How do you become an English language teacher?
To become an English language teacher in Ireland, you need to have a bachelor’s degree (Level 7 on the National Qualification Framework) in any subject. You will also need to have an ACELS-recognised teaching qualification, most typically the CELT or CELTA. The full details can be seen here in this ACELS regulations document. ACELS is the accreditation body for language schools in Ireland (similar to the British Council in the UK). If you don’t have these exact qualifications but you have an equivalent, see page 23 of the above document. Schools with students under the age of 18 will require you to have Garda vetting. This is usually done through the school when you start working. Please note that if your school is affiliated with Marketing English in Ireland (MEI, the lobbying group of English language schools in Ireland), your vetting form will be processed through this group. Last thing to note is that you don’t need to have teaching experience to get a job.
Where can I do a CELT/CELTA?
The ACELS website has the approved list of CELT course providers at this link. There is no difference between the two courses in the eyes of ACELS as they both contain 120 hours of course training as well as 6 hours of observed teaching practice. Internationally, the CELTA is better recognised but you can explain to potential employers that the two courses have the same level of assessment. You must complete a portfolio of assignments as part of the course. There isn’t a prescribed outline for the CELT course so schools will focus on different aspects of teacher training. The quality of the course can also vary from provider to provider, so do plenty of research before putting a significant investment in a course. This CELTA course syllabus will give you a fair overview of what you can expect from the CELT programme. You will likely have to do an interview with the head of the course before your application is accepted. Bear in mind that teacher training courses are profit-making for private language schools. If you’re just doing this course to get summer work, bear in mind that there are lots of jobs you can do without investing approximately €1,000 and 4 weeks of your time.
Typical wage for an English language teacher
You might have heard that the wage of an English language teacher in Ireland is between €13 and €25 per hour, with €18 the average. This sounds very appealing and certainly sounds better than a minimum wage job. However, there are several important factors that must be taken into account here. Economist Michael Taft did a brief analysis of the actual wages of English language teachers in 2017, using very limited data published by MEI which stated that the “total gross wage bill” for the sector was €49.5 million. There was no further segmentation of that figure so it’s unclear what working hours were calculated (full or part-time working weeks), or whether PRSI is included in this figure (which some workers do not receive). Finally, it is assumed that managerial staff wages are included in this figure which will not be a reflection of the average teacher’s wages.
Included in Taft’s analysis was unpaid work. A significant feature of English language teaching in Ireland is unpaid planning and preparation work (non-contact work). This is a cornerstone of Unite’s 10-Point Charter for English language teachers. The majority of teachers are paid hourly and are not paid for mandatory professional development sessions, staff meetings or inspection preparation work. In terms of non-contact hours, some schools offer a blanket payment of €10 – €15 per week for non-contact work, including planning of classes, preparation of materials and all required administration work. Other schools don’t pay anything except the hours of lesson delivery. This work includes:
- Writing a weekly lesson plan and scheme of work (possibly with a team teacher). One copy must be filed away and another displayed in the classroom (you’re responsible for the paperwork)
- Designing and holding weekly tests, correcting tests and recording results
- Setting and correcting homework, providing written and oral feedback
- Supplementing coursebook material with online material (written, audio, visual) finding, preparing and bringing these materials into class
- Taking students on social activities and preparing educational materials for the trip
If you’re teaching 20 hours per week (which is the average), that works out at 4 hours per day. So if you’re on €15 per week flat rate for non-contact hours, that works out at €3 per day for any work you do outside the classroom. If you’re spending two hours a day on this work, you’re getting €1.50 per hour. Before tax.
As a new teacher, you can expect to spend at least 1 hour planning for every hour-long class. So you’ll be working 40 hours but paid for the 20 contact hours only. In time, you will get faster at lesson planning but until then you’ll have to put up with a lot of unpaid work. It’s built-in exploitation. Surveys have found that on average, teachers will spend between 4 – 6 hours per week on non-contact work, but many teachers report spending between 7 – 13 hours (ELT Manchester survey, 2019, forthcoming). The majority of teachers are not paid for this work.
Actual wage of an ELT in Ireland
With all of this in mind, Taft calculated the average hourly rate of an English language teacher to be €9.63. This is below the minimum wage which is currently €9.80 per hour. Compare this with the starting wage at ALDI which is €11.70 (the living wage) and is not a role which involves unpaid daily planning or administrative work. Indeed with ALDI, there are clear opportunities for progression, payscales and the opportunity for real advancement within the company which is not a feature of most English language schools.
Finding a job as an English language teacher
It’s not that difficult to find a job as an English language teacher in Ireland during the summer months. Job advertisements can be found on tefl.com, ELT Ireland jobs board and the job aggregate listing site, Indeed. Be aware that the number of teachers increases 100% in the summer. If you want to continue working as an ELT after the summer, you are not guaranteed a job, despite what your school might imply. Sometimes on a teacher training course you will be told that if you “get your foot in the door” in a school by doing “a couple of hours here and there” (no matter how inconvenient or low-paying it is for you), a full-time job will emerge. This is definitely not the case for every teacher. It’s true that many schools have a high turnover of staff and that some teachers hired for the summer will be lucky enough to keep their job into the autumn and winter – but do not assume that this will be you. Unless you have a written contract stating exact terms of employment, you should assume that when the peak season is over, you will lose your job. This is something that many teachers don’t realise about teaching English and one of the reasons for high precarity in the sector.
