Earning a master’s degree program in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) can open many doors to your future as an educator, but does all the hard work and student loan debt really pan out in our failing economy? This is the question that has been ringing in my mind as my last semester of graduate school begins. With such a tough job market that has proven tough for many graduates, the line between reality and our dreams can become easily blurred. Many students are now entering into master’s programs simply because they couldn’t find their desired job right out of undergrad. They are sucking their parents dry and taking on enormous student loan debts only to graduate and still be jobless because they have no valuable work experience.
There are always jobs out there for ESL teachers at many local language academies anywhere in the U.S. They usually pay between $18-$25 per hour and will offer 25-35 hours per week. Craigslist had a total of 4 job postings last week alone for ESL teachers at language academies in Downtown San Diego. These jobs will pay some of your bills and allow you to survive, but most of them offer no health insurance or benefits. In addition, most ESL teachers starting out in California are working at 2-3 different language academies because of the limited or varying hours. Working a split shift from 9 am to 1 pm and 4 pm to 9 pm is not unexpected for any local language school.
ESL teachers with a master’s degree have gone through intensive training as educators and will be able to apply for jobs at local universities and community colleges. However, they need plenty of experience first and so many young educators have to start out at language academies and then work their way up. Getting a salaried job at a local university right after receiving your master’s is not going to happen. Most teachers work a minimum of 1-8 years as part time adjuncts at several community colleges and language academies before they ever get offered a full time faculty position with benefits. This makes my road towards becoming a full time ESL professional in California extremely difficult.
My advice to anyone that wants to work full time as an ESL teacher in the university setting is to start teaching immediately at any school that will offer you a job. No matter how low the pay is, your experience as a teacher is invaluable. A master’s degree in our society means nothing anymore. Many universities such as Miramar Community College will offer part time Instructional Assistant (I.A.) positions that will allow you to work as a teachers aid for 5-12 hours a week. Working alongside a full time faculty member allows you to get to know the university and the university to get to know you. This is my second semester as an I.A. at Miramar. Faculty member and Department Chair, Sheryl Gobble stated “the position is like a semester long job interview.” This allows new teachers the opportunity to get their foot in the door for a part time adjunct position.
The problem with my generation is that they all believe they will get amazing salaried positions right out of college which is when they need to get their heads out of the sky and face the real world which is our lagging economy. Even worse, it’s easier to move abroad to Japan where an ESL teacher that holds a Master’s degree can make $50,000 with more than six weeks paid vacation and a housing allowance making those that wish to stay in California feel torn and invaluable. The best thing you can do to achieve any dream job in this market is to work; and by working that means even at Mc Donald’s or your neighborhood grocery store. There is an old fashion saying “it takes money to make money” and I believe it should read “it takes a job to get a job.”
So yes, in the long run getting a master’s in TESOL is worth all of the hard work and high tuition costs if you are committed towards working and establishing yourself as a teacher over several years before getting a salaried position here in California. After gaining more experience in language academies and international contexts dream jobs at UCSD and local community colleges will be someday be attainable.
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