How to Get a Good Job Teaching ESL

If you’re trying to make a career out of teaching ESL or are looking to travel for a year with a ESL job, these tips on getting a good ESL job are just for you! I recently got this question from a reader:

Dear Sarah Von,
I’m just starting out with teaching ESL and I was hoping to pick your brain a bit about it! I know lots of people just teach as a way to travel for a year, but I am hoping to make it into my career, like, for real. The job you have now sounds amazing, and I was wondering if you had any words of wisdom about how to find such a job in the US (I hadn’t had much luck with full-time ESL jobs here), and what to look for in potential gigs abroad. How did you find the places you taught? Any thoughts on separating the good online job postings from the bad? Anything else ESL or otherwise related you are dying to impart to the first person that asks!?

I’d be happy to share my two kernels of knowledge! I feel incredibly lucky to have found a job that I genuinely enjoy (most days) and allows me to live almost anywhere I please. Here are a few of the things that I’ve learned after five years and five countries worth of teaching.

How to Find a Good Job Teaching ESL Abroad

When it comes to finding a job, you really have two options, lining something up ahead of time or going to your country of choice and finding something once you get there. Both options have their pros and cons. Lining something up ahead of time could mean free airfare, training, being met at the airport and job security. It can also mean being stuck in a job or town that you’re not too keen on. Finding something once you get there may equal higher pay, better benefits and a working environment that fits you. But it also means all the normal stress of finding a job – but in a foreign, non-English speaking city. Wicked stressful, dude.If this is your first time traveling in a non-English speaking country or teaching ESL, I would probably recommend trying to get something lined up before you go. Do some really in-depth research on your potential employers – check out expat online message boards and see what they have to say about the company and ask your school if you could chat with a few of their current employees. English school vary hugely so it’s really important to find one that’s right for you. There are approximately a gajillion ESL-job sites online; some of the best are, and Dave’s ESL cafe.

Personally, I’ve taught English through UMM’s Eltap program in Brazil, A.C.L.E. in Italy, Carisma in Peru, HESS in Taiwan, Making Futures Happen Institute in New Zealand, and Hmong American Partnership here in the U.S.

How to Find a Good Job Teaching ESL At Home

Finding ESL jobs in an English-speaking country is understandably a bit harder than when you’re abroad, but it’s not impossible. You just need the right qualifications and need to know where to look.Required qualifications vary a lot depending on who and where you are teaching. Private language schools in areas with a population of wealthy ESL students will only require a B.A. and teaching experience. You can find schools like this in Sydney, London or New York. However, if you’re teaching in the public school system, at a university or at a non-profit you’ll probably need some sort of qualification – a teaching certificate, a TEFL or CELTA, or even an M.A. in TESOL.To target your job search, you should know that there are three main areas of ESL: private English schools, adult basic education for refugees and immigrants and teaching in the public school system. The latter two are probably the easiest to find jobs in.

Private English Schools are usually found in large, cosmopolitan cities. The students here are often wealthy, young and attend these schools as part of a gap year or to improve their English enough to gain acceptance into an American university. The pay at these schools is decent, but there is often little job security and you can be laid off if student numbers drop too low. The atmosphere at these schools is pretty laid back and the students are often quite fun, if not always particularly motivated, because they are essentially on vacation. You can find these many of these schools in Seattle, San Francisco, L.A., New York and Miami.

I currently work in Adult Basic Education for refugees and immigrants. Many countries offer support to refugees if they make steps towards integrating into their new culture – steps like job training or English classes. There is a bit more job security in these jobs because the schools are government funded and the students’ food stamps and subsidized housing are tied to their class attendance. The students are also incredibly motivated, respectful and thankful for all the help you give them, which is not always a common dynamic between students and teachers. The work can be a bit emotionally draining when you hear about the lives your students lead before they left their countries and the learning can be slow going as many refugees have never attended school before. You can find these jobs in any city with a sizable refugee or immigrant population; I would imagine there are heaps in Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona.

