by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & "I & lt;/span & 've sold my house, paid off all my bills and I'm getting ready to embrace the experience," says 25-year-old Spokane resident Rob Wall, who has just accepted a six-month teaching assignment in Chengdu, a city of more than 10 million people in central China.
"It's at a big school. I'll be teaching at the junior high level," he reports. "I'll be paid well, about $500 to $600 a month. I'll get free room and board plus health coverage. After my six months, I could decide to stay, or I might travel around or teach in another city."
Wall has joined thousands of other Americans in fulfilling the fantasy of leaving established careers to go out and see the world. By teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) classes overseas, they can travel on someone else's dime (in many cases, anyway) and sample a new career. "It's also a great experience for K-12 teachers looking to get their ESL endorsement and earn more money," says Amber McKenzie, the program coordinator at Gonzaga University's English Language Center.
In Wall's case, the change comes at the perfect time. He was recently divorced and looking to do something new after leaving the Marine Corps, where, he says, "I spent two years overseas and visited about 20 nations." So he put out feelers to foreign schools that were looking for English teachers. He was particularly interested in China.
"I was somewhat picky," he says. "I'd been learning Chinese for the last two years and I'd gone to China before."
Wall got the job he wanted. He'll start in late August. Today he's back in China, doing a three-week stint at a summer camp for orphans, run by the father of a friend. He'll return to Spokane on Aug. 11, long enough to wash his clothes and pack his belongings for his move to Chengdu.
How do you land a teaching gig overseas? You don't need to be a teacher or have a teaching certificate, or for that matter, any formal education about education. Rob Wall isn't a certified teacher. But knowing last summer that this was something he wanted to pursue, he attended Gonzaga University's annual three-week TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Summer Institute, which runs through July 27. "Every day we had four hours of classroom experience in the morning and four hours of practical, hands-on experience in the afternoon," says Wall. TESOL students help Spokane schoolteachers and Gonzaga grad students teach English to children at the university's on-campus summer language camp. At the end of the course, Wall received a certificate.
"I tell teachers that having that TESOL certificate will help you find a more reputable school but still doesn't guarantee anything," says McKenzie.
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & ne recent day, the husband-and-wife team of James Hunter and Bridget Green offered a crash course in ESL teaching to about 20 adult students at Gonzaga's Rosauer Center for Education. After they had finished a presentation about creating lesson plans, the pair used their last few minutes to talk about their students' experiences in language camp the previous day.
"How many people are having a hard time with the level of chaos?" asked Hunter.
"There is no chaos," said one participant. "That concerns me. The kids sat with little to do for long periods of time. And they just trickled in that first day. It's like the teachers didn't want to start the class on time."
"Can I recommend chocolate?" replied Green to the laughter of her students. "No, really. Tell them you'll reward those who come on time with chocolate. You'd be surprised how many people start coming in early."
Green and Hunter are veteran teachers whom you might consider the drill sergeants of this ESL boot camp. "Four weeks is just not enough for someone to become an effective teacher," says Hunter, but they provide as much instruction as they can. "Having some kind of teacher training, and a certificate to back it up, will open a few more doors and help to make their experience more positive," adds Green. "At least they'll know what to do in the classroom."
Hunter and Green have their students stand in front of a group and teach a lesson. "It gives them, and us, some indication of what they know and how much they still need to learn," says Hunter.
Some of the students here have already experienced working with students for whom English is a second language. Ruth Hawley teaches ESL in Coeur d'Alene, "but I don't have the paper to show it," she says. The trend in the U.S. seems to be moving toward requiring ESL teachers to get some sort of certification to continue teaching. That has Hawley thinking of applying her craft elsewhere. "I've done some teaching informally overseas," she says, and admits that she and her husband have thought about leaving the country again.
Peiju Wu, who goes by the name Jade, is one of several foreign students in this class who hope to take what they learn here and start new teaching careers in their home countries. Jade was born in Taiwan, but moved to Thailand. Until recently she managed private businesses in her adopted country. Then she reached a transition point in her life. She changed her spiritual beliefs, changed her profession and decided to chase her dream of becoming a teacher. She came to the United States and enrolled in Gonzaga's graduate-level ESL program. "My only experience is teaching Sunday school in church," Jade says. "Since I converted to Christianity, I've been intrigued about putting teaching and ministry together, so I'll try my best at this. It's teaching the Lord's lambs."
In the language camp session that afternoon, Jade helped children find or make name tags, and she informally adopted a little African girl during lessons about the solar system, walking with her as the kids learned what it was like to be a planet orbiting the sun.
"I love working with little children," said Jade. "I find myself learning right along with them."
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & B & lt;/span & efore joining Gonzaga's English Language Center, Amber McKenzie taught in Brazil. Friday, on the final day of the Summer Institute, she'll present "ESL in a Backpack," a buyer-beware workshop about a rapidly growing industry.
"There are a million jobs out there, so weeding through all the options can be difficult," says McKenzie.
At www.eslemployment.com, for example, you can pick and choose from opportunities all over the world: "Full-time, tenure-track positions available at a small university in southern Mexico." "Native English tutor wanted" in Hong Kong, "hourly rate: $180-250, negotiable." "The Lingua Franca School of English in Riga, Latvia is looking for full-time and part-time English teachers for the 2007-08 academic year."
"Many of these are 'McESL' jobs that you wouldn't want to touch with a 10-foot pole," warns Bridget Green. "There is a franchise in Japan called Nova that may or may not pay teachers each month," among other transgressions. "You can Google 'I hate Nova' for a representative sample of opinions," she says.
"I recommend that once a teacher finds a language school that looks promising," counsels McKenzie, "they should ask for references from former teachers -- or ask for e-mail addresses of current teachers so they can contact them directly."
With the number of applicants for ESL jobs increasing, employers are also becoming more savvy, particularly foreign companies that operate schools in the States. Green says the demand for those jobs is high, with many teachers who worked overseas coming back to the U.S. to settle down. "This is a trend which has been growing more noticeable over the last 20 years," she says, "with generally positive effects on the professionalism of the field."
"Unqualified ESL teachers are potentially a menace to our field," says GU Professor Mary Jeannot, who directs the university's graduate-level program. "They find the job is much more difficult than they imagined and then quit the profession."
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & E & lt;/span & ven though he doesn't have a certificate to teach in his home state, Rob Wall thinks his short stint at the Summer Institute, combined with two years of volunteer work with ESL students at Gonzaga and two years of Chinese language courses, have prepared him for his new job in Chengdu. Still, he admits to some anxiety. "I'm nervous and excited to start. I don't want to let anyone down," he says.