How can I find a better-than-average teaching abroad job?
December 5, 2011 6:06 PM   Subscribe

I am a special education teacher in the USA who wants to teach English abroad in Asia, then return to the States to join a doctoral program in education and continue teaching. How can I make this experience a step up in my development as an educator, rather than just an adventure?

A brief summary of my background: I am 26, and I have been a licensed middle school special education teacher in an inner city public school in the US for three years. I hold a master's degree in special education/general education, and have experience (although no special licensing) teaching to English language learners.

I'd like to spend the next two years teaching English abroad in Asia before I return to the States to join a doctoral program in special education and continue teaching children. I'm aware of some of the more fly-by-night options for teaching ESL in countries such as South Korea, but as I understand it, these types of jobs are geared more toward those with little to no teaching experience who might be looking more for adventure than professional development (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong!).

So, hive mind, how can I find a job teaching English abroad that will give back a little bit more than your average hagwon? I'd like to find something that meets one or more of the following criteria:
1. Pays more than the average teaching abroad gig
2. Acts as a resume-builder with applying to doctoral programs in mind
3. Helps me to grow as an educator, either through encounters with teaching philosophies/methods/techniques that are foreign to US-trained teachers, or through a work situation that involves special ed

I'd appreciate your opinions on the general wisdom or foolishness of this idea, as well as ideas on how I can narrow down my broad, hazy plan into some clearer options. Thanks in advance!
posted by chickenandwine to Education (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Fullbright Teacher Exchange
posted by shoesietart at 6:13 PM on December 5, 2011

The JET Programme in Japan is noteworthy because you become an essentially full-time instructor at a specific school in most cases, and middle schools tend to be the most common placement. In many places you'll also find special-needs classes (or occasionally whole schools) and it would be totally possible in most cases to volunteer to make time to visit these classes, especially if you're at a school with one.

It also pays pretty well (¥3.6M annually now, changing soon to pay less the first year but more the third through fifth) but it can be difficult, from what I've heard, for it to be considered a resume booster instead of a fun trip abroad unless you're good at both marketing yourself and making the absolute most of your time spent in Japan as a way to enrich yourself instead of just endrunkening yourself as too many folks seem to.

Definitely worth considering, at least. I mean, I'm on it, and I'm digging it overall.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:16 PM on December 5, 2011

As you are certified, check out international schools--I have taught at international schools before and the students are an absolute joy to work in. Your colleagues will also be professional and career-minded rather than the usual lot of English teachers in Asia. The pay is also on par with what you would make as a teacher back home.

I don't know specifically about special needs, but I would imagine that your skills would be in demand, as kids still have these problems everywhere and they are underserved in Asia.
posted by so much modern time at 6:20 PM on December 5, 2011

a good way to get experience that 'counts' is by teaching in the public school system. the JET program (as mentioned above) and the EPIK program (public schools in Korea) are a good way to get public school teaching experience. both the JET and EPIK programs offer a 'professional development' component, though it is geared towards teaching ESL (understandably) and what is offered to you might vary depending on your school/principal/co-teacher. (as an aside, i'd check with your state or the schools to which you're going to apply to see what kind of experience they will consider 'real' experience. schools or employers not familiar with JET or EPIK might not give your experience the credit it's due.)

private international schools are also a good way to gain experience and because you are a certified teacher with experience, you shouldn't have too much trouble finding a job. private international schools might not help you with #3 on your list of criteria though - int'l schools want to hire teachers familiar with their particular curriculum, so you'd probably get a job in an American int'l school and not encounter too many big differences in the way things go. (not that teaching abroad isn't challenging enough in and of itself.)

also, check your mefi mail.
posted by gursky at 6:51 PM on December 5, 2011

Are you interested in teaching to ESL kids here in the states? I would imagine that teaching abroad would be great experience for this, and ESL teachers/special education teachers with an ESL certificate are in demand in my county.
posted by shortyJBot at 6:59 PM on December 5, 2011

You could try the Peace Corps...I know they place people as teachers in rural areas of China. But it wouldn''t fit your salary requirement.
posted by bearette at 7:43 PM on December 5, 2011

Perhaps get your national board certification while teaching abroad? Not sure if it's possible and it'd be hard work but it'd be a definitive milestone along the path.
posted by bz at 8:27 PM on December 5, 2011

I teach college English in South Korea but started out in a hagwon. This is all my humble opinion, obviously --

The Fullbright program linked above has an excellent reputation. Look into it.

With an MA you will be over-qualified for teaching hagwon and public school but also a very attractive candidate. Personally, I'd apply with GEPIK or SMOE (two Korean public school programs). There are potential headaches anywhere, but at least you'll have some institutional support in case problems arise. With an MA you might expect to start at 2.5 million won/year but there have been some major cuts to the program recently. (Korean politicians decided to garner favor by stripping money from ESL ed. to provide free lunches to all kids, not just the needy ones. Gotta love Korean politics.)

