From TEFL teacher to ELL Director

From TEFL teacher to ELL Director

When I started working in Asia back in 2012 I didn’t have any long term plans or visions for the future. I was in my 20s, I had just graduated from university and at the time I didn’t have so much as a TEFL certificate to my name. I figured I’d live in Asia for a year, then return to the US. In reality, I ended up spending a decade working in Thailand, China and the Philippines before finally getting married and heading back to my country of origin.

I’m not sure how it happened exactly, but somewhere along the way I ended up in possession of a master’s degree, a teaching license and the title of ELL director for a school district in the midwest. Somehow, a year in Asia had morphed into a professional career. The process had happened so slowly that I was barely aware of it until I woke up one day unsure of how I’d stumbled into such a situation.

The transition between teaching in Thailand and teaching in the U.S. wasn’t easy. But, without hyperbole, I can honestly say that I love my job here. It’s demanding, often stressful and there are issues that pop up here that you just never see in Thailand. Still, after ten years as a TEFL teacher I’ve found myself in a world of competent, dedicated professionals and even more oddly, found myself to be fairly competent, dedicated and professional as well. Contrary to my expectations, the whole experience has been overwhelmingly positive.

I never had any intentions of teaching in the U.S. but now that I’m coming up on my third year (two in a metro area and one in a more suburban/rural district) I have to say that teaching in the U.S. has defied my every expectation. I thought I’d be dealing with uncontrollable students, underfunded facilities and bad admin. Even at the worst inner-city school I worked at during my first year, the students were great (mostly) and the admin team was nothing short of amazing. We were very underfunded, though. That part is true.

At the end of my first year, my district stopped receiving ESSER funds and on top of that the distilled spirits industry managed to weasel its way out of paying school taxes, so the budgetary drop was quite significant. Now I find myself in charge of an entire ELL program and it’s the best job I’ve ever had. Thanks to my decade in Asia and my two years in urban schools with huge ELL populations, I feel like I have skills and strategies for anything I might encounter. The learning curve has been massive, but the payoff has been immense.

A large part of me wants to return to Thailand with my bright and shiny credentials. But, I just can’t bring myself to leave. My colleagues and work environment are too good, the pay and benefits are too good and the stability is too good. I don’t have to worry about trips to immigration and no one is going to arbitrarily fire me. I miss Thailand, but not enough to warrant leaving everything I have here. My wife and I will ABSOLUTELY be spending some of our summers in Thailand, though.

So, if you’re like I was back in 2020 and terrified of returning to your home country because you can’t even imagine trying to fit back in after so much time away, you might want to reconsider. Teaching in the U.S. isn’t nearly as bad as it’s made out to be. Plus, if you don’t like it you can always take your teaching license and work at a top-tier international school. That’s been my experience, anyway.


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