Is Australia perfect for first time TEFL travellers?

If you’re up for teaching a mix of students from all over the world while earning good pay and enjoying a relatively high standard of living, then head to Australia. This enormous country has everything: amazing beach life, adrenaline pumping and adventurous activities, and a huge variety of places to live.
I taught English in Sydney for four months and then travelled up the East coast. Despite craving a more exotic lifestyle, more on that later, I had a great time and would recommend going to Australia to teach English as a foreign language. But before you go, you have to be ready. (This blog is as seen on the i-to-i TEFL blog.)
A tough start
After living in Ecuador and Brazil, I found life in Sydney a bit dull. I’d had such an adventure in South America learning Spanish and Portuguese and experiencing another culture that I felt as if I’d returned to England. I suppose that if I’d gone straight from London to Australia then I would have been more excited, but I found the culture too similar to back home. (Photo by xiquinho)
When I got to Sydney I only had about £500 left of my savings, so I was desperate to get a job. I’d sent my CV off to a few language schools and luckily had an interview the day after I arrived. The director was up front with me and said she felt I lacked a good base of grammar to teach her students. I managed to blag a couple of day’s trial. She was right though. In an observed lesson, her Chinese students ripped my lesson plan to pieces. The students were not the relaxed type I’d been used to in Ecuador and Brazil.
A week or so later I found another job working for a small language academy for Korean students. The director, Mr Kim, was a serious and professional man but we hit it off and he gave me a two week trial. The only problem was the workload. I had to prepare all the material as there was no book to follow. I spent about three hours a day researching and writing all the worksheets and material for the following day’s lessons. I only had one class of four Korean students and they were more interested in grammar exercises than fun discussions. I was relieved when the students started drop away and I was forced to find another job.
The good times
A day after leaving sulking Mr Kim I found another job with a language school, Maewill English Colege in Manly, north Sydney. Mae and Will, the directors, were top class and welcomed me into their school. It was a great place to work. The students were mainly from China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Brazil, with a few from Eastern European countries. There was a good crowd of Australia and British teachers too and the atmosphere in the staff room was a laugh. Plus I was earning about AUD $500 a week, a massive jump up from the $2 an hour I got in Ecuador. (Photo by daipresents). 
Life in the classroom
I loved working at Maewill. I taught four different classes in the morning and each class was a different level and mix of students. Teaching mixed classes was challenging, especially because the Chinese students wanted to know explanations for all the grammar. I had to study what I was about to teach and asked the more experienced teachers for help.
I often came unstuck with the Chinese and sometimes Korean students for explanations. A couple of times I tried to make up rules, but they bombarded me with questions as to why all the time. I soon learnt it was better to find out the answer and tell them next class. Over time I gained their respect.
It was fun teaching the Brazilians. As soon as they knew I’d been to their country we had a connection. They were a good bunch and watching them interacting with the Asian students was funny.
Another good part of working for Maewill was that every Friday we’d do an excursion or sporting activity. This included tennis table competitions, football tournaments, trips to the zoo, ferry cruises around the Sydney Harbour, and trips to the beach.
Life in the real world
As mentioned before I wasn’t overly impressed with Sydney. It’s a great city with a lot of things to see, buzzing nightlife, and a fantastic party atmosphere. However, after South America I was craving something different from back home. I missed learning a language and the buzz of the unexpected.
To save money I lived with a Chinese family in the centre of Sydney. It was cheap because I shared a room. Franco, my roommate, was a tad on the weird side. He was a skinny lad from Hong Kong who always carried a yellow teddy bear with a bell on. I tried to get to know him but he was shy and preferred studying than chatting. The rest of the family were okay, apart from the miserable mother who stomped about the place complaining all the time. I just laughed it off. (Photo by Greg the Busker)
During my time in Sydney I was mainly focussed on saving up money so I could afford a decent trip when I left. I managed to save up about three grand in four months. Most of which I spent travelling up the East coast. My three-week adventure included a four wheel drive trip on Fraser Island, learning how to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef, and a camping trip to Ayers Rock. Australia is a beautiful and fascinating country.
Conclusion
If you’re a first time TEFL teacher then I’d definitely get some experience before you head to Australia. Competition is fierce and directors expect a lot from their teachers. Don’t let what I said about culture put you off, Australia is a great place to live and work, I just prefer to live in a country where I can learn a language. I’ll be writing more blogs about what I loved and hated about Australia so stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “Is Australia perfect for first time TEFL travellers?

  1. Hi Barry, this was an interesting read.

    I've just started my first ESL job in Perth, in a private language school much like the one you mentioned above. I enjoy teaching the students a lot.

    However, my only niggle is that my preparation time is unapid – is this normal? I get paid a high rate – $40 / hour. But teaching 4 hours a day is only bringing in $160 a day. I'm only on a casual contract.

    Is it normal in Australia to only be paid for the hours you teach? Is it just because I am on a casual contract? And as someone with no teaching experience (apart from a CELTA), have I any hope of landing a job as a salaried ESL teacher?

    thanks! Rosie

  2. Hey Rosie,

    Thanks for writing. One of my best mates lives over in Perth, he loves it. His name is Mike and he's a clumsy fool, you can't miss him.

    That's a great question, and one that I'm sure that every teacher would like to answer yes, but sadly no, we don't get paid for the prep time. That's the catch. If you plan an amazing class then you get the same pay as if you just wing it. But at the end of the day it comes down to how much you want to get out of it.

    If you find a job where you get paid to plan then let me know, and my readers, we'd all love that!

    Good luck.

    Barry

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *