at home doing that, this is part of teaching, and it will be part of your teaching too.

This article covers a number of the main misconceptions about teaching. Are you an experienced teacher? Is there anything else you would like to add? Please let us know in a comment below.




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