I sent my application to over 100 schools and agencies and only one bothered to reply …
Here’s another interview in a series I’m doing to address concerns about post-CELTA career options for Indian teachers. Some trainees do the course to ostensibly travel and teach but a South Asian passport and a non-native speaker of English (NNEST) tag mean that most doors are firmly closed. But there are those who’ve been able to find opportunities despite these challenges and I’d like to showcase one of those stories.
Kumar was on a course I tutored on last year. He was very determined about getting a job overseas. He left for China earlier this year. I caught up with him about his experiences so far and asked him to share advice for teachers who’d like to follow in his footsteps.
What sort of work were you doing before the CELTA?
I was working as an English teacher at a private language institute in central Mumbai.
What motivated you to do the course?
I was an English teacher without any teaching qualifications, so I did some research and came across the CELTA. I wanted to improve as a teacher and explore the world of ESL. I discovered that CELTA could be my passport to teach abroad and that was a deciding factor to do the course.
How did you go about applying for jobs overseas after finishing the CELTA?
Once the CELTA was over, I knew I had to start looking for a job and put my learning into action. I searched online and registered myself on international job portals. Websites like ESLcafe.com and gooverseas.com to name a few, post job openings daily. I sent my application to a lot of employers and finally got a reply from my current employers.
What challenges did you face?
The biggest challenge I faced was finding companies who hire non-native English teachers. I was told during my pre-CELTA interview that its almost impossible to find ESL teaching jobs abroad because of visa restrictions.
Tell us about your current job and your teaching responsibilities.
I am an ESL teacher in Changchun, China. I teach primary, elementary and middle school students. I prepare PowerPoint presentations and lesson plans for the grades I teach. My school provides me with the textbooks for these classes. I’m tasked with completing the lesson plans a week in advance and submit them to the school coordinators. I also co-ordinate with the local teachers to discuss the progress of the kids. It’s very important to be flexible and spontaneous as a teacher, so even though I have a lesson plan to follow, I sometimes adjust my teaching to suit the class.
To what extent does this job meet the expectations you had of it?
I am completely satisfied with this job. I wanted to teach abroad and get sense of the culture of teaching and learning. I came to China with no expectations at all, because I didn’t want to feel disappointed. But I wanted to do justice to the opportunity given to me and I am glad I was able to achieve that. I am working to get experience, because the time I spend in China will add value to my CV and make me a better teacher at the same time.
Tell us about the city you live in.
I live in Changchun – it’s the capital city of Jilin province. It’s usually very cold here – winters can be as cold as -35 degrees Celsius. Changchun has been voted the happiest city in China, and I must say it deserves the title. People here are very warm and hospitable, not just because I am a foreigner but even with each other. The public transport in this city is efficient; you can reach any part of the city with ease. You can either travel by trains, buses or taxis and the fares are cheap. The cost of living in Changchun is also very low compared to other major cities in the country, you can easily save quite a lot of your salary. The cost of utilities like water, gas and electricity is also very reasonable. Parks, restaurants, temples, schools, malls, universities and tourist attractions – they have it all in this city! I can go on and on about it, because that’s how much I love it and as I write this, I’ve just been here five months!
What’s the most surprising/unusual thing about living or working in China?
I can’t think of any unusual experiences as such but what surprised me the most is how much importance is given to a child’s overall development. In schools, kids are not just given an education in terms of subjects (like back home), but also moral and physical development. They make them responsible right from a very young age. The future of these kids is in safe hands for sure.
Have you been able to network with other expat English teachers who work in the area?
To be honest, I haven’t really got a chance to network with any teachers from other cities, but I have colleagues from Ukraine and Russia and we often exchange information about our respective countries, lessons and kids. I am sure over time, I’ll be able to network more. It’s still early days in China for me.
What do employers in China look for when recruiting teachers?
Employers want teachers who are energetic, passionate and hard working. Teaching in China focuses on fun but teachers must also be good at discipline his/her class. If the kids in your class seem to be enjoying themselves, you’re seen as a perfect fit. There’s also a harsh reality about teaching in China – employers often discriminate between employees based on their nationality. White skin is unfortunately a qualification that can fetch you a higher salary. If you’re a white European or a native English speaker then your pay is going to be more.
What sort of perceptions do they have about English teachers from India?
There are very few Indian-English teachers in China. The general perception about Indians is that we don’t speak good English. The fact that we receive our formal education in English is unknown to them. A lot of Chinese people are surprised that I speak English fluently. However, I’ve not yet had any opportunities to speak with any other Indian teachers in China. All the schools I teach in are okay with the fact that I am from India and this doesn’t seem to have an impact in their behaviour or attitude towards me.
What advice would you give to CELTA-qualified teachers from India who’d like to teach overseas?
The road ahead isn’t easy. But if you believe in your skills and abilities then you can overcome any obstacles. I’d advise teachers to be patient when searching for teaching jobs overseas. If you’re a non-native English teacher, then be prepared for a lot of rejections because the visa rules in most countries are getting stricter by the day. Don’t take the risk of working illegally in any country as that could jeopardise your career. I sent my application to over 100 schools and agencies and only one bothered to reply, and I grabbed the opportunity. It’s also very important to get teaching experience post CELTA. Don’t always look for money. Every teaching opportunity post CELTA, even if it’s seemingly insignificant is valuable. Back your CELTA with self-belief, hard work and dedication. All the best!