Getting started as an ESL teacher…
It has probably taken months of painstaking research on your part, but I’m genuinely delighted that Ho Chi Minh City, one of my personal top-three teaching destinations in Southeast Asia, has made your list of ‘definite possibles’. Teaching English abroad is a privilege, regardless of the location, but teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, affords a personal and professional experience like none other. I love the place – and the people. In this blog post, I will touch on employment options & related conditions and where teaching jobs are advertised.
Teaching opportunities in Ho Chi Minh City largely come in six forms (in order of job volume):
- English Language Centres (privately owned)
- Government schools
- International schools
- Company classes
- Tertiary institutions, and
- Private tutoring
Anecdotally, around 90% of people who are new to teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City find their first job at a privately-owned English Language Centre or a government school. Language Centres account for around 60% (of the 90%) of total placements. You will find Language Centres the length and breadth of Vietnam. Teaching jobs in government schools are mostly filled by Language Centres that are contracted to recruit qualified people. Independent recruiters also work in this space, but from first-hand experience, they tend to be quite mercenary. While the net income and the number of hours on offer in Language Centres and government schools are similar (around US $1,700.00 +/- a month x 100 hours +/-), the work conditions can differ markedly.
Here’s some feedback from AVSE-TESOL alumni on Language Centres and government schools:
- Teaching hours in a Language Centre are primarily in the evening and over the weekend, whereas hours in a government school are exclusively during the day, Monday to Friday.
- Class sizes tend to be substantially smaller at a Language Centre (15 +/-) than a government school, with 40+ students being commonplace.
- Language Centres offer a team environment (in most cases) where people take a genuine interest in how each other is doing. In contrast, teaching in a government school typically involves doing your hours and going home with minimal interaction with other foreign teachers and local staff.
- While problematic student behaviour rears its head on occasions in both Language Centres and government schools, it seems less prevalent in Language Centres.
- Employment conditions in a Language Centre seem to be less stringent than in a government school. There is a ‘flipside’. Language Centres are notorious for expecting foreign teachers to do unpaid, extracurricular work of one type or another.
- Support services and teaching resources are more readily available in a Language Centre than in a government school.
English teaching jobs at international schools, companies and tertiary institutions (universities and colleges) in Ho Chi Minh City tend to be the domain of folks who are skilled at networking and have been ‘in the loop’ for an extended period. Having said this, there’s no harm in putting yourself out there. You might be lucky! If you do secure a teaching job at an international school, a company, or a tertiary institution in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll be in the ‘premier league’. You can expect a higher hourly rate and, in most cases, substantially better work conditions. Typically, international schools and tertiary institutions pay a monthly salary of well over US $2,000.00 for ‘office-type’ hours. Company classes pay around US $60.00 for a 1.5-hour class. You’d need to get a few companies on board to make a living from company classes only. It’s possible, but a daily commute from Class A to B to C to get the hours you need will require unwavering determination given the oppressive year-round heat, the daily monsoonal downpour during the wet season – and 24/7 traffic congestion.
Private tutoring opportunities in Ho Chi Minh City are readily available, but almost certainly, you’ll need to see two, three or more students at the same time to make it worth your while. Personally, I’ve never gravitated towards private tutoring. Why? Finding private students can be hard work; cancellations at the last minute (without payment) are not uncommon, and the buzz for me just isn’t the same. You may have a different view of the world. It’s certainly worth trying your hand.
Where are teaching jobs advertised?
Teaching jobs in Ho Chi Minh City are advertised in many places, but ‘Facebook Groups’ are clearly the most popular. Simply go to the Facebook search option, type in ‘Teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City’, click on the ‘Groups’ option, and 50+ relevant Facebook Groups will show up on your screen. Join the groups that appeal to you and sit back and watch the job vacancies roll in. Here’s a selection of my favourite Facebook Groups for teaching opportunities.
