There are several different types of employers in the ESL industry. As a teacher, you may find yourself working at a private language school, university, public school or any of the many other types of schools and programs that teach English to non-native students.
But, when hunting for a job, it can be a bit confusing understanding the difference between each type of school and program and knowing whether it will be the right job for you. So, I will go through each school type and list some characteristics of each, as well as providing some insight into who is a good candidate for each type of employer.
Why Is It Important to Know the Difference?
You must understand the difference between each type of school for a few different reasons. At the top of that list is the fact that you don’t want to end up working at one type of school when you were beyond qualified to work at another type that would have paid much better.
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Private language schools, for example, are great places for new teachers to get their foot in the door but will not pay as well as universities which are looking for teachers with experience and higher levels of qualifications.
If you have the level of experience the universities are looking for, you wouldn’t want to end up in a contract with a private language school for a year and potentially miss out on tens of thousands of dollars out of ignorance.
A second reason for you to understand the different types of ESL employers in the industry is so that you can find one that is better suited to your lifestyle and your level of experience. Though private language schools may not pay as well, they are often great places for beginners to get some experience, as many will have a curriculum already developed that you will work from.
This can help new ESL teachers who don’t have as much experience creating lessons and managing classes, as it will take some stress away. On the opposite side of that, private language schools often hold classes in the evenings, so if it is important for you to work during the daytime and have evenings off then this may not be the best option.
Not all schools are created equal, just as not all teachers will be suited to teach equally at every school.
What are the Different Types of ESL Employers?
Let’s take a look at some different options available to you as an ESL teacher.
Private Language Schools
These are mostly privately owned schools that can be found throughout the world which cater to students who are looking for extra instruction outside of their normal schooling. These schools usually have a focus such as on conversation or grammar or test preparation and cater to an extremely wide range of students.
Some schools, for example, will cater to adult professionals who are attempting to expand their level of business English for the boardroom. Others, however, may focus on high school students attempting to prepare for the IELTS to secure a place at a prestigious university.
The focus of each of these schools will be extremely diverse, and the type of teacher they will want to hire and the requirements they will have of that teacher is going to vary greatly.
Though private language schools can be found all over the world, they are especially prominent in East Asia including in Japan where they are known as Eikaiwa, South Korea where they are known as Hagwons, and China where they are referred to as enrichment schools. In the Middle East, primarily in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, they are especially popular for working with foreign business professionals who are working in the country.
The hours’ teachers will be required to work will vary greatly with these schools, depending on who the main clientele is. For students who are in regular school, classes will be primarily in the evening after the normal school hours and on the weekends. For business professionals, classes will be more on the weekends all throughout the day.
It is important to understand that there can be less stability and security at these types of schools due to the fact they are private companies. There are several stories of companies such as NOVA (an Eikaiwa school in Japan) which shut down due to bankruptcy, leaving thousands of teachers with no job, no place to live, and no route for renewing their visas.
There are also many stories coming out of China of recruiters for enrichment schools lying to teachers about the legality of working without a visa among other things and teachers getting into trouble with the law. While these are not the norm, you should always make sure you are informed about the visa laws and other laws governing working as a foreign employee in the country you are in.
Pay at these types of schools will often be less than at a public school or at a university. This is one of the reasons that the requirements for working at these schools are often less than at others and one of the reasons that competition for these positions is often less. This isn’t to say that there aren’t private language schools that pay well, simply that universities and, in some countries, public schools will often pay better.
The governments of many countries around the world have instituted mandatory English classes in the public school systems, and therefore the demand for native English teachers is great. Countries throughout Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East have instituted policy attempting to make their population more competitive in the global marketplace.
Working for the public school system in any country is going to provide a greater degree of stability than working at a private language school. Since you will be working for the government, in essence, taking care of your visa and work permit will be a much simpler task oftentimes.
Salaries at public schools will usually be greater than at a private language school, though this is not always true and will depend largely on the country. Many people find working at public schools to be preferable due to the stable hours (regular school hours) as well as the generous amount of time you receive off for winter and summer breaks in most countries.
Benefits at public schools will usually be more generous than at private language schools and can include pay bonuses, flight reimbursement, provided housing or reimbursement, travel per diems, health insurance, and more. Benefits will depend on the country you are working in, with some countries such as the United Arab Emirates offering a wide range of benefits and others such as Thailand offering few if any.