Interview for English language teaching job
How to prepare for an English language teaching job
Usually there will be one interview with an Academic Manager, or Assistant Director of Studies (ADOS). You will be asked to bring your bachelor’s degree certificate or transcript as well as your CELT/A certificate. You might be asked to prepare a sample lesson plan in advance. You will be asked about your teaching experience or teaching practice from your training course. Be prepared to speak about specific examples of how you handled situations or what you would do in such a situation. This is a guide to some typical questions you may be asked.
Interviewing the interviewer
What kind of questions do you need to ask in an interview for an English language teaching job? This post outlines some of the questions that you should pose to a potential employer, including questions about contracts, holiday pay and hours of work. You should be aware that some schools will not be forthcoming about the answers to these standard interview questions. Be aware that if you appear overly interested in your working conditions, you may be less likely to secure a position. For the last 3 years, English language teachers have been getting increasingly vocal about poor working conditions in the industry. Be aware that teachers have lost jobs for speaking about issues in their workplace and that this discrimination (while ostensibly illegal) is rife as many teachers have been on zero-hour or fixed-term contracts, meaning that as soon as a teacher became problematic for the school, hours of work could suddenly disappear and you are out of a job.
Warnings for English language teachers
The joys of teaching English
Teaching English is a role that many teachers enjoy as it can be hugely fulfilling, both personally and professionally. You will meet many wonderful students from all around the world who will open your mind and challenge you every day. You will develop relationships with students as you help them achieve their goals and it can be satisfying to see their progression over time. Developing as a teacher can be very enjoyable too. One day you’re a newly qualified teacher writing full-length whiteboard plans in case you forget how to teach the present perfect and the next day you’re able to spontaneously rattle off the uses of the future perfect continuous because you’ve grown so much in confidence. When you start off as a teacher, your lesson plans will take hours. After 6 years of teaching, I can do a full week’s worth of lesson plans in my head. There’s no limit to how creative you can be in the classroom and you typically have a good deal of autonomy in your lesson plans. You’ll make mistakes and you’ll learn, develop and grow. It can be the best job in the world.
The dark side of teaching english
But unfortunately, as A2dez excellently puts it, it’s also “the best shit job.” This stems from issues of low pay, lack of security, popularity politics, uncomfortable teaching environments, badly-equipped schools and poor communication with management. The industry has not made meaningful steps towards improving the lives of teachers. It’s not unique to Ireland, either. This outstanding article from Dr Phiona Stanley outlines the lived experiences and career trajectories of ELTs in the private teaching industry in Australia. It makes for disturbing reading. It highlights how the better you get as an English language teacher, the harder it will be to get a well-paying job. This is because schools simply will not pay you commensurate with experience. This goes the same for any teachers with master’s degrees in Teaching English (which cost minimum €4,000 and take at least 1 year) or a DELTA (minimum of €3,000 and takes on average 2 years). Further qualifications have no significant effect on rate of pay in Ireland. The highest you will earn as a teacher per hour is €26.
The history of ELT in Ireland
Nobody in ELT has a safe job. In the college closure crisis of 2014/2015 in Ireland, we saw how established and supposedly ‘safe’ schools were closed literally overnight, leaving both new and experienced teachers out of work and in many cases, out of wages. Look at what happened in Grafton College on December 1st last year. Staff are still waiting for their wages to be repaid. It was not the only school to close last year, it was actually the third. It’s not a safe industry to work in, and that’s why teachers are fighting so hard to ensure it becomes viable.
Know what English language teaching is really like
It’s important to know what you want from this industry. If you’re looking to gain a basic qualification to enable you to teach abroad as a backpacker, then you’d be better off doing an online course. If you’re looking for a summer job, ELT might seem like a good fit, but you’re investing a huge amount of time and money into a niche qualification for a job that won’t give you ROI. If you’re looking for a permanent job, you have to understand that the word ‘permanent‘ doesn’t exist in ELT. It’s almost impossible to find a school that pays adequately for contact and non-contact hours, and this is only one of the major issues. Public sector teachers teach a maximum of 22 hours per week, in part because teaching can be emotionally exhausting. This is not recognised or remunerated in ELT, where you could be working 30 contact hours per week. The majority of schools do not pay sick pay so when you eventually become drained, you won’t be paid when you need to take a day off. If you do manage to find a job, your wage will likely rise by a maximum of €10 per hour over the next 15 years. You will be on contracts that include the phrase “The school reserves the right to take away hours at any time owing to lack of student numbers.” You will never be safe in the industry in its current form and if you’re planning to get into it, make sure you plan your exit strategy.
Want to help improve the ELT industry?
It’s not all bad news! There are some excellent groups working hard to improve the conditions in English language teaching. ELT Advocacy recommends that all teachers be part of a union. Unite the Union is the only Irish union with a dedicated ELT Branch run by teachers. They have done extraordinary work over the last few years for teachers, including the successful lobbying of members of the Seanad to add amendments to the QQA Bill 2018 which will include extra protections for teachers. Whether you’re a new or experienced teacher, the best form of professional development you can do is get involved with these groups.