English Teaching Jobs in Vietnam (the Original): https://www.facebook.com/groups/EnglishTeachingJobsinVietnam
Teaching Jobs in Vietnam: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1828798347369101
English Teaching jobs in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon): https://www.facebook.com/groups/1964561920431816
Employers in Ho Chi Minh City, Language Centres and the like, have a preference for engaging teachers who are ‘on the ground’. While there’s no harm in reaching out to employers before you arrive in Ho Chi Minh City, don’t be disheartened if a response (or an interview) is not forthcoming. Assuming your credentials stack up, including quality TESOL / TEFL certification, employment applications you submit after you arrive in town will result in more job offers for teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City than you could have imagined.
In this blog post, I’ve touched on issues related to teaching English at Language Centres and government schools in Ho Chi Minh City. I’ve also noted that there are teaching jobs available in Ho Chi Minh City at international schools, companies and tertiary institutions, but you’ll need a bit of luck on your side. As a new person to teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, joining relevant Facebook Groups, and closely monitoring what’s posted is arguably the best way to find that all-important first teaching job. Certainly, that’s the message that I hear from newbies to the teaching profession. Importantly, don’t be disheartened if job applications you submit from abroad don’t even result in a ‘common courtesy’ response. The number of positive responses you’ll receive once you’re physically on the ground in Ho Chi Minh City will more than adequately make up for earlier disappointment.
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director and owner of AVSE-TESOL in Vietnam and Cambodia. AVSE-TESOL delivers an Australian Government accredited TESOL training programme in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Phnom Penh and Online for prospective English language teachers. Check out the AVSE website: www.avse.edu.vn Feel free to contact Peter directly with questions about teaching English in Vietnam or elsewhere in Southeast Asia; he’d be pleased to help. Here is Peter’s email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ho Chi Minh City – local people & opportunities…
Let’s wind back the clock to June 2006. We’re seated in a quaint coffee shop. It’s located in a cobblestone laneway off Flinders Street in Melbourne. We’re enjoying a lovely brew on a cold afternoon in the middle of winter. Small talk (and Australian Rules Football) is our thing. For some reason, you ask me: “where will you be in 2021?” I can assure you that the words “teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City” would not have passed my lips.
In a few months from now, I will have clocked up 15 years living and working in Southeast Asia, with Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam as my base. Gosh, where has the time gone? How many other foreigners have I seen come and go? Many, but I’m still here for some reason. Digger from Port Macquarie in New South Wales was a terrific mate for the first 10 years, and then he called it quits. I had many laughs – and far too much amber nectar – with Chalky over four or five years in Ho Chi Minh City, then Hanoi, and the grand ‘finale’ in Phnom Penh in November 2019. Old Johnno has been holed up in Phnom Penh for 15 months due to the border restrictions. There were seven Ho Chi Minh City ‘long haulers’ in my immediate circle of mates in January 2020. They’ve all gone, but that’s okay. I see Ho Chi Minh City as my home. I see the school community as ‘extended family’.
So, what’s my fascination with teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City? Am I just an odd bloke who likes things that others detest? I’m referring to lesson plans; the occasional naughty student; working five evenings a week and most weekends; a harsh climate; poor infrastructure; high-density housing; rivers that you can smell a kilometre away; peculiar food items – although, ‘curried goat brain’ comes highly recommended – and infestations of rats, cockroaches and geckos like you won’t see anywhere else on planet earth. It’s not uncommon in Ho Chi Minh City to see a rat that’s the size of a monkey or a cockroach that would be more comfortable in a shoebox than a matchbox. I’m not a fan of rats and cockroaches, but to be completely honest, I could watch geckos strutting their stuff on the ceiling of my bedroom for hours. While I find geckos to be funny little fellows, allow me to share a personal gecko secret. I never wore underwear to bed until that balmy evening in Ho Chi Minh City 14 years ago when I first saw a gecko on my bedroom wall. Underwear at night has been compulsory attire ever since. I figure it’s best to be careful.
