When people conjure an image of themselves teaching English abroad, it probably involves a pint-sized audience of bright-eyed kids gleefully hokey-pokeying around the room. To most, English class is a series of coloring sessions, songs and nonstop hugs. However, small children aren’t the only ESL students!

The older, secondary school crowd often goes under-appreciated. The thought of facing down thirty or more angst-ridden, rowdy teenagers can be extremely intimidating but here’s a secret: high school students are wonderful.

They’re witty and fun, with attention spans long enough to conquer more complex assignments and hold real conversations. Older students often see the benefit of learning English and are thus more motivated to engage. And, believe it or not, they give out hugs too!

Photo credits: Jirka Matousek.

Popular Destinations

Popular destinations for teaching high school ESL include South Korea, China, Tanzania, Namibia, Japan, Spain and Georgia. Additionally, don’t forget about the need for ESL instruction at home! Consider teaching or tutoring immigrant populations in English-speaking countries as a volunteer or paid position.

For programs with support and structure, check out Fulbright English Teaching Assistants, Teach English in Korea, CIEE, WorldTeach and more!

Pros of Teaching High Schoolers:
  • You can teach more complex topics and language.While you may find yourself with a group of students who can barely utter “My name is,” it’s likely that high-school age students will have had English instruction before. They have also developed much more of their native language than younger students and so are capable of tackling more complex grammar and vocabulary.
  • Using pop culture, current events, debates, and good music in class is fun! No need to belt out “Old MacDonald” or learn how to draw Clifford the Big Red Dog on the whiteboard with high school students! Teenagers are, after all, practically real human beings, so they want REAL context for English class. Focus lessons on current events in their country or the world at large, discuss cultural differences and let them express their opinions further than favorite color or movie; they have more language available to them so you can ask why. Finally, regardless of age, music is an ESL teacher’s greatest resource. Teach grammar or vocabulary and introduce discussion topics through your favorite bands as well as globally beloved music like The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley and Whitney Houston.
  • You don’t have to babysit. When a five-year old asks to use the bathroom, even a moment’s hesitation can be disastrous. Incidents of puddles, tears and tattling are universal with small children but as a high school teacher, you don’t have to worry about such occupational hazards. While some people certainly have a calling for teaching children, well, others don’t and that’s why high schoolers are great.
Cons of Teaching High Schoolers:
  • You have to teach more complex topics and language. Present perfect continuous? Zero, first, second and third conditionals? Indefinite articles? The (shudder) passive voice? Come again? Trying to teach one’s native language from a grammatical standpoint can be a nightmare. You know what sounds right, but knowing why or what rules to follow is as foreign to you as to your students. The complex language structures and vocabulary that come up when teaching high school pose more of a challenge to you and your creativity as a teacher. Brush up on your own grammar before trying to teach it, and don’t be ashamed to Google “what is a demonstrative pronoun.”
  • What are the kids listening to these days? Be thankful that the One Direction fans taper off around sixth grade, but high schoolers will keep you on your toes. Just because you think that the latest Free Trade Agreement is fascinating doesn’t mean it will spark any kind of interest in your students. Think from a teenage perspective before you finalize a lesson plan. Keep up on their interests, whether it’s soccer, Katy Perry or learning how to talk to coeds in English. It’s also important to maintain cultural context – use local current events and relevant topics.
  • You might feel like you’re babysitting. These are teenagers, right? They’re fairly competent and responsible…oh, no. There’s another girl in tears because her boyfriend was sitting next to another girl at lunch and is that other kid faking sick or should you let him go to the bathroom? The infamous class clowns are stuffing someone’s backpack in the ceiling tiles and everyone else is not-so-slyly texting under their desks. Teaching high schoolers can be just as trying as younger students, but with consistency, firm rules and engaging topics, the zoo can be won over.
Contributed by Brighid Carey

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