6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Be an ESL Teacher

March 14, 2017

6 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Be an ESL Teacher


I’ve taught English Language Learners (ELL) in the USA, South Africa, China, and now in Mexico. I have learned a few things in my short career as an ESL teacher and I thought I would write this article to inform you on the inevitable circumstances you will find yourself in if you decide to pursue a career in teaching ESL students. 

READ: Advocating for the Neglected in the United States School System by Always A Gringa 

1. Terrible pay

You are probably aware of how terribly teachers get paid, in almost every country, except maybe Luxembourg. Teaching ESL isn’t any different in regards to pay scale, possibly worse. With ESL  being a niche field you can get paid a little more when you teach abroad in some countries like South Korea, China, Japan, and Dubai. 

2. You have to create/buy your own materials 

If getting paid measly wages isn’t enough to make you stay clear from becoming an ESL teacher you should know that you are often expected to create your own curriculum and materials, as well as purchase all the resources you need for the classroom. 


While I cannot speak for every country, this is true for all the countries that I have taught in. But HEY! at least you don’t have to follow another boring English workbook or worry about administration breathing down your neck about following a particular curriculum! You get to do decide what your English students need to learn and it is up to you to plan it all out (no pressure).  


If planning a curriculum wasn’t hard enough, wait till they throw in some real game-changers, like a class of students that range from the ages of 10 to 33, just be glad you don’t have a required curriculum or that would darn well be impossible!


3. It is a tiring job

Teaching in general is a tiring job, you are on your feet the entire day (heels if you work in Mexico), you have to manage 30 little humans, (60 HANDS!!) and then you go home and all you can think about is how you can help and better teach these little humans so that they can grow into their full potential. 
Their burdens become your burdens and their hurt becomes your hurt. If you become an ESL teacher you will probably have students that carry much larger burdens. Maybe your students are refugees, immigrants, or students who are growing up in multicultural homes. It is your job as a teacher to find ways to relieve some of these burdens for your students and to create a safe and secure environment for them to grow in. 

4. Communicating in a language you don’t speak is exhausting

Whether you are in a mixed language classroom or you are in an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) classroom where students all speak the same language, communication between students and teacher is difficult. When I was in the USA I had over 60 students representing over 40 different languages. Even if I had the magical powers of a polyglot, there is no chance that I would be able to learn all these languages.


As an ELL teacher you learn how to communicate with your students through other means like drawing pictures, photos, online translators, or moving and contorting your body into weird shapes (the students like this best). Trying to find ways to communicate with your students and teach them in a way that they can understand is exhausting (but well worth it)! I used to go home every day after school and take a nap before I could be a real functioning human again. 


Gifts to an ESL teacher

5. You will never stop thinking about your students 

The job doesn’t end at 5, at 7, or at midnight, yes, I dream about teaching… scary. You cannot and will not catch a break, (don’t pull that summer card on me, I work summer camps!). My life basically revolves around my students and how I am looking for better ways to help them including researching ways to improve my practice, attending conferences that I pay for out of pocket, or staying up well past midnight creating my own materials and lesson plans that will help support student learning.

Even when they aren’t your students anymore they will still be on your mind. I have only been teaching for 3 years and I cannot forget even one of my past students. I wonder where they are now, praying that their home life improved, or that they kept pushing through a particular challenge and questioning if I did everything I could have. 

 ESL Teacher life in Cape Town, South Africa

6. You will never be able to stop learning

Teaching ESL students means you are always learning. You want to make connections with your students and understand their background. When you have kids coming from over 40 countries, you have a lot of work to do. That means learning a few words in their language, learning cultural values, traditions and researching political environment or current conflicts.
Your students will teach you so much about yourself as well, what you thought you knew or what you didn’t.  ESL is a quickly developing field and it is vital to stay up to date on on the latest research and teaching practices that will best support your students. 
drawing to ESL Teacher
If any of these reasons seem like a bad gig or a game changer, please find a different career because teaching is freaking hard and these kids need teachers who are all in for the long haul. Teaching has it challenges and ESL even more so, but I would never choose a different career, it is the best job in the world. Teaching ESL is also the next best thing to traveling because you still get to experience diverse languages, cultures, customs, international friendships, and you don’t even have to buy a plane ticket! 

globes and esl

More about Eemma Iseman

    1. I’ve thought about teaching English in Japan next summer but because I didn’t know anyone who had taught English in another country I put that idea on the back burner. These reasons are great to look at so I can see both the pro’s and the con’s of teaching!