It’s also possible to teach ESL in the public school system, though you’ll need a teaching certificate. These jobs are a bit harder to come by because most schools only need one or two ESL teachers for the entire student population. Also, children learn English so quickly, many school systems don’t even bother with ESL specialists for primary aged children. Six and seven year-olds can often become completely fluent in one school year, just from being immersed in English. However, these jobs do come with the other perks of public school teaching – three months off and tenure, so if you can find one (and keep it) you’ve gotten lucky.

Anybody else out there taught ESL? Any other advice for our teacher friend?

P.S. If you’re looking for more advice about quitting your job and moving abroad (or just traveling for a long time) you might like this.

Photo (without text on top) by Gill Penney can be viewed here

30 New Things: Take a Belly Dancing Class


I like to think I can dance. Really, it is probably more accurate to say that I’m not afraid of trying to dance. Or perhaps that I’m not afraid of moving my body in an enthusiastic manner. In any case, I’m pretty constantly shimmying around my apartment/fake tap dancing/singing karaoke with jazz hands. So obviously one of my 30 New Things had to be dance related. And have you ever seen the music video for La Turtura? If you are not moved by the sight Shakira humping her way down a table using only her pelvis, you are dead inside, my friend.So I signed up for a community ed belly dancing class hoping to someday give Shakira a run for her money. Or at least find some new dance moves to embarrass myself with. The teacher of the class did not disappoint – all tiny and sexy and be-eyelinered. Until she opened her mouth and rocked one of the sharpest Minnesota accents this side of Fargo. But one cannot judge a dancer by her accent, eh?

We spent the majority of class flexing and releasing muscles I hadn’t known existed (like the one under your ribs?) which doesn’t sound particularly sexy but when put all together the result is hip-swivelingly good. The trick seems to be isolating the moving, swiveling bits from the rest, so you can do those impressive chest pops or pelvic figure-eights while maintaining steamy eye contact with some exotic sheik who wants to trade five camels for you.

All in all, it was wicked fun and a pretty decent workout as well. I look forward to bringing out these moves at the next house party I attend. I’ll be the girl trying to inch her way across the floor using only her pelvis.

Have you ever tried belly dancing? Would you?

Web Time Wasters


Because it a Friday! And it’s summer! Like you’re really going to accomplish anything at work. 

My girl Winona makes an excellent argument in favor of every one’s favorite early 90’s hairstyle.How cute are these sweaters? And I bet you could make your own if you’re handy with an embroidery needle.

Because I love a) things that are sparkly b) weird things hanging from the ceiling: ship chandeliers!

Spread love where ever you go with this guerilla love kit. Too.damn.cute.

Fantastic drug-store makeup finds for under $8. Wouldn’t it be great it everything that made us feel beautiful cost this little?

Fascinating! Gorgeous houses in terrible locations. I love the historical farmhouse that has a train running through the back yard!

An adorable idea for any upcoming birthday or anniversary – a catalog of love.

You wouldn’t think that a bullet casing and gemstones would go together so well. And yet….

I love of cmykboom’s inspiration machines. Really, all of them!

Apparently, I’m not the only one who wants to reinterpret Disney princesses for the modern day.

On the reality of rock/paper/scissors. And how, exactly, paper beats anything.

Oh, this video is going to get you. Street performers around the world singing Stand by Me. Tear!

Have a great weekend!

How To Look Good In Travel Photos

Looking Good in Travel Photos


You’re ready to travel the world—and realize that being glamorous while you’re traveling isn’t quite the goal. But looking good in photos for friends and family and bragging rights back home? There’s great tricks to learn to look great in photos while traveling! Here’s a reader question:

Dear Sarah Von,

I am heading to El Salvador this month to rebuild houses, so glamorous travel is not the issue, but I am wondering if you have any basic tips from your travels on keeping me from looking frightening in every picture? I am hoping to keep my toiletries to a minimum given where I will be living but I would like to maintain some semblance of myself, even when my full routine isn’t quite practical.
A girl after my own heart! When I headed out on my world ticket, I was vainly aware that the photos I would be taking on this trip would be photos I would be showing for the rest of my life. You only get to Angkor Wat so many times in your life, you don’t want to look all dumpy and blotchy standing in front of those Buddhas! Now, I certainly don’t look great in every travel photo I’m in, but here are the things that work for me.

