Scott Hipsher

English teaching as part of your career path

How to use teaching skills for career changes

Individuals become English teachers in Thailand and other parts of Asia for a wide range of reasons and bring with them a wide range of professional motivations. Some plan to make a career out of teaching English, while some younger individuals plan to teach for a year or two to enjoy living abroad before starting their "real" career. Still others teach English as a second career and begin later in life while a few use teaching English as a means to transition from one type of career to another.

For most native speaking teachers, teaching English will not be the only type of job an individual will hold during his or her lifetime. However, in general, teaching English is thought of as being separated from the rest of a person's career. Some have argued that teaching English for a native speaker requires little more than a solid knowledge of one's native language and has little impact on developing other profession skills, however I will try to make the case that while teaching English in Thailand or other foreign country might not be the normal path to climbing the corporate ladder, there are skills and abilities one can gain from teaching English that can be useful for individuals intending to eventually change careers.

Valued skills that can be acquired while teaching English

1. Presentation skills.

For experienced teachers, standing up in front of groups or people and attaining the audience's attention comes naturally. However, this skill is both valued by employers and relatively rare. Personal experience of watching and grading presentations of mid-level executives in MBA programs has impressed upon me the general lack of public speaking skills in most occupations. Since for the native speaker, one already has a pretty solid grasp on the topic being taught, most of the focus in teaching English is about presentation. For most experienced native English speaking teachers, one's focus in preparing and executing a lesson is primarily on the presentation of the material and this focus helps develop public speaking and presentation skills.

2. Language skills.

The ability to write and speak professionally is a valued skill. Teaching English requires a reflection on the use of language, including grammar. I remember one of my professors, a successful consultant, saying one of the reasons he liked to teach was it required him to think through and gain a deeper understanding of the topics he was teaching. He felt this helped him to continuously increase his own knowledge and understanding which he could use outside the classroom. This same principle could apply for English teachers as well. Preparing and delivering lessons on the English language can help individuals improve their understanding of the use of language and grammar. The ability to write and speak professionally is not as common as might be thought and having these abilities can be used throughout one's professional career whether one stays in teaching or not.

Also living and working abroad provides an excellent opportunity to learn and practice foreign languages.

3. Self-management skills

Most English teachers are given a lot of freedom to prepare and deliver lessons, yet teachers are still responsible for the results. The ability to produce quality results without direct supervision is a skill valued across industries and employers.

4. Cross-cultural work skills.

As any native English speaker who has worked in a Thai school knows, working with individuals from a different culture is quite different than working in one's home country. With some patience and a willingness to break free of one's comfort zone, teaching English in a foreign country provides an excellent opportunity to develop skills in working in a cross-environment. These skills may be especially important for individuals interesting in an "international" career.

It is not being suggested teaching English is the best preparation for careers in international business or other fields, but it is suggested teaching English does not have to be "wasted time" for those intending to move on from English teaching eventually. The transferable skills one can gain from teaching English are some of the same skills that make one a good teacher.

So spending a little extra effort in developing presentation, language, self management and cross cultural work skills while working teaching English in Thailand or another country can pay dividends whether one decides to stay in the education profession or move on to other professional pursuits.

Scott Hipsher is the author of
Expatriates in Asia: Breaking Free from the Colonial Paradigm,

The Nature of Asian Firms: An Evolutionary Perspective,

Business Practices in Southeast Asia: An interdisciplinary analysis of Theravada Buddhist countries

as well as numerous book chapter, academic journal articles, conference papers and other articles on international business and other topics.

The author has also written about entrepreneurship in the book, Contemporary Microenterprise: Concepts and cases publish by Edward Elgar 



Good luck with the job hunt, it can be tough.

I have found I have used some of the skills I developed as an English teacher in a variety of occupations, however it can be difficult to convince employers of the value of the skills and experience during the hiring process.

By Scott, Bangkok (nice to be back at home) (3rd July 2011)

Great, great, great article! I just arrived back in the U.S. after teaching for two years in Korea and working for a business in Bangkok. Prior to that, I tutored foreign professionals attending my university. The reason I left Korea was that I could not find a position with a business either as a teacher or a non-teacher (VERY strict visa laws in that country).

Being part of the huge unemployed community has been tough, especially since I am still considered "entry-level" because my teaching experience is difficult to transfer over.

One aspect that I would like to add is a teacher's value in a training aspect. You will see some articles online arguing that there is a huge difference, but honestly there really isn't much you can wave a stick at. So in short, I am trying to use my experience in teaching to find a training position. In addition, if you look at the job requirements for an instructional design position, you might find that the experience you have in designing classes fits right on top of that.

Use those "language skills" to find a communications position if you are a halfway decent writer! It is embarrassing how terrible some professionals are at writing. I have seen tons of these types of positions posted online.

As a final note, on top of what feels like useless teaching experience, I am a history major. Recently I found a website that specializes in government positions (including ones that you can just send a resume and cover letter to instead of monotonous online forms!) and oddly enough, I am a good match for them. Check out foreign embassies in your country for jobs!

Thanks again for writing this and helping me salvage a bit more of my dignity.

By Brian, Houston, TX, USA (2nd July 2011)

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