Teaching Without a Safety Net: Guest Post by John Kenmuir

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Teaching ESL Abroad: What Happens After?

Hey there everyone, it’s Jackie here. After teaching in South Korea for 10 years, I left, and went back to my home country, Canada in February 2016. I was pretty worried about the whole thing. 10 years in a foreign country is a long time, and I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do for work. I was also planning to not return to my hometown, but to make a new start in another place.

In order to help alleviate some fears, I did a bunch of research and wrote a book about the process. I interviewed teachers who’d made the transition before me, and gleaned all of their wisdom. The result is the book, Life After ESL: Foreign Teachers Returning HomeThe previous link will take you to Amazon.

I also like to feature in-depth stories of teachers such as this one. I really appreciate his focus on what happens as an ESL teacher abroad when you get a bit older. From my experience in Korea, I found that teachers older than 55 or 60 had a particularly hard time finding good jobs. It is a factor that should be on your radar if you’re planning on teaching for a decade or two, or just getting into it as a second career.

Want to share your story too? Get in touch! Now, onwards to the guest post. Thanks John for sharing it with us.

John Kenmuir: Teaching Without a Safety Net

One of the first things that new or younger teachers need to be aware of is that, as you get older, it gets harder to find teaching jobs. Many of my colleagues who are 60+ have told me that it is very difficult to find work; some have taken “volunteer” positions where the school provides accommodation and an “under-the-table” stipend to cover living costs. Forget about being reimbursed for airfare or having health insurance provided for you; you’re on your own for those.

That’s why it’s so important to have a back up plan, especially for those who transition into another career at a later age. I originally began teaching partly because I love helping people but also because my real goal was to be a writer. Just not a starving writer, working at Starbucks or living hand to mouth. That was before I realized, too late, that teaching will consume your life and not leave time for anything else. This was actually a benefit for me, because I always knew I wanted to write but didn’t have anything I felt passionate about or much life experience to share.

Advance Preparations Necessary

I’m 55 now, and the job offers are starting to thin out, in spite of my teaching experience. Teaching has offered me a lot of opportunities, starting with ESL/EFL and then expanding my skill set into academic subjects and other part-time, teaching related jobs.

My first suggestion is to give yourself 3 to 5 years advance warning if you decide to transfer out of the teaching industry. Unless you are very well off or semi-rich, you will need this time to set things in motion. It’s not enough to decide what you would like to do, you will need time to research your new career, network and make contacts, and so on.

You might even want to think about trying to pick up part-time or volunteer work in your next career, while you are still gainfully employed.

Teaching Leads to Other Opportunities

One of the things I have loved most about teaching is the opportunities I’ve had to learn new things, acquire new skills and so forth. I also love to talk about teaching and often involve myself with education forums on sites like Linked In. This has aided my transition into freelance writing but it hasn’t yet provided me with an actual income.

I’m not worried, though, as it is helping me to network and make contacts, and providing me with a portfolio I can use when sending out queries. My teaching experience has led me to writing my first book, “Surviving IELTS Speaking”, which will be published soon on Amazon.com. This is going to look very good in my portfolio.

Going Back Home-Not Always Easy

Other teachers who are leaving the field will also tell you how difficult it is to re-assimilate to your home country. Since 1995, I have spent 17 of the last 22 years living abroad; returning home to Canada during my summer vacations was hard enough, but I realized even before I began teaching that I have a travel bug.

Even at 55, it’s not going away, so I have moved for now to Mexico in search of a potential retirement destination. Retirement meaning that I’m not working 60 hour weeks; I love my work, both teaching and writing, and will probably never stop until I plop face first into my laptop and stop breathing.

There is no clear answer to moving/not moving back home. If you have been honest with yourself during your travels, you will know what you need and where you need to be.

About John Kenmuir

John Kenmuir

Since beginning in 1989 as a volunteer, John Kenmuir has taught EFL in Canada, South Korea, China and Saudi Arabia. He has worked as an IELTS Speaking examiner and is the author book “Surviving IELTS Speaking“.

He currently resides in the Yucatan province of Mexico, where he is planning to write more books about education, his travel experiences and the local grackles (Mexican crows), whom he is pretty sure are mocking him.



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