Frankly, I'm not sure how your experience here (which might be amazing!) will help you towards entrance into a PhD ed. school beyond "interesting travel experience." I guess you could try and hook up with some linguistic grad. students and help them do some classroom research (my hagwon was very open to this, but not all of them will be) but otherwise you're going to be teaching a lot of hours with very little in the way of career development. (Teaching public school is highly preferable to the hagwon gigs but the "training" you get will be mediocre, if not downright offensive/condescending to someone with the experience you have.)

There are international schools here and that might be worth looking into. As far as I can tell, they operate as independent schools and wouldn't require certification, although it wouldn't hurt to have it.

Personally, my plan all along was to get a college gig which isn't overly difficult with an appropriate MA. The catch is colleges and universities won't hire you unless you're already here -- hence grinding out a year in hagwon teaching kindergarten and after-school programs (hagwon and public school gigs will provide airfare).

For me it's been an amazing cultural and professional experience as someone with an MA in English lit. I don't think it would hurt you by any means in applying to ed. schools, but I'm not really seeing how it would help you either. In a worst case scenario, you might even wind up with a nightmare boss/situation (not getting paid, verbally abusive, not having your health insurance paid as required by law) that looks really sketchy on your c.v. ("Why did you pull a midnight run back to the States?")

Feel free to me-mail me or click through to my personal blog, good luck!

Also, is the best resource (and free) to look for jobs. If you use a recruiter, don't use one -- use as many as possible.

Also, don't sign a thing until you talk with two or three foreigners who are currently teaching in the school you might be entering.

Also, Japan is lovely and absolutely, eye-wateringly expensive. If you plan to have any sort of a social life, Korea is a better choice.

Also, you could always try the current ESL "frontier" of China, where getting a college gig would be much easier and you could set up your own sort of linguistic research, write some papers, contact some linguistic profs. and help them with research, etc. I've heard good stories and truly horrendous stories about the ESL scene there. Pay is low, but cost of living outside the biggest cities is very cheap.

Good luck!
posted by bardic at 9:44 PM on December 5, 2011

Background: I've been teaching English for well over a decade for fairly prestigious employers and five years of that was in Korea. However, I don't know a great deal about the American educational system.

There are some good suggestions above, particularly So Much Modern Time's idea of international schools. Some of them might be particularly interested in a trained and experienced special education teacher. I know someone with no particular background in that area who ended up in charge of a special needs class simply because he was available and willing.

You're quite right that you want to get away from the usual employment routes for English teachers in east Asia. On behalf of my employer, I once approached a large recruitment agency in Korea looking for qualified and experienced teachers. They processed hundreds of teachers for hagwons, but over several months failed to find a single applicant with the fairly basic level of qualifications and experience we required. The better employers simply won't be looking for teachers with your skills through online jobs boards or regular recruitment agencies, so don't waste your time there.

I'm not hugely familiar with EPIK, but I did speak to some teachers and administrators on it and was not very impressed with the in-service training that they offered. It was very much aimed at the unwashed masses of first-time teachers in Korea and wasn't particularly well designed or delivered even for them, as Bardic says.

Finally, something I've said before on AskMe, but I think it's relevant again here. Countries like Korea are not an ESL environment, they are an EFL environment. (The failure to recognise that difference is one reason why so many of the English teaching initiatives there are failures, since they are designed for an ESL context.) Of course, there is a lot of crossover, but experience teaching in one context is not directly transferable to the other. This is another reason why an international schools, which are closer to ESL than EFL, might be a good option for you.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 2:04 AM on December 6, 2011

Speaking as somebody who attended international schools, I think you will still get a fair bit of #3 from your criteria. In my experience, international schools had a diverse student body - students from the country the curriculum subscribed to (e.g. U.S. students at an American school, UK students at a British school), students from the host country, and an assortment from various other countries. The student body also tends to be quite transitory, dictated by the parents' job moves, whether a new diplomatic posting, a company transfer, or new military assignment.

In Korea there are a number of private international schools, but you have to be careful because some of them are not accredited by anybody.

If you are interested in teaching in international schools in Korea, the ones to start out investigating would be Seoul Foreign School and the schools run by the U.S. military, such as Seoul American High School. I suspect the DoD-run schools might be more appreciative of your teaching experience in the U.S. and your expertise in special education.
posted by needled at 4:40 AM on December 6, 2011

Actually, I know some American folks who teach on US military bases in Korea via DOD. You need to be accredited, and it's a very sweet gig (jesus, they pay for you to ship your car over!).

However, living on a US military base is pretty much the opposite of an exotic cultural experience. It's a little slice of America, literally and figuratively.
posted by bardic at 8:39 PM on December 6, 2011

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