One day I will teach ESL again …

I was working away at my desk yesterday when a Facebook message notification popped up on my screen. I usually ignore them, but this one was from one of my Korean students from eight years ago when I was last teaching English as a second language, or ESL.

Teaching ESL in Japan, Australia and Slovakia

With some of my students: kids in Japan, many cultures in Australia, and employees of Slovak Telekom in Bratislava

Connecting with people through ESL teaching

For some reason, I’d popped into his mind, and he’d decided to update me on his life. We chatted for a few minutes, he shared pictures of his six-month-old son and told about his wife and his job. We agreed that one day, either I’d visit him in Korea or he’d bring his family to Australia.

That’s just one simple example of all the intercultural connections I made through my years of teaching English. I was so lucky to have so many amazing experiences as an English teacher. From two years teaching both kids and adults in Osaka, Japan, to a year teaching business English in Bratislava, Slovakia, and then a few years teaching English in Germany and a few more teaching to very multicultural classrooms back here in Perth – all of it was fascinating and very fulfilling.

What I learnt from being an English teacher abroad

Nearly every day I had this thought:

I really hope my students are learning even half as much as I am!

Meeting local people when you travel is a great way to get to understand a country better, but teaching English to them is one of the ultimate ways! Often I was teaching classes where the emphasis was on their speaking skills – for most language learners, speaking is the hardest part – and so there I was, actually being paid to have interesting conversations.

Life as an ESL teacher - Okonomiyaki with students in Japan

Eating Okonomiyaki with some of my English students in Japan

Along with learning a lot about great foods to eat or interesting places to visit, my students taught me so much about cultural differences. Many of these were things you would never suspect. For example, anyone who had been to Australia wanted to argue with me about our slack approach to washing dishes. And when I taught classes with multiple nationalities, they would practically get into fist fights over the question of how many continents there are in the world. If I was having trouble with some kind of local custom in Japan, Slovakia or Germany, I could quietly choose the most understanding student to have a chat to and get me sorted out.

Why I’ll teach English to foreigners again some day

I didn’t actually plan to quit English teaching. I went on maternity leave to have my son and just two weeks after I did, the school I was at was suddenly (and sadly) shut down. I’d planned to return to teach one or two days a week while my son was a baby, but that plan became much harder when I didn’t have an understanding boss and familiar school. And when my son was just tiny, I was asked to start teaching some blogging courses, and within a few months I’d accidentally starting a social media consultancy here in Perth. So it’s nearly eight years since I’ve been in a TESOL classroom.

But I miss it. I miss lots of things about it! A short sample:

  • Watching students improve from barely being able to speak an English sentence aloud to having conversations with me
  • The joy of discovering a new and better way to teach a tricky grammar point (call me a geek but I loved it)
  • Chatting with my teaching colleagues during breaks (other ESL teachers invariably have a love of travel and culture and we can talk for hours)
  • Sobbing when farewelling students but being very pleased that I’d at least had the privilege to get to know them and teaching them

One day – probably much faster than I’d like – my son will be all grown up and off exploring the world on his own. I feel sure then that I’ll head off and base myself in various spots around the world. Where will I go? Finding a teaching job in China appeals to me after hearing some rather fascinating stories about it; when I was younger, I nearly went to jobs in both Morocco and Moscow, so something about those places appeals too; but really, I’d go anywhere! Watch this space … in a decade or so!




  1. Yes, do it!! 🙂 I’ve learned so much about so many different countries just by having incidental conversations with students. (What I find really fascinating though is how many of my (migrant) students arrive in Australia with rose coloured glasses, thinking that life will be all easy and straight-forward, and then get bitterly disappointed in some cases. Heartbreaking, really.)

    • Yes I’ve had similar heartbreaking scenarios with some of the migrant students I met – it is really sad. But yes, someday I will teach again because it’s such a fascinating job!

  2. This is such a great read! I’ve never taught ESL but know many people who have. Good luck to you!

  3. I always wanted to do this and regret that I never gave it a go. Maybe I should join in if you ever decide to do it again.

    • Yes let’s do it!! It’s definitely never too late. I worked with lots of people who were doing it during semi-retirement – older teachers were really welcomed. I often watch the job boards and dream of where it could take me some day!!

  4. I couldn’t agree more with the rewards of teaching ESL – even though I only spent a year in Papua New Guinea way back in the dim, distant past, it was definitely an experience that shaped my life. As for the cultural differences, who knew we washed dishes so badly downunder? I just had to go and check out your post about that 😀 Luckily, having a double sink helps with the rinsing, but no doubt that’s unhygienic too if you don’t change the water for every wash. Thankfully, air-drying is OK 😀 Sorry, I got sidetracked, but both posts are excellent!!

    • Haha thanks Marion, I get a lot of response to the dish washing post!! PNG would have been amazing – my dad worked there for the Commonwealth Bank back in the 60s and I’ve always wanted to go.

  5. This is definitely one of the best ways to travel the world.
    I wish to do this when I get a little freer. I hope you get to do it again.

  6. ESL teaching (I imagine) would be quite challenging but sounds like you made some amazing friends and possibly changed their lives by doing so. Hope you get to go back and get another chance at it.

  7. I’ve never considered teaching English abroad but after reading your post, I can understand the appeal and satisfaction. Seeing the improvements of students over time and having all these cultural exchanges are amazing experiences. Hope you get to go back to do it again some day!

  8. ESL teaching sounds like an interesting and rewarding career. It was a popular path among my classmates when I was in university. Children grow up so quickly – it’s great to have goals for when they leave home. And you never know, maybe your son will follow in your footsteps.

  9. I think you have got a brilliant way of discovering the cultural nuances of a place. And the best – you get paid for it. There is no better way than to get a local to talk about their life and learn their culture from it. I definitely should consider trying this. Thanks for giving me this insight.

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