This question frequently arises from pre-training or recent graduates of training courses, and it is essentially equivalent to asking, “How long is a piece of string?”
As in any industry, there are times when you can work very hard for very little pay, and then there are times when you can get a great deal for specialised work.
In this article, I’ll walk you through a variety of scenarios and consider various types of TESOL work in terms of financial reward.
QUALIFICATIONS AND JOB OPPORTUNITIES
When it comes to pay in the TESOL industry, the first thing you should consider is: how do I get access to jobs that pay?
Payment is generally determined by qualifications, experience, and location.
To be clear, many people end up in very well-paid positions despite not being highly qualified or experienced. Still, if you want to play the averages and have a better chance of landing a higher-paying job, an internationally recognised TESOL qualification, such as a Trinity CertTESOL or Cambridge CELTA certification, will open more doors for you.
This is due to visa restrictions or simply because employers prefer graduates of quality-assured training courses that include face-to-face classroom observations and externally-assessed work.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Some countries have the financial resources to pay more than others in any job for obvious economic reasons.
Salaries in Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE will be significantly higher than in South-east Asia.
This is not to say that the work or working conditions are any better or worse in those locations; rather, the pay is higher.
A quick search of a TEFL jobs database reveals that salaries ranging from US$3000 to US$4000 are common in Saudi Arabia (for teachers with 1-2 years of experience).
Teachers with any TEFL certificate, on the other hand, can teach online for Chinese schools for as little as US$10 to US$15 per hour, and a typical starting salary in a Chinese university as a visiting English teacher is around US$1180 (or GB£900).
When looking at salaries abroad, two factors should be considered:
To begin, what is the cost of living? This will have an impact on how much of your income remains after you’ve paid for necessities and had a beer after a week at work.
The cost of living in China can be negligible, whereas Hong Kong has some of the highest prices in the world, so check your facts about the country you are visiting to get a more realistic idea of what a high salary really means.
The second factor to consider is the benefits provided by your employer. The relocation allowance (paid return airfare to your home country, sometimes more than once per year) and accommodation allowance are the most appealing.
Rent can be expensive, so find out how many extra incentives the company is offering, do the math, and figure out what that means for your actual salary.
THE WORTH OF EXPERIENCE
Yes, as the quick examples above show, your first couple of years of teaching will most likely be spent ‘paying your dues’; working for a very small portion of your pay package, but probably enjoying traveling to new places and having fantastic experiences along the way.
Again, a quick search on job sites reveals that the phrase “minimum two years experience” is frequently combined with “CertTESOL or CELTA required,” as well as a significantly higher pay bracket for better working conditions.
Stick with it for the first year or two to gain experience and discover your strengths; it will pay off if you look in the right places.
After four or five years, particularly if you have an additional TESOL qualification such as the Trinity DipTESOL, Cambridge DELTA, or a post-graduate Diploma in TESOL from a university, you will be able to aim for more job security and even better working conditions.
English for Academic Purposes positions in international universities, teacher training, and management positions typically pay a more standardised rate of around US$26,200 to US$39,320 (or GB£20,000 to GB£30,000), with higher rates in some parts of the world.
Although this article is primarily about the financial benefits of various positions, it is important to remember that most people do not enter the TESOL business for money for good reason: it is not a lucrative pursuit until you gain the qualifications and experience necessary to pick and choose a little more.
It is, however, a truly rewarding experience in terms of the places you can visit, the people you can meet, and the assistance you can provide to a large number of people who want to change their lives.
For the first few years of teaching, these benefits will far outweigh the financial rewards, and you will get a sense of whether you want to pursue it as a career. Overall, if you enter the job with your eyes open and plan out what you want to get out of your time as a teacher, you will be rewarded.