Over the past 3,000 years, there have been plenty of people like me who have ventured to Ho Chi Minh City from neighbouring and far-off lands. Whilst it’s comforting to know that I’m not ‘Robinson Crusoe’, I do make a point of occasionally reminding myself that I am a visitor here. It’s not my place to tell local people how to run their country or their life. History is full of stories about entire ‘armies’ that came to Vietnam with their superiority complexes, thought they owned the place and were eventually thrown out. While I love teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City and the ‘expat lifestyle’ that comes with my work, I won’t outstay my welcome.
When I first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City in September 2006, the local people and the opportunities captured my fascination and imagination. Why do I remain in Vietnam after all these years when there is a comfortable life on offer in my native Australia? The answer is straightforward; I remain entralled by the local people and the opportunities.
My personal experience with local people is that nowadays they’re genuinely happy with their ‘lot in life’ – despite the harsh climate, poor infrastructure, rats the size of monkeys and other things that most westerners would find intolerable. History tells us that it hasn’t always been like this. Hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese ‘boat people’ are testament that there was a period, not that long ago, when remaining in Vietnam wasn’t an appealing option. From the 1940s through to the mid 1970s, Vietnam was one of the most dangerious places on earth. It’s now one of the safest.
The cornerstone of Vietnamese society has not changed since the glorious Vietnamese hero, King Hung 1, was a lad. It was the family in King Hung’s day, and it’s the family now. In stark contrast, I’m a living example of how western culture has shifted ground to its detriment. If you get fed up with your family in Australia, the UK and elsewhere, no problem, just get a new one. In Melbourne, I always saw myself as a ‘lovely white-picket fence’ kind of chap with family and community as the foundation of a healthy society. I lost the argument in Australia, but time spent in Vietnam has rekindled my faith. Interestingly, the commitment that most Vietnamese people have to their family, in part at least, fuels the demand for foreigners with the qualifications, skills and knowledge to teach English in Ho Chi Minh City and other cities and towns across the nation. How? Vietnamese parents want their kids to have more opportunities than they did, and English skills are pivotal to achieving this goal. There’s an insatiable demand for English language skills. This directly translates into teaching jobs in Vietnam (and Cambodia) for people like me.
When I first arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, I was AUD $7,500 in debt and 44 years of age. The debt thing is a long story. It’s enough to say that the ‘lovely white picket fence’ was turned into kindling on more than one occasion. Despite previously holding relatively high, elected office and leading the lifestyle that comes with it, I arrived in Vietnam with the ‘backside out of my pants’. In political life, there’s one ‘greasy pole’ with a hoard of smart, ambitious people clamouring to get to the top. Teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City was my saving grace.
There’s no doubt that time spent teachering in Ho Chi Minh City has been a terrific healer. I’ve been afforded opportunities that wouldn’t have been available in my homeland. Vietnam essentially gave me the chance to ‘reinvent myself’ for the better. People who know who I am and where I come from might even say that Vietnam has allowed me to ‘find myself’. I’ve relished the opportunity to create things. Despite working at the epicentre of power in Australia for several years, I never had the opportunity or gumption to create anything. Creating new things makes the world a better place, and it does marvels for your self-esteem.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not ‘dirty’ on Australia at all, and I have long since forgiven myself (and others) for the difficulties that occurred before I arrived in Vietnam. I love the company of fellow Australians – Digger, Chalky and even old Johnno (on a good day) – and I pine for time with my elderly parents and family members in Australia. I miss live Aussie Rules Football, expressing opinions on political, and social issues and there’s not much that I wouldn’t do for a paper bag, full to the brim with Aussie ‘dim sims’, fried or steamed, I’m not fussy.
Yep, teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City has been good to me. I’m grateful.
About the writer: Peter Goudge is the Managing Director (and owner) of AVSE-TESOL in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh and Online. AVSE-TESOL is the largest provider of TESOL training programmes (Australian Government accredited) for aspiring English language teachers in Vietnam and Cambodia. You can contact Peter directly via email: email@example.com
Ho Chi Minh City – brilliant place for a ‘Gap Year’…
Australian Vocational Skills and Education (AVSE-TESOL) is seeking adventurous folks, 21 years of age (plus), with no upper age limit, who are keen on pursuing a ‘Gap Year’ opportunity teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
What is a ‘gap year’?
