I arrived back in the United States, after spending a year teaching English in the People’s Republic of China, in the summer of 2002. I’m sure that some of you remember that this was a particularly abysmal time to be looking for a new job. I was under the impression that, aside from my bachelor’s degree and my eagerness to work, I had no real marketable skills to give me a competitive advantage over other job applicants.
What I didn’t realize is that my teaching experience provided valuable training into a sought after skill in the United States. The world almanac reports that 82.1 percent of Americans speak English as a first language. That leaves 17.9% (or fifty million people) who are not native English Speakers. If you live in the Southwest, that percentage is likely to be much higher. Obviously, lacking the ability to speak English can impair one’s ability to function on a day to day basis in the United States, so many of these people are naturally very motivated to learn English. Therefore, there are plenty of jobs out there available to those who wish to teach them.
There is one big misconception I had about ESL teaching in the United States. I assumed that you needed to be fluent in Spanish to get an ESL teaching job. This is completely untrue. First of all, not all of your students will speak Spanish to begin with. You may have an ESL class with twenty different students who are native speakers of twenty different languages. You couldn’t possibly speak all of their native languages, and you couldn’t be expected to. The truth of the matter is that most ESL programs operate under the philosophy in order to teach people to speak English; you need to teach them in English. It’s that simple. They need people with skills applicable to teaching foreign languages, and not so much people with skills in non-English languages.
Of course the most natural place to go looking for ESL teaching jobs in the U.S, is in the public school system-and there are plenty of jobs available there and schools often have trouble filling the positions. Of course, in order to be eligible for one of these jobs, you need to be certified to teach in the State where the school is located. However, if you have a bachelor’s degree in any subject area, you may find that it is much easier than you expect to get teacher certification. Most states offer alternative certification programs, which allow you to earn your certification while you are working (and getting paid) as a full-time first year teacher.
However, you don’t necessarily need teaching certification to teach ESL in America. There are plenty of businesses that offer ESL classes outside of the public school system, and they are often looking for teachers. Very often, they will provide you with whatever training they deem necessary if they feel you have the appropriate skills and attributes. Some organizations also offer free ESL training if you agree to work for them either in the United States or abroad once you have completed the certification. Usually this is specified period of time ranging from 3 months to a year.
If none of these options seem right for you, you can always break out on your own. Opportunities for private tutoring abound if you are willing to go out and look for them. Most times private tutoring can help you make it from month to month when you are not working a full time teaching job. Many parents that are not native to America want their children to be able to speak English, but they are not able to teach them. So, they hire private tutors, and usually the pay is very good. Or maybe you could organize your own classes and teach them yourself. Try renting out a public conference or classroom to get started teaching your own class. The possibilities are almost endless.