Should I Teach ESL In My Own Country?

Upon their exit from EFL, the question “Should I teach ESL in my own country?” crosses many teachers’ minds. Many are drawn to this field because of the potential of working with immigrants and refugees from a number of fascinating countries and also enjoy the opportunity to make a positive contribution to people’s lives through a non-profit organization.

Stories like this from Christine Kenny of Chicago-based Literacy Works (read Chris’ TEFL Logue interview as well) also show a picture of appreciative students:

“I remember one day an older woman from Mexico gave me a mango on which she had written “I love you teacher” and said, “Thank you so much for teaching me.” I was hooked. I have been teaching for 14 years now, still at the same community center. When I became the Executive Director of Literacy Works I think that most people thought that I would give up teaching, but it is the teaching that keeps me focused on the importance of what I do as an administrator.

But where are these jobs, and are they in fact frequently paid hourly and without benefits?

Chris confirms that most teachers either work through the community college system or at a local not-for-profit organization. Both not-for-profits and community colleges, which are usually dependent on state funding, often keep ESL teacher positions part-time because they don’t want to (or can’t afford to) pay for benefits.

Is it hard to work under these conditions?“It can be frustrating … if a teacher is expecting everything to be ready for them,” says Christine. “The literacy programs are often understaffed, overworked, and underpaid. The teacher is expected to keep the class running without a lot of supervision or resources.”

But plenty of people still find it exceptionally rewarding work:“Teaching Level 1 I rarely get to see the real accomplishments people are able to make here after immigrating to the US, but on occasion I will be lucky enough to come across someone after a few years and find out what they are doing now. Recently I was in the grocery store and I ran into a former student, Reyna. She came running up to me with her arms full of groceries and started putting down her containers of yogurt and boxes of cereal. She said “I have to give you a hug.” She said “If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am a manager at my job, I own my own home, I am on the local school council at my children’s school, and it is all because you got me started in English and gave me confidence to move forward.””

Where do I sign up?