Since time immemorial Poland has stood as a gateway between East and West, and, hence, is a country of surprising contrasts. It has risen to meet the challenges presented by the fall of the communist party in 1990 with style and aplomb. The new Zloty has stabilized, and inflation is slowly spiralling down - less than ten percent at time of writing. The striking contrasts continue when one compares slick cities, with no shortage of ‘slickers’, to rural agricultural villages where horse-drawn vehicles are commonly in use. It remains a relatively cheap country to live in, but this won’t last forever. Polish people tend to be helpful, friendly and hospitable, and westerners are still something of a novelty.
A population of thirty-eight millions fits comfortably into a landmass of one-hundred and twenty square miles. Polish is the official language; however, English and German are quite widely spoken.
Since 1990 the transition to a market economy, in what was the old Soviet Bloc, has led to huge demand for English language skills. Everything from tourism to commerce, to membership of the EU depends heavily on English, and natives who want to make the most of this free market recognise that English Language skills are a must. In addition to this Poles are exporting themselves in record numbers to countries like England, hence the demand for good English skills prior to setting out is a market all of its own.
Since the market in this region has matured there it is no longer simply the case that one can walk in to a job in a high school simply because you are a native English speaker. You will need a TESOL certificate and you may need an undergraduate degree along with some teaching experience but you should check this with your prospective employer. Suitably qualified individuals should have no problem getting themselves a good job within a university, a high school, or even a kindergarten. Those less well qualified should not be discouraged - there are many organisations placing native English speakers as teaching assistants and there is plenty of scope or private tuition.
Outside of the official education system there is a plethora of language institutes, and these tend to be on the look out for well-presented, confident candidates, and, of course, all the qualifications you can muster will help you gravitate to the better institutes.
Another thing to be aware of is that many companies - banks in particular - run in-house English language training programmes, and these tend to be better paid, more stable and predictable posts. In addition to this, for those who do not wish to commit themselves to a full academic year, language summer camps are very common, and can represent a fulfilling way of experiencing the country without having to spend the whole academic year there.
Because of the huge variety of standards in education you can expect a commensurately varied student body. Some will have very little experience; however, others, with more experience in English, will have many years experience in studying English.
Most teachers report that Polish students are well motivated, diligent, attentive and fun to teach. Dexterity in English is regarded as a very valuable commodity, and increasingly employers are demanding good English language skills of their prospective employees.
Visas and Regulations
Despite being a member of the EU, Poland’s immigration system is still in a state of transition, which probably adds up to a two-trip endeavour to get properly naturalised. Step number one is to get a job of some description. Step two is to return to your country of origin and submit the necessary documents to your local Polish Consulate. You require: A promissory work permit from your Polish employer, your passport, two photos, a completed application form and the current fee for a work visa. In order for your employer to obtain permission to employ a foreign teacher they will have to submit originals or notarised copies of your education certificates with notarised translations.
Once you return to the country using your visa you need to obtain a work permit, most schools will be familiar with the process for the application of this document. When your visa expires after three months it is possible to apply for a residency card from within Poland, which will be valid for two years.
Most employers are fully aware of the process and the costs involved and generally offer to reimburse any expense at the end of one’s contract.
But the situation is fluid and some or all of this red tape will go away in the fullness of time. It is a good idea to consult your local Polish Consulate to get up to date information on visas. You can also enquire about any teaching programmes or contacts they have. Visas will depend on what your country of origin has fixed up with Poland. Think about also what you have to do to renew your visa. All the way back home, or does a cross-border trip do nicely? How many times can you renew your tourist visa? How long is it good for?
Twenty years ago Warsaw was a dull, concrete jungle, having largely been obliterated in WWII, and reconstructed in Stalinist style. Nothing could be further from the truth today. Warsaw is a thriving, vibrant city, sporting swanky hotels, bars and restaurants, and probably Poland’s most ‘westernised’ city.
Other promising destinations for the TESOL teacher include Krakow, Poznan, and Gdansk. All university towns with plenty of commerce and private language institutes.
Getting a Job
Jobs in Eastern Europe continue to be advertised in the educational press. In England the Guardian carries nearly as many ads for TESOL teachers in Poland as it does for Korea. In addition to this there are a number of organisations who recruit directly into Eastern Europe.
Those organisations more orientated to North Americans include: Bridges for Education (www.bridges4edu.org); and the Central European Teaching Program (CEPT).
With this said there is a great deal to be said for getting work on the spot. This gives you the opportunity to negotiate a salary, evaluate class sizes, timetables, teaching materials, hours and, where applicable accommodations.
In addition to this the Polish Cultural Institute in Britain can be contacted (0207 636 6032), and can offer information and advice on teaching in Poland. There is also the regulatory body, the Polish Association for Standards in English (PASE) (www.pase.pl) which has thirty-five member schools.
Once in Poland one should be aware that semesters begin October 1st and February 15th, so arriving a month in advance of either of these dates is a good idea. The Yellow Pages for any major town detail Jezykowe Kursy, Szkolenia, and you should try to find a helpful Pole to help you through the telephone directory. The very active British Council in Warsaw is worth contacting and may be able to offer advice. The usual practice of placing cards in University notice boards, bookstores, and tobacconists do no harm to those seeking privates.
Another target should be NKJOs who specialise in training teachers of foreign languages, and are especially keen to hire qualified and experienced TESOL teachers. Another avenue, University Centres for English Teaching (UCETs) are affiliated with the British Council and offer plumb jobs to people with higher degrees. In addition to this nearly every academic establishment has a Studium Jazykow Obcych, an English language facility for those students who are not majoring in English.
These posts within academia are highly desirable. They come with lots of perks such as discount transport, health insurance, accommodation, and relatively high salaries.
For many, getting a job will mean knocking on doors - hence, have all your certificates to hand. Universities, schools and language institutes, banks and other companies are often only too willing to interview candidates. Highly-qualified, and more importantly, well-turned-out, organised and enthusiastic teachers are in short supply. If they like you they will most certainly find some teaching for you!