Jun 13, 2010

No Experience Necessary!

  Internet confession: I shamelessly apply for teaching jobs way out of my reach.

       Five years experience required? How about my three-and-a-bit years?

       Masters of Education required? Would you take a BA in English and a TESL Canada certificate?

       Why line myself up for rejection? Call me a sucker for a long shot. I assume that schools who can afford to be picky in their hiring must be the career honeypot; the professional, lucrative, run-like-a-Swiss-watch institutes where teachers dream of working. Sure they can set high standards. They’re worth it! 

So I scroll through the company's websites, picturing myself in a pristine classroom. Those polite and attentive students? They're hanging onto my every word. I picture myself strolling out of the school's grand foyer at the end of the day, feeling tired and accomplished. "Thank you for the lesson, Miss Anne!" the students call after me. They're off to a cafe to talk about how great I am. 

Daydreams aside, I imagine that a school with high standards for their employees attracts the highest standard of student, uses the highest standard of classroom resources, and offer the highest standard of contractual bang-for-buck. They're choosy because they can be. Everyone wants to work there.

       But what about the flip side of the coin? What about the schools with “no experience necessary” in caps on their Dave’s ads? 

Well, I have always assumed that these schools are, um, desperate. Not an anything-that-moves desperate, more of a realistic, I’m-no-ten-on-ten-myself kind of desperate. The school might be on a remote hill far from a town, accessible only by yak. It might be a small, new company that can’t yet offer slick extras in your contract. The school might be a poorly-run affair, the staff turnover is constant, and beggars can’t be choosers.

       These were always my assumptions. Not now.

       Nowadays, I'm starting to wonder if experience can work against you. 

Take a school with a very specific method of teaching (*cough* Berlitz... *cough cough* Callan method). The bosses want this method and only this method in their classrooms. You know a dynamite lesson on the future simple tense? You've created lesson plans at your last job? That's cool in your scrapbook, but at this school, the lessons are scripted for you, airtight. I can imagine it from the employers' point of view. Is it easier to teach your specific style to a newbie teacher with a blank slate of reference, or to a veteran who is already comfortable in his/her own personal method? Score one for the rookies, they're probably more malleable.

       To be a little negative now, let’s take a shadier situation. Imagine a school where the pay comes in late each month, teacher schedules are comprised entirely of split shifts, and sick days are just unheard of. A green teacher might walk into the job thinking that heck, at least it’s field experience, surely no job is perfect. A teacher with a few years under his/her belt might take this all in and say nope, language schools shouldn’t run this way, then draft a new system of operations before the first coffee break is over. Egad, you’ve got a union rabbler on your hands! Two points for the rookies, though this work situation isn't really that attractive to any applicant.

Alright, back to the decent examples. Let's say an employer wants to hire a teacher, and though the contract is only 12 months, they really want someone who will stay for several years. Understandable, right? The visa sponsorship is a pain, training is a pain, hand-holding a culture-shocked foreigner is a pain. 

An applicant may come to you with a great teaching resume. Eight years of work under the belt! Experience at all levels! This person has taught in six countries, they must be adaptable, open-minded, attune to cultural sensitivities, right? Well, yes. Will they do a good job? Oh yes, it looks that way. Will you have to go through the training/visa/hand-holding song and dance with a new teacher in a year's time? Probably. This nomadic teacher, while stacked with experience, isn't likely to stay. 

An applicant who has never lived abroad or taught ESL may hate the experience and bail on the contract. But if the employer shows this person a good time, they just might get so captivated in the country, they'll stay for years. Heck, they may marry a local grad student and stay forever! From the employer's point of view, it's a gamble either way.

So to the new and prospective teachers out there, chin up. Those "no experience necessary" jobs may be just fine, especially with larger companies where extensive training will get you prepared anyway. 

For the old dogs like me, well, chin up too. Those "five years experience" jobs may be within our grasp yet. When we land them, oh I assume it'll be just like my daydreams; the grand foyer and pristine whiteboard at the end of the rainbow.


  1. Heh, I actually landed my job as a tech writer right out of university with no experience, even though the job advertisement asked for 5 years. I really had nothing to lose, so I gave it a shot, and they liked me! Never hurts to try, right?

  2. Wow, go Candice go! You must be one heck of an interviewee...