In a traditional sense, a gap year is 12-months, before or after tertiary studies, where people do something different to what they’ve been doing – or plan to do in the future. While a gap year comes in all ‘shapes and sizes’, there is one common denominator – ‘me time’. Often referred to as a ‘sabbatical year’, a gap year is about experiencing something new at a particular stage in your life because it feels right. Perhaps you’ve just completed high school, but college or university isn’t on your agenda at the moment. You might be a corporate high-flyer, who is looking for an extended break from the hustle and bustle. You might be a parent who wants to devote more time to your children when they need you most. You might be a retired person who wants to experience life outside your comfort zone. Anybody can take a gap year.
At AVSE-TESOL, we use the expression ‘gap year’ loosely. Your ‘gap year’ might be a ‘gap three months’, a ‘gap six months’ or perhaps even a ‘gap who knows how long’. The decision is yours to make. We’re sufficiently flexible to facilitate paid teaching work in Ho Chi Minh City for a period that meets your needs.
The first step with AVSE-TESOL’s ‘gap year’ initiative involves equipping yourself with the skills, knowledge and internationally recognised certification that’s needed for teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City. Conveniently, AVSE-TESOL offers an in-class, Australian Government accredited TESOL training programme over four weeks in Ho Chi Minh City. While TESOL training at AVSE-TESOL comes with a fee, you’ll be pleased to know that the cost for our ‘in-class’ course includes accommodation for the entirety of the four-week study programme. The price also covers a welcome dinner and drinks on the Saturday evening before the course starts, a bus tour of Ho Chi Minh City on Sunday, all materials and equipment – and the cornerstone of your ‘gap year’ experience, that all-important direct referral to a partner school. If you’re unable to commit to a four-week, in-class TESOL course in Ho Chi Minh City, you have the option of completing exactly the same TESOL programme at AVSE-TESOL via online study – before you arrive in Vietnam.
The second step with AVSE-TESOL’s ‘gap year’ initiative involves transitioning from the TESOL programme, in-class or online, to an English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching job in Ho Chi Minh City. Post TESOL training, some folks are determined to start teaching immediately. Others choose to spend a week or longer taking in the best of what Ho Chi Minh City (or elsewhere in Vietnam) has to offer before they start a paid teaching job. It’s personal choice; either is absolutely fine.
Teaching jobs in Ho Chi Minh City typically pay a salary of US $17.00 +/- (net) per hour. You can expect to teach 20 to 25 classroom hours a week. When you multiply the hourly rate by the number of hours worked, you will see that a monthly salary of US $1,400.00 +/- (net) is on offer. With the cost of living in Vietnam being much lower than in Australia, the US, Canada, the UK, South Africa and many other countries, you can realistically expect to save (after meeting all your living expenses) 40 to 50 percent of your salary without cutting corners. Frankly, I don’t know anybody in my native Australia who can save between US $500.00 to US $700.00 a month working full-time hours, let alone only working 20 to 25 hours a week.
If you’re looking for a ‘gap year’ experience, regardless of your age, background or the specific timeframe – three, six or twelve months, teaching English in Ho Chi Minh City is a great choice. AVSE-TESOL will be by your side every step of the way. True, the TESOL course at AVSE in Ho Chi Minh City involves some ‘heavy lifting’. You’d expect nothing less from a teacher training programme that’s accredited by the Australian Government. Once you’ve completed the TESOL course at AVSE-TESOL in Ho Chi Minh City, you’ll be working as an English language teacher in no time. You’ll be saving money while living the ‘gap year’ dream. Do it!
About the writer: Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Peter Goudge now calls Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam home. More than a decade ago, Peter Goudge set up the Australia-Vietnam School of English (AVSE). His business interests have grown to include Teacher Training Schools (AVSE-TESOL) in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh.If you’d like more information about teaching English abroad, feel free to reach out to Peter via email: firstname.lastname@example.org