Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past four months, you will certainly be aware that the world is in the middle of a strange situation. We are currently experiencing a pandemic that has swept the globe and brought chaos to the lives of billions.

If you are reading this, you probably have some interest in either ESL or IELTS, and you might be wondering quite reasonable things like:

  • How will Covid-19 affect the ESL industry?
  • Can I become an IELTS teacher after Covid-19?
  • Is this a good time to get into online ESL teaching?

In this article, I want to take you through some of the ins and outs of this ridiculous global problem and how it will shape ESL and IELTS in the years that follow.

Can I still be an ESL teacher?

So, first of all, let’s answer the big, obvious question. Yes, you can still be an ESL teacher… but things are going to be different from now on.

Teaching in South Korea
Back when I was called “David Teacher”

Over the past few decades, the world of ESL has grown and changed immeasurably. It is now a pretty normal thing for a young graduate from a Western country to go and live in somewhere like South Korea for a year, teaching English as a second language to kindergarteners. Not that long ago, this was a totally crazy idea!

In the Covid-19 era, obviously all international travel and much education has been stopped. There is simply no way of traveling from the UK or US to Korea at the moment, and if you did you would spend a long time in quarantine rather than be ushered into a classroom.

Down the line, however, it is possible that things will return to normal. It could be that these countries will welcome foreign teachers back with open arms and high salaries. But there are a few issues:

  • Job opportunities become rarer in a weakened economy
  • People easily blame outsiders during times of crisis
  • The switch to online lessons may prove permanent
  • Lots of unemployed people are thinking the same as you

All of those are fairly valid points. Looking forward, no one honestly knows what is going to happen, but with millions of newly unemployed people searching for jobs in the midst of an economic crisis, it is not going to be easy.

When first moved to South Korea to teach ESL, I was offered a job just a few hours after applying and all I had done was a brief Skype interview. It was the easiest job I ever got! Things have changed since then and I suspect they will continue to do so.

It’s all online now, right?

I love teaching but even more than that, I love traveling to foreign countries and living there. I’ve lived in South Korea, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Cambodia, and more. In some of these places, I lived and worked as an ESL teacher. It was a great opportunity because it provided me with a job, money, and a visa. I could explore the country, learn the language, and not have to worry about “going home” to my own country.

Of course, ESL teaching began moving online around 2015 and now with the Covid-19 problem we are facing an even greater shift into the digital realm. All across Asia, people were turning to DaDaABC, PalFish, and other companies offering similar services. These hooked parents up with “teachers” from English-speaking countries. The result was a squeeze on the people who had actually moved to China and Korea because suddenly there was an army of eager teachers willing to work for less. Better yet, they didn’t need plane tickets and visas, and they didn’t have to walk through the minefield of cultural and linguistic issues that come with moving to another part of the world.

At the moment, most English classes are taking place in the digital world. Tens of thousands of people have flocked to this without much choice. If you were some twenty-one-year-old in London and you lost your job, why not start teaching online from home? It’s a very easy way to make bank.

Alas, this eats into the livelihoods of the people who taught English for years before Wuhan’s wet markets began cranking out viruses. Now we have competition and it is going to get ugly. Prices will drop, finding new customers will become harder, and quality will probably suffer across the board.

But this is not the end of real, in-person teaching. Whether the coronavirus bugs us for another two months or two years, eventually we will transition back into something resembling the old ways. There will always be a place for real teachers in real classrooms.

Is this a good time to get into ESL teaching?

Honestly, it’s not the best time because – as I have said already – the ESL market is grossly saturated at the moment. Teaching English has suddenly become the “easy” thing to do for thousands of struggling people with lots of time and no money.

However, this is not necessarily a bad time to start. Sure, it is very competitive at the moment, but there are also millions of learners all over the world looking for a teacher. In other words, there are loads of opportunities. Maybe now is a good time to jump in.

If you do want to start teaching online, you might find this guide useful. It will discuss some of the best companies to use and some places to find resources.

If you are really interested in online English teaching, you can jump in now and hopefully when the crisis is over and people go back to work, you will be in a good position. If you want to go to another country and teach, you might find that this online work is a gentle introduction to the world of classroom management. Once the crisis is finished, you can find a job, hop on a plane, and zoom off to the other side of the world.

How to Prepare for the Future of ESL

No one really knows what the future holds and anyone who tries to tell you they do is either a liar, a conman, or delusional.

Still, you need to make an educated case and prepare accordingly. These are difficult times and it is easy to curl up in front of Netflix for a few months, but perhaps it is better to arm yourself with the skills needed to survive the new world that stands before us.

If you really are interested in becoming an ESL teacher, you should spend this lockdown period doing online courses. Perhaps you can try this online teaching course. It’s totally free and was created by Cambridge. There are countless others at FutureLearn and similar sites. The world is your oyster!

For people who want to teach IELTS, they can spend a few weeks learning about the exam, perhaps taking some practice tests, and then look into the skills needed to teach. There are also loads of resources and lessons on this website. Just take a look around.

View this period of lockdown as a rare opportunity. You have no excuse not to spend time bettering yourself!