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Cool Britannia offers an almost vertigo-inspiring range of attractions, life-styles and experiences, and one can chose between the big cities and their glittering array of restaurants, nightlife and cultural attractions, and the justly famous countryside offering everything from mountains and lakes, to the verdant, bucolic landscapes that inspired many an artist and writer. In addition to this Britain is an immensely culturally diverse society. This brings with it great food, fascinating people and life-styles, and it matters little that nobody is quite sure - or that fussed about - what it means to be British any more! One of Britain’s greatest assets is its density. There really is an awful lot of stuff packed into a relatively small island. In addition this dirt-cheap airfares make it a great launch pad to the Continent, Scandinavia, Holland, and the Republic of Ireland. So if you are in the business of ‘doing Europe’, the United Kingdom is a great place to start.
Britain’s ‘open door’ policy on immigration means that great opportunities await TESOL teachers. In the last four decades wave after wave of immigrants have decided to make the UK their home. Presently the greatest influx is from Eastern Europe, and the newly arrived tend to have an entrepreneurial bent recognising that good English skills are the key to getting on.
There isn’t much of a market for teaching English at secondary schools, however, anyone wishing to teach in a state or private high school must expect to have a degree, and possibly a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education and a TESOL qualification. Two years’ language teaching experience is an advantage, but not a requisite, at this end of the market.
With language institutes you can, in the main, expect to find yourself teaching anybody and everybody. The large body of migrant workers from Eastern Europe keen to hone their language skills constitute a substantial part of the student population; however, there are, equally, those on study holidays who are in the business of getting their English up to scratch and those seconded by their home country to do business in England, the latter of which take their English tuition particularly seriously.
Be prepared for the fact that some of those you are teaching will have many years experience learning English. On the one hand this means you will have to keep up and be clear, confident and well-prepare in areas such as grammar. On the other hand you may be faced with the need to help people break bad linguistic habits that are deeply ingrained.
On the whole, enthusiasm for English is high amongst this varied student body. All the people you are teaching will be there because they need to speak English well, rather than because it is a hobby or a social activity.
Some schools are not prepared to go through the difficult process of hiring native English-speaking teachers from outside of Europe. However, in some cases it is easier to place teachers from the US than from other countries, such as Australia and New Zealand. Non-EU citizens should check with their local British Consulate to look for language exchange programs, etc. Americans may wish to contact Interexchange (www.interexchange.org), of New York, who run an exchange programme.
It is important for non-EU citizens to look at all the available angles. For example, America has a reciprocal arrangement with the UK, whereby those with an undergraduate degree can work for a sponsoring company for one year. In addition to this, those form Commonwealth countries can exploit, where possible, patriarchy - having a grandparent or better, who was actually a Brit. It also pays to present your self as a specialist, think about what specialist part of the market you might be able to cater to and sell yourself in. It’s worth using your imagination and putting in the work because once you have naturalised status in the UK, then Europe is yours for the taking!
Most individuals working for institutes are self-employed, or ‘freelance’. Therefore, they are responsible for paying their own tax and social security. New arrivals are required to get a National Insurance number, entitling them to free medical care, organise a bank account into which their wages will be paid, and get a tax code their local tax office.
All of the major population centres - of which there is a great plenty - act like a migrant magnet; however, all those migrants, like you, have to get their calculators out and do a cost benefits analysis to determine what it costs to live versus what one can earn.
The UK can be expensive and it pays to get smart about your lifestyle and always be on the lookout for cheap deals. London can be one of the most expensive places to live on the planet, but it doesn’t have to be. There is an abundance of cheap places to eat, lots of clubs, pubs and restaurants offering happy hours to entice you in, and a barometer of this is the huge student population, who study, buy books, and still have the funds to have a good time. However, the rub is accommodation, which never comes cheap, and those on a budget often find themselves sharing three to a bedroom!
A better trade off is perhaps to be found in places like Manchester, which is a really thriving metropolis, with great nightlife, a rightly famous music scene, and a very strong sense of its own identity. The difference between London and Manchester is that the finances may work out such that, in Manchester, you are able to afford a room of your own!
Hence, it is wise for the aspirant TESOL teacher to base themselves around major metropolitan areas, always mindful that beautiful scenery is always a stone’s throw away, and that hopping on a plane to Italy for the weekend is not only doable, but very much the done thing.
Getting a job couldn’t be easier: Just look in the electronic Yellow Pages under ‘Language Schools’ and you will find a plethora of entries for your local. Nevertheless, finding the right job for you may take a little application. One should interview the schools as much as be interviewed by them. A common issue is whether or not, or how many ‘privates’ you may be required to teach in addition to classroom teaching. In London, for example, the trend is towards classes at institutes, but privates at the home of the student. You can easily find yourself doing an awful lot of running around which you are not getting paid for!
Obvious questions for a potential school are class sizes, preparation time, materials, etc. Look for well-resourced schools, but be aware that you probably will not get paid for preparation time. Also be aware that you are in a market where there are a lot of people who ‘Teach English and…..’ In other words a good part of the market is oriented to people who teach English part-time, whilst pursuing other goals in life.
Again, some modicum of specialisation will help bump up your salary - for example, teaching IT English or Business English are a good areas in which to work. In addition to this building up a portfolio of your own ‘privates’ is an excellent mid-term goal, and is a method of greatly increasing your earning potential. It is also something that language schools expect - though they may get markedly unsympathetic if you start stealing their students!
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