How long did you work abroad, and where?
I worked abroad on two separate occasions in Ecuador for about 3 years over the course of the 6 years that I was either living or traveling there. I had studied abroad, turned 21 there, and fell in love with the place (especially the ladies or as the Ecua guys would call them the long haired dictionaries) and was dying to find any way to stay or go back. The first time I taught for what was considered one of the top language schools in Ecuador. I found them on the internet, sent all my materials in, and then had an interview, filled out the application and was hired. I had a split shift so I would start at 7am and then I would end at 9pm after bus service had mostly ended for the evening. At the time I thought the conditions were so so, but afterwards I realized that I actually had it pretty good. They paid my Ecuadorian taxes, we got a month paid off a year, and pretty good insurance.
After that experience, I came back to the states for about a year and a half finished my first masters degree in foreign languages, picked up a TESOL Masters and headed down. I did the grass roots approach where I went to the phonebook and basically used the local FedEx to send my resume to every school that had English or International in it that I did not know was a top tier school. I then landed a job at a private international high school and taught there for two years. At first it was wearing coming from teaching adults to teaching kids. Luckily, I had good colleagues and a boss that took me under my wing and supported me. The dean of students was an older lady who was nice and liked me as well. While I did not have a lot of time to go out all the time and have fun (by that point I was a little tired of the bar scene, and I did not want to run in to my juniors and seniors who were sneaking into the bars -I would go out every so often on a Friday or Saturday with friends), I really got into a good routine of exercise, got to explore the country and meet some quality people.
Who have been your most venal / incompetent employers?
I would say the language institutes in the U.S. (NYC and some in Chicago). They will have many layers of supposed support which are there to function as big brother tactics. They also let you know and make you feel that they can get rid of you and replace you at the drop of the hat. It is also easy to work around the clock between grading and planning unless you really regiment your time well.
What do you like and not like about teaching?
Once you get good at teaching your subject areas, you begin to like seeing students be able to do what you have taught them in their new languages. Teaching also allows you flexibility and gives good deadlines. You also get to know your students which are always interesting people. You can plan and grade when and where you want, but at the same time the fact that you have to teach at certain times gives you deadlines. EFL/ESL reaching allows you to go anywhere.
With teaching you do not have a lot of options for growth outside of administration, but most teachers hate administration because it is a totally different job which you are not usually trained for. The biggest downside to teaching is that you hit your peak fast, and then you do not have options for professional growth which usually means that you will not earn a lot more money. Your main areas for growth become getting better with what you do, and staying up with new trends.
What kind of students do you find the most difficult and thankless to teach?
This is a tough one. I think you always find the students who are privileged or spoiled who are the ones that are the least thankful and most demanding while wanting to do what they want to.
What's your favorite way to kill five or ten minutes in class?
TPR (Total Physical Response, which is making the students get up and run around and stuff - ETX) is a nice way with the lower levels.I like to have them ask their partners next to them three to five questions based off the grammar that we have studied. I also like to play the I have a friend or I have a problem what should I do game in order to get them talking. I also carry around scenery or vacation pictures from clearance calendars and ask them what do you do in this place.
Which countries have you liked the most and least, and why?
I only really taught in Ecuador which was my favorite and not-favorite country at the same time. I loved Ecuador because there were some different opportunities available, I got to meet some cool people, nature was beautiful in the mountains, I could get out of town and chill for about 20 to 30 USD for a weekend by hopping on a bus for a couple hours, and I could be at the beach or in the jungle after 6 to 8 hours on the bus.
At the same time, it was my least favorite country after living there off and on for 6 years. I learned quick that I was as far as I was going to get after a few years teaching unless someone died or won the lottery which got me antsy. The pay went up quick one year and was not going anywhere for years. While I met cool people, at the same time there were a lot of untrustworthy or petty people who were good for parties and not much else. While girls were not hard to meet, many had a saint like attitudes (in public) and had to be home early. It was like being in junior high where they couldn't say out late without their parents permission. On the flip side you could go out, meet a girl, get her digits, send her home, and then go out and meet a girl who told her parents/brothers better lies. Since you had to work split shifts at the institutes and Saturdays at times and at high schools there was plenty of work to do, you really couldn't go out much during the week or travel much on the weekends without it being a working weekend. I usually felt comfortable traveling for fun about every 2 to 3 months.
What kind of qualification do you have, and do you think they've helped you get a job?
With my first job I just had my BA in International Business and Spanish. I was able to get the job because they needed someone with a degree and a teaching background, and I had just taken a methods course for TAs. I found out that I would make double teaching at a high school, so I took a calendar year to get my Master's in TESOL and was hired at an international school. Right now I am working on my doctorate so that I can either get a DoS, Dean, or faculty position at a school or university abroad when I work abroad next.
What advice do you have for newbies to the TEFL/TESOL field?
Don't quit your day job without seriously thinking things through first.
There are always people who I run across who get tired of the daily grind at a desk job, the cubicle, the commute, and/or just office politics that thinks that teaching abroad is the solution. If you have never taught before, chances are you will just become frustrated with teaching too. Teachers usually have a desk at the school, sometimes a cubicle, have clerical work like emailing, grading and the composition of materials whether through typing them up or copying them, and the hours can be grueling. It is not the most rewarding of careers in the long run even though it can be a fun job once you get into the groove of things.
If you are sick of your job, explore what is your dream job first. If it is teaching, try volunteering first at a non-profit like a church - at many churches with non-English speaking congregations, if you walk in off the street and say you want to teach English, they will let you do it. Another option is to connect with your local community college and/or ESL programs in the area to volunteer. These are good ways to start out and see if you even like teaching. Many people think it will be like leave it to Beaver where the students will just sit there and admire your awesomeness because you are there hero for changing the world by teaching, but just think back to when you went to high school, and that is the type of dynamic you get in the English classroom. Some want to be there and learn while others are there because their parents, family and/or employers are making them when they do not want to be there.
For the lawyer or other types who have good jobs that make tons of money that want adventure and romance, i.e., just want to go teach to pick up ladies or men and get laid, I would recommend that they don't. English teaching is at the bottom of the barrel for most professions, so people will not hold you up to a great esteem. Americans and Europeans are in so many places and the internet lets people know how good looking they are, you find less and less neurotic people who will fall for someone who treats them nice on a whim. (unless they are the crazies who are fishing for a green card - so if a shot gun wedding and a minimum of 3 to 5 years with the person and losing half of your belongings and wages afterwards is what you want, go for it).
One last thing if you are in a high paying profession here you probably have a decent car, are able to go out to upscale places and even take lavish vacations, you are downgrading a lot because you will be taking the bus (this does not impress the girls and guys) -, you will not have a lot of money to do things, and you will probably be dipping majorly into your savings to have a decent time. My advice would be to find out where your local community of foreigners that you desperately wanting to explore is, and trying to connect with them here. I would also see about some short or longer vacations to the country you want to go to just to have fun - vacation is way different than work. I would also try to get to the root of your issues - are they the loneliness and isolation that you are feeling at a job you do not care for much or is it that you are looking for love in all the wrong places. It could also be the now what phenomenon that most early to mid-professionals feel. They have gotten into their jobs and do not feel much reward or progress so they become depressed that things are not the way they want them, and think they should quit everything and move on. Once you can figure out the problem, solve it here before you even try to travel. Problems compound and become a million times worse if you just move to a new place with them where you have no support structure and everything is overwhelmingly different.
So...If you do decide to teach abroad, have fun with it. It can be a fun experience if you let it be.