      1. Hi Sara! I loved Japan when I visited last summer! Would you just teach for the summer? If so, that would be a great opportunity to see if you like teaching ESL. Sometimes people jump into year long programs without any prior experience teaching and end up canceling their contract because it isn’t what they thought it would be. Please email me if you have any questions you think I could help you with!

    1. So true. I have a friend who also teaches ESL in Africa and says almost similar things… and he gets very attached to his students too!

    1. This was interesting for me who sometimes plays with the idea if becoming an ESL teacher. I taught in Hungary and Russia without having any qualification and agreed with a lot of the point, like never stop thinking about the student… As many jobs, it has its ups and downs..

      1. Hi Eniko! That sounds super interesting! I would love to read about your time teaching in Hungary and Russia. Interesting that they don’t require a qualification. I think that this is common in some countries.

    1. Absolutely agree with you. It needs dedication and a lot of energy! I used to be a teacher in English in my home country for many years. I was sometimes on the verge of quitting but at the end of the day it was nothing but a rewarding experience. Never tried ESL, though.

      1. Hi Daniela! Thank you for your comment! Where are you from? I know many teachers who are often on the verge of quitting. It is a tough job with what often seems like little reward!

    1. My mom taught English as a foreign language – many of your points echo thoughts she has shared with me. While I don’t think I could be a teacher (I don’t think I’m good with kids!), I admire you guys so much for dedicating so much of your lives to these kids’ development. Great post!
      Marguerite recently posted…Dresden: Let Them Eat Cake!My Profile

      1. Thanks Marguerite! That is so cool that your mom taught EFL! Where at? I have yet to meet ESL/EFL teachers that have taught ESL learners for the majority of their career. Would love to ask her some questions!

    1. It is so sad to see how devalued teachers are around the world. This is one of the most important occupations since they are the ones who are teaching and helping to educate the next generation. I have an aunt who is a teacher and she always complains about it to me. I find it unfair how it is the techer who need to spend money and time with the materials for the class!

    1. Great information and an honest appraisal of teaching English abroad. A great way for people to see the world.

    1. This was a bittersweet article to read! I think it should be illegal to have no breaks, but I guess that’s the way it is, to give up all your free time for beautiful children from all walks of life. Not for the fainthearted, including myself! I feel like Australia too is spoiled for a high salary for teachers, but again this is different.
      Viviane xo

    1. The children of the world need more people like you! Kuddos for doing what you love despite the tough things you list here. This article will be helpful for others considering this career.

    1. You have to be on heels in Mexico? Is it a mandatory dress code? I did not know that. As I read your post, I completely understand your points even though I have never taught English. I have a friend who taught in a remote village in Thailand (I even visited her schools), she did the same with the curriculum. She was creating it herself, drawing and writing for kids.

      1. I’m not sure if it is a general rule as a teacher, but it is part of the dress code at the school I work at. It is so cool to hear that so many people have either had similar experiences or know someone who has taught ESL! Thank you for taking the time to read and post!

    1. Was just looking into teaching and found this very interesting to read, all you ever read is the pro’s and never the cons. I’m glad you have highlighted a few things I didn’t really think of. Time to really think about it now. Thanks for an honest post.

      1. You are so right Kevin, I too have found that most blog posts about teaching ESL only share the positives. I am glad that the post has provided a broader perspective of the field. Let me know if I can be of any help!

        1. Thank you, I will carry on with my search and decide from there, I’m more thinking towards becoming a watersports instructor (kitesurfing) and teaching that aboard now. But, thank you, if I need help, I’m glad to know you can assist me. 🙂
          Kevin’s Travel Diary recently posted…reasons-to-go-on-a-safariMy Profile

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