Big Cities Have the Opportunities
This one is pretty straightforward, but important to understand if you have dreams of teaching in a remote jungle village. Those opportunities do exist, yet they’re not as common nor are they openly advertised. The easiest places to find teaching positions are in Vietnam’s large urban centers. This means Ho Chi Minh in the south and Hanoi in the north. Most westerners find roles in large language centers like VUS, Apollo, or ILA; however, some work in public schools or international schools as well.
In Vietnam, no schedule is set in stone. This means that classes can be cancelled or postponed with little notice. If you’ve been hired or if you hope to be, the best thing to do is be open. Tell your manager that you can teach any day of the week and always be willing to sub when someone calls out. This will help you gain respect and trust from those you work with and get you more teaching hours in the future.
Be Kind to the Office Staff
Similar to the last point, it’s key to create positive relationships with the office staff wherever you go; however, relationship building is particularly important at large urban language centers. These are the people in charge of scheduling, getting you books, and making sure everything works for the teachers. If you’ve established positive relationships with this group of people, everything will be easier for you, and in general, kindness is an important trait.
Prepare for the Heat and Rain
In most parts of Vietnam, it’s either brutally hot or pouring rain. As a teacher, you need to be prepared for both. This means arriving at school with a change of clothes, making sure you always have rain gear in your bike, and ensuring you look professional when the weather won’t cooperate. In the dry season, it’s impossible not to be soaked in sweat after being outdoors for even a short period of time. In the wet season, there’s no dodging the downpour. You need to be prepared for both.
Understand the Schedule
If you’re teaching at a public school or landed a high-paying job at an international school, then you’ll have a traditional schedule, much like any job back home. However, if you’ve found a job at a language center as most expats do, then your schedule will be much, much different. Expect to be at school all day on the weekends. Usually this means more than 15 teaching hours on those two days alone. During the week, you’ll be teaching anywhere from 2–5 nights from 6–9pm, give or take a half an hour. This means you’ll have lots of free time during the day and that leads us to our next point.
Think About a Second Job
The lifestyle of a teacher is relaxing at first. Teach in the evenings and sleep late; however, this gets old quickly. With so much time, many teachers find additional work during the day. This is a great way to supplement your income and in Saigon or Hanoi, there are loads of jobs for expats. For those who want to use teaching as a jumping off point to something else, this is the best way to do it.
Life’s Easier With a Bike
And more fun! While riding a motorbike in Vietnam may seem daunting at first, it is without a doubt one of the best things you can do. Not only will you quickly realize that it’s not nearly as scary as it seems, you’ll also find that it provides a sense of freedom that would otherwise be unattainable. If you’re teaching farther than two blocks from your house, it will just make things easier. The easier things are, the happier you’ll be.
Don’t Assume Everyone Will be on Time
In fact, assume most won’t be on time. OK, that’s not exactly true. When teaching kids on the weekends, most parents will make sure they show up before class begins; however, during the week when you’ll be teaching teens or adults, it’s not uncommon for students to show up 20, 30, or 40 minutes late. It’s important to remember that these are kids coming from a full day of school or adults coming from work. And that leads us to our next point.
It can be hard. The sooner you understand that patience is key, the sooner you’ll be happy. Vietnamese is not an easy language for us to learn and that means English is not an easy language for the Vietnamese to learn. The languages couldn’t be farther apart. Certain concepts that may seem easy to us may be incredibly difficult for students learning English to master and that’s OK. It’s important to be patient and accept that it may take some time for your students to learn pronunciation and grammar.
Know Your Value
If you’re teaching at any public school or language center, you should expect to be paid around $20 per hour. Don’t settle for $15, and walk away if someone offers $10. English is a valuable tool and that means that any native English speaker has value. If you’re teaching at an international school, you may make up to $4,000 a month. Those who choose to tutor can set their own rate, but anywhere from $25–$40 is reasonable.
After all, it’s the main reason you’ve moved to the other side of the world. Vietnam is a spectacular country and the people are overwhelmingly kind and helpful. It can be daunting at times and there will certainly be moments when you say to yourself, “What am I doing?” Just relax and take comfort in the fact that at the very least, you’re doing something interesting.