How to approach the academic job market to teach English abroad

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“So you are a native speaker of English and you have a PhD. You should be able to teach it, right?” Wrong. This is a common misconception held by aspiring language teaching academics looking to change their career paths and those outside of the profession alike. The academic teaching English abroad, may wrongly be considered a full time holidaymaker with a side bread and butter profession involving unprepared, student-led language teaching from a textbook. Of course, for some, this is the case but there are some demanding and very economically and professionally rewarding English Language related teaching posts in non-English speaking countries.  This article will consider how to practically approach this job market from the position of already being in academic employment.

What do I need?

You may well be fluent in English however; universities often look for those with DELTA, CELTA or at least a TEFL English Language teacher-training certificate in order to be considered for an English Language (EL) teaching post.  These courses can be studied alongside your full time employment in evening or weekend sessions or indeed intensively during semester breaks. If you aim to teach on an ELT English Language teacher-training course, a specialisation in the area of linguistics, corpus, morphology, semantics, English for Specific purposes or even literature will be helpful alongside teaching experience. Having taught in the Middle East and Asia for the past 6 years, I observed that PhD holders are often favoured for governmental and private universities but Masters holders in a related field are certainly encouraged to apply. Some experience of teaching language or content to non-native speakers of English would obviously be looked upon favourably. Bear in mind that the recruitment and academic schedules in different countries vary. For example, many institutions in the Thai governmental university system do not observe the September-December, January-June semester schedule. Further, where a newer university is being established with growing student numbers, recruitment may take place more than 6 months ahead of the new semester. As with all careers and especially so with people in unfamiliar territories abroad, sometimes staff flee early in on in the semester so this can be a useful time to apply. It is in fact how I came to work as an Assistant Professor in the Sultanate of Oman 6 weeks into the semester.

Attitude matters!

You may already work somewhere which makes David Lodge’s Rummidge University seem utopian and see an EL teaching career abroad as somewhat of a Shangri-La. Be warned that adjusting to a foreign climate, customs, culture and bureaucracy is no vacation. It also takes time and patience to teach a language you may have taken for granted in an academically viable way. Your technique must be pertinent to the needs of multicultural students, perhaps more than 10 years your junior. Obtaining a visa and your first pay check will take longer than it would do had you stayed home and you may be operating in a society that has little use of English outside of your classroom. Keep this is mind as you approach the whole process from the application stage to the bureaucratic nature of getting established abroad. For instance, in one post, all of my qualifications from high school to PhD had to be verified by apostille and the embassy of that country. Dodgy doctors beware! Also keep some humility in mind as you approach new learners of English and new academic centres in relatively young countries. The entire attitude towards learning a language and its practical purpose varies from country to country. Use any patriotism about English you have as a learning tool and avoid condescension. Further, in order to establish oneself as an academic in this field, you may find yourself circulating at ELT and British Council Symposia with highly experienced colleagues from all over the world. All of these provide nourishment for your career.

Where to look

In order to find a list of EL teaching jobs, Dave’s ESL forum is a classic starting point. You may delve into the world of the British Council or International House’s recruitment having met their testing credentials. Obtain the Ministry of Higher Education’s contact details in your desired destination and get in touch with them regarding recruitment. In depth Internet searches can shed some light on the matter of university ranks in your country of origin. The website Glassdoor has some reviews of universities in foreign countries where EL teaching is taking place. Companies such as Teachaway Ltd lists university EL teaching posts infrequently and you can tailor alerts to specific regions and get all of the openings in your inbox weekly.

Grade/Post Equivalency

One final note on the delicate matter of grade or post equivalency: once you accept a post abroad, you may not automatically be granted your previous title in the new country. Usually there is a process of equivalency or an entirely separate ministerial system for academic ranking. This can be good bad or neutral dependent upon the level of attachment you have to titles. For instance, I gratefully accepted an Assistant Professorship within 3 months of completing my viva and was made an instructor, coordinator and lecturer, often simultaneously over the past 6 years. In another post, there was no room for manoeuvre at all for at least 6 years.  In another post, English Teaching Faculty were viewed as language support and exempt from the ranking system other academics were entitled to. This is something to bear in mind for those clinging to chairs before they leave them.

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