How to Look Great While Traveling

A low-key makeup regimen

Really, just take your daily make-up routine and dial it down a few notches – tinted lip balm instead of lipstick, tinted moisturizer with SPF instead of foundation. If you’re really concerned, you could even get your eyebrows and eyelashes tinted before you left so you wouldn’t have to bother with mascara and eyebrow pencil.

The Power of Headgear

Traveling (and house-building) often result in less than fantastic hair. Just cover that business up! But not with a baseball cap (what’s up, ugly American?) or those all-purpose neck/headband things. I’d go for a cute bandanna, a silky scarf or even a fabric headband. And there are heaps of cute, out-of-your-face hairstyles to be had. Like the side braid, the messy chignon and may I shamelessly plug my own faux-mo?

Find a photo pose that works for you

If you want to take vanity and anal-retentiveness to a whole new level, like I pretty regularly do, find a few photo poses that work for you. It pains me to admit that I have perfected this art, resulting in photos that look damn flattering, though oddly similar. In the event that you’re dying to know, my photo pose of choice usually includes some angling of the face (makes your jawline look better), tilting my head down a bit (because then you can look up through your lashes like a Disney princess), and smiling in a way that creates a dimple. Good lord, can we pretend that I didn’t just tell you all this?

Know good lighting when you see it

Of course, you can’t always plan your visit to the Leaning Tower of Pisa to coincide with that flattering afternoon light, but nobody looks great in overly bright, mid-day sun or all washed out by a flash. If you know enough about your camera, you can change the settings to counteract this. Or you can just load up on photos when the sun’s at a more flattering angle. And really, it can make a huge difference. This is one of my all-time favorite pictures – all that good light totally cancels out my total lack of makeup or clean hair!

When all else fails, photoshop

For real guys. Sometimes the only clean stuff you have to wear to the Eiffel Tower is that awful U of M t-shirt with the gopher and your mesh track pants. It happens. Or maybe you just happened to break out the day before you got to Venice. Don’t delete those photos! Both picnik and picassa are free to download and can remove red eye, unfortunate t-shirt graphics and that weird guys standing behind you.
How do you ensure you like the hottie you are in photos when traveling?
photo by moyan brenn (without text on top) can be viewed here

Because I Actually WANT to Live Under a Rock

Ever since the days of blanket forts and tree houses, I have longed to live in something slightly more ridiculous and magical than a boring old apartment. These buildings? Built specifically for people to live in? Laaaaaammmmmeeee. Let’s talk about converting non-traditional spaces into homes!

Converted Train Car
My love for this converted box car is three fold. Because a) I love tiny, tiny spaces b) I could fulfill my fantasy of train hopping without risking my limbs and skincare regimen c) I want to be Maude of Harold and Maude when I grow up. And it’s gorgeous, right? All those clean lines and blond wood!

Converted Church
I’m not sure what the awesome to creepy ratio would be on living in a converted church (what’s up fifty years worth of funerals?!) but I think I could get past that if it meant I could have ceilings and windows like these. Also: How much do you love that crazy paper ‘chandelier’?!

Converted Bus
Even if they didn’t live in a converted bus, I’d want to be friends with this adorable couple. Not only are they driving across the country teaching people about sustainable living, they’ve converted their bus into the most adorable home on wheels. I’m particularly impressed that they managed to make it feel cozy without feeling cluttered. Because that is the eternal struggle, no?

Converted Cave
How amazing would it be to live in an actual cave?! Then you’ll have a totally valid excuse for not knowing who won American Idol. This magical home is located 45 feet beneath a lush forest in eastern Missouri and even boasts a goldfish pond fed by a natural spring. As if that wasn’t fantastic enough, the inner part of the cave is a 1950 rollerskating rink where the kids can skateboard!

Would you ever live in a non-traditional home?