I first heard about TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language) as a freshman in college. At that point I was still trying to pick a major and decide what to do with my life (still working on that last part). It wasn’t until my second year that I started to consider it as a possible career. I knew I wanted to help improve quality of life, I knew I had a passion for languages, and I knew I wanted to see the world. Thus, after a hurried 3 years of undergrad, I entered into the master’s program at Southern Illinois University for TESOL.
With only 54 days until graduation and 76 days until we move to China, I have been thinking back on how I chose this career path. If you are interested in a career with flexibility, plentiful job opportunities and locations, and opportunities to connect the peoples of the world then consider the list below. If any of these reasons sound like something you feel in your heart place as well . . . TESOL might be for you!
1.Travel: This is often the first thing people think of when they consider teaching English abroad. A few years ago, all you needed was an American passport and accent and you were eligible for hire in most countries. Currently, as research and standards evolve, there are more stringent qualifications for teachers in many countries. This can narrow down your options if you have very little (or zero) experience teaching, but there are still plenty of places that take first year teachers. The opportunities to travel are definitely possible. As someone about to embark on such a journey, I feel the boundless satisfaction of feeding my wanderlust while also maintaining the clever guise of a career minded adult. However, if travel is the only reason you have for joining the field I would suggest you chose something different. You have to have the heart for it, which leads me to my next point.
2. To Learn About People and Cultures: Whether you plan to teach abroad or in the U.S., the very nature of the job ensures you will be interacting with people of various backgrounds. I believe there are some fundamental beliefs you have to have in order to qualify for the task.
1. English is not superior to any other language.
2. American culture is not superior to any other culture.
3. Native speakers and a native accent are not superior to an English language learner and their unique accent.
I chose this career path because I have a deep appreciation for and desire to learn about other cultures. I know that my job exists due largely in fact to colonialism. This is why I strive to use my position to make up for that ugly past. I don’t believe everyone should learn English to fit in because it is best, but I do want to help people make their way in a global world where the prevailing language is currently English. Understanding that other languages and cultures are of equal values, especially in the classroom, can and should impact a teacher’s entire philosophy. It is because of these beliefs that I chose this path.
3. To Make People’s Goals Possible (including my own): Helping people has always been my career goal. It’s what prompted my brief time as a psychology major and my dream of dropping out of college to start a halfway house for single mothers. I have always known that whatever I did with my life I wanted it to be something where I was making a difference. After a year and a half of teaching international students at SIU, I know TESOL provides me with just that. When you hear the story of the eldest son chosen by his family to learn English to help keep their family business afloat, or the only daughter who sees her country struggling to advance in a field and decides she will go and learn as much as she can in order to go home and be a leader — you know you are making a difference.
4. To challenge myself: This year and a half of study has been a major adjustment for me. Becoming a teacher, wife, and graduate student all at once was one of the steepest learning curves I have ever faced. I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel (all of the hiding under the covers and stress baking seems worth it)! I have worked hard to build my understanding of different cultures and my knowledge as a teacher. If you are the type of person who is always looking to improve themselves, there is no better way than by trying something new and difficult. Doing the scary/hard/impossible thing is the only way you become one of those inspiring people who can then motivate others to do the scary, hard, and impossible. We should all strive to be one of those people. The world needs more of that.
5. To learn about myself and my culture: This last one may seem a bit counterintuitive at first. Most people pursue TESOL because they want to learn about other cultures, not their own! But after a year and a half of teaching and studying, I can honestly say I have never learned more or been more aware of American culture. It is an eye-opening experience to see your culture through the eyes of others. Things you take for granted like what equals personal space, how you view travel, even foods that sound totally normal to you (looking at you, s’mores and jello) can be incredibly exciting topics for your students. Within our own culture, we tend to know when and how we do things, but not why. Being in close contact with so many different cultural views helps me to took at my own culture and think “Why do I do that?” Trust me, you have not know true bewilderment until you learn something like how people in Brazil eat avocados with sugar… like a grapefruit! What even is life? Have I been doing this wrong my whole existence?? (Jury is still out on this one, btw).
So, I may be slightly biased, but for anyone looking to explore the field of TESOL I hope sharing my own reasons will help you make your choice. Like any career, it takes a unique combination of qualities and desires within a person to really enjoy this type of work. If you’re a culture junkie, language nerd, travel enthusiast, and have an open mind… then why not give TESOL a try?