Teach English in New York

new york city buildings, landscape and skyline

They don't come any bigger than the Big Apple. It's got its fair share of the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses, but it also has world-class museums, big statues, even bigger buildings and a whole lot of tourists. New York is a densely packed city full of people and all this living on top of one another makes the New Yorker a special kind of person. It's hard to put a finger on what makes the place buzz so vivaciously, but the city's hyperactive rush keeps drawing more and more people to it.

You’ll see New Yorkers crowded together waiting for the next subway or naked cowboy to streak by, almost oblivious to the characters around them. And yet you’ll also see and experience first-hand random acts of kindness, which never fail to touch your soul. And even though New Yorkers always seem to be busy or have somewhere important to rush off to, they’ll still invariably stop to give the time or a fresh set of directions.

For a city that really never sleeps and gives the feeling that all the corners of the world are touching at each and every Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Staten Island street corner, there really is no surprise that those seeking to learn English keep coming. 

Lifestyle

New York was not put on the map for being the cheapest place in the world, but if you could only remove the cost of housing (and maybe the late-night martinis), it really wouldn’t be that expensive. If you have plans to rent a penthouse downtown, then you’d do better to be an investment banker than a teacher. But for all the downsides of the rising price of condos, New York has a lot to offer ESL teachers, by and large because there are so many people in the city who are learning English. You’ll often see teachers hanging out at a bar on Fridays, though in a city so big, the English teaching community can never be insular the way it can be in an expat community abroad where you might end up involuntarily hanging out with the only other English teacher in town simply because it is impossible to avoid him/her. ESL teachers live throughout the five boroughs, and a few still cling doggedly to their apartments in lower Manhattan regardless of the rising rents (though this is much less of a problem if you own your own apartment or your place is rent-controlled). You’ll often see ESL teachers at museums and galleries, and if they don’t have time outside of work, then they’ll just take their class with them.

People, Culture and Politics

New Yorkers have attitude, and they’re not afraid to use it. But it’s a lot more complicated than simple rudeness, which has long been how some outsiders have mischaracterized the folks of this fair metropolis. Instead, it’s a mixture of being touchy, brave, on your toes, jaded, over-worked and intensely focused. Hang out on a subway, for example, and you’ll quickly notice that no-one’s making eye contact, but rather studiously avoiding it. The thought is, ‘who needs to be pulled into a conversation or potential conflict with a crazy person?’ Or, ‘why would I want to be waylaid with small talk when this 15-minute commute is the only time I have to myself all day?’ Ask one of those blank-faced people for directions, however, and they’ll respond with explicit instructions and a nurturing smile, and perhaps even escort you themselves if it’s on the way to where they’re headed.

Politically, New York City is a bit of a contradiction; historically, New Yorkers have voted largely Democrat, but after years of neglect, the city has elected two (rather popular) Republicans for mayor. They don’t seem to have done too bad a job either. 

Cultural Tips

  • Be prepared to apply to and work in a number of different institutions in the city to get the best pay. Evening work is also widely available.

  • Craigslist is most useful for three things: finding an apartment, finding a job and finding cheap furniture. 

  • Avoid putting your age or photo on your résumé (major faux pas).

  • Always follow up interviews with a brief thank-you email. Some employers won't even consider offering a job until the prospective employee has shown interest through a follow-up.

  • There is taxi etiquette in the city. If you want to hail a cab then stand at the curb and hold your arm straight up. Feel free to scream if you think it might help. If you see anyone else doing just this before you start then you might want to let them get the first available taxi that passes by.

  • New York is one of the few cities in the world where a youth spent in the Boy or Girl Scouts actually comes in really handy. It all comes down to directions—as long as you know which way is north, you’ll (probably) not get lost. This is especially helpful when you come up from the subway totally disoriented.

  • It's a common belief that you become a true New Yorker when you’ve lived in the city for ten years. This is not true. You become a true New Yorker when you stop needing to carry a subway map everywhere you go.

Recruitment and Positions

ESL in New York is huge and growing. It’s not just that people have suddenly decided that lessons are useful (though it is true that there is more effort now going into ESL throughout the city than ever before) but that there is an ever-increasing number of people coming to the city who need to improve their English. Some come for extended vacations and want to study English during that time. These students will often head for the private language institutes that dot lower Manhattan. The pay in these schools is not the best (and the rate varies between them) but there’s rarely a month gone by where they’re not in desperate need for new teachers. Community colleges pay better and often have (evening) classes as part of their ‘continuing education’ programs. Working with immigrant groups can also pay well, though some immigrant groups cannot pay at all, and are therefore staffed with dedicated volunteers whose pay is based more on gratitude than dollars. A CELTA with additional experience can get you in the door at some universities where the pay really is not too bad at all. Some groups of students can fall across more than one category. For example, a number of students come to the New York because they want to study a subject at university. They might start learning English at a private language school before moving on to classes in an ESL department at a university (which are much more expensive). Private language schools, immigrant groups and volunteer positions are often advertised on Craigslist, though they are all open to direct applications. Colleges and universities are much more likely to advertise on their own websites, which have much smaller readerships, but then again they pay more, so they can get away with it. A lot of positions also become available through word-of-mouth, so networking is also useful. CELTA has been running in the city for over 20 years, making it one of (if not the) longest running ESL teacher training courses in New York. As such, it is well-known and a number of employers are former trainees of the course, which helps in the networking department.
 
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