Requirements for working in the public school system will vary in each country, however, generally speaking, a bachelor’s degree and at least a year or two of experience will be required. Some countries, such as China and the United Arab Emirates will require tutors to have a 120-hour TEFL certification (either blended learning or onsite). Some countries, such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia may also require public school teachers to have a teaching license and prior experience in the area they are being hired for.
These kinds of positions are generally going to be more suitable for people looking to move abroad long-term, as contracts can sometimes range 2 to 3 years. If you are just looking to live in a place for a year and want to work a minimum number of hours, so you have more time to travel, then a public school job may not be the best option.
Though it should be stated once more that because you will be on the public school schedule, you will usually receive generous time off for summer and winter breaks on top of any government holidays.
Colleges and Universities
Colleges and universities are a great place for teachers with prior teaching experience or professionals in various fields such as business, aeronautics, engineering, and more to find jobs. The need for university-level ESL teachers is high in many countries around the world as the demand in various fields for professionals with English-speaking abilities has risen.
Universities tend to have the highest-paying jobs for foreign teachers, depending on the country. Because of this, the competition for many positions can be quite high.
An added benefit of working for a university is that you will work significantly fewer hours, and unlike at a public school when you are not teaching a class you do not have to be at the university. Also, you will receive significant time off for summer and winter breaks on top of any public holidays.
The benefits that are offered by universities in many countries also tend to be quite good when compared to private language schools. Depending on which country and which school you are working with you may receive salary bonuses, flight reimbursement, housing allowances or provided accommodations, health insurance, and potentially more.
Along with this, you will have a lot more freedom with the content and how it is presented than at a lower level public school or at a private language school, where the material will be more clearly defined.
Universities will usually have much stricter requirements for who they will hire. Teachers will generally need to have prior experience teaching and will need to have a 120-hour TEFL certification (either blended or onsite). Also, universities in many countries such as Japan may have requirements that teachers actively work to get published in journals and will even set aside one free day during the school week for teachers to conduct research and write.
You will need to check the requirements to make sure you will be able to meet and keep up with what will be expected.
Online English Companies
These will be companies that hire native (and for some companies non-native but fluent) English teachers to conduct 25-to-50-minute classes. There are hundreds of different companies, with the largest concentration of them being in China due to the massive number of students and the extreme demand for native English teachers.
The barrier for entry into these online ESL companies is quite low for most with a few who cater to adults or more prestigious schools having stricter requirements. Most companies will hire anyone who has a bachelor’s degree and many will even hire current university students. Some may require a TEFL certification but very few.
A typical class at one of these companies involves using pre-designed curriculum usually set up in a course with various activities to engage the students. Though there are companies that work with adults in subjects such as business English, the vast majority of these online ESL companies work with students between the ages of 4 and 16.
Payment at these online companies will be much lower when compared to many of the above-listed types of employers and usually, no benefits beyond incentive bonuses will be offered. These companies are good for people who are attempting to supplement their income or for current teachers that are looking for extra work.
It may not be the option for providing your total income. Hours and classes may or may not be stable depending on the time of the year and the individual company. Larger companies with more students will usually be able to provide more stability to tutors than smaller and newer companies with fewer students.
If you are interested in finding out more about teaching for an online ESL company, you can read this to find information about hiring practices and what online teaching is like.
Some Extra Tips When Looking at Schools
Regardless of which school you are looking at or how reputable they seem to be, the burden will always be on you to figure out if you meet the qualifications to work legally in the country you are interested in. Also, you should make sure that before you sign any contracts with any of these types of schools that you ensure everything that was promised to you is in writing and that a contract is legitimate.
This may be difficult: depending on the country you are in as the contract may be written in the native language of that country, so you will need to hire an independent translator to go through and tell you exactly what is stated.
Remember that, while most recruiters and employers are legitimate and will not try to weasel out of paying benefits, there are many that will. The internet is full of stories from ESL teachers who were promised many things that weren’t delivered on.
Look at each school type and the pros and cons to see if you are picking the right place for you. Again, private language schools are great for beginners trying to get their foot in the door. If you already have teaching experience, you may want to be on the lookout for public school or even university jobs that will pay much better and offer more stability and security.
At the end of the day, there is a high demand around the world for native English speakers, especially in emerging markets, so you should have no trouble finding a job. Armed with the above knowledge of what the different types of schools are, finding the right job for you should be a bit easier.