Welcome back to our awesome interview series, ESL Around the World! This interview is perfect for anyone who’s ever dreamed of teaching in Southeast Asia. I mean, who wouldn’t want to move there to teach?! From the beautiful temples and beaches to delicious curry dishes, Southeast Asia is nothing short of amazing. Today we’ll learn what it’s like to teach in Cambodia.
Meet Elise P.
Today’s interview is with Elise P. Originally from the UK, Elise lived in Southeast Asia for several years teaching English and traveling to as many places as she could. She’s currently based in Vancouver, Canada. By day she works as a freelance writer, photographer, and full-time content creator for a travel blog. By night she’s working on her own travel blog – Travel, Work, and Play.
If you’d like to learn more about teaching English in Cambodia or simply how to teach English in Southeast Asia, she’s got you covered with all the information you need. Just head over to her site and check it out.
Now, on with the interview!
What It’s Like to Teach in Cambodia
Where did you teach and what was your position?
I taught in Siem Reap, Cambodia and I was a native English teacher.
What qualifications do you need to teach English in Cambodia?
You only need a TEFL to teach English, but a bachelors degree will help you get a job and may increase your pay. There are also schools that hire fully qualified teachers and pay can be up to $2000 per month for full-time teachers. Be aware, though, that these are few and far between!
What are the hours and pay like?
I also worked at an NGO so I taught part-time, at an hourly rate. My hourly rate was $12 and I worked two 1.5 hour classes a day.
At other points in the year, I also picked up a few extra lessons. Working two lessons a day I ended up with between $600-750 a month which was ample for Cambodia.
Full-time teachers at my school were paid $1000 a month to do four 1.5 hour classes – which works out to be about $5 an hour, it was an obvious decision for me to stay on an hourly rate!
Most schools in Cambodia take a long lunch break, while the sun is at its hottest, so the day is pretty broken up. Good if you want to do other things, or get marking & lesson planning done.
The schedule at my school was 10-11:30 am, 2-3:30 pm, 4-5:30 pm and an evening class with students from all over the city at 5:45-7:15 pm. Full-time teachers were expected to work all four of those classes, 5 days a week. I taught the latter two classes, so I had all day to work on my website, writing, photography and spend time at the NGO I also worked for.
What is a typical day like?
As an ESL teacher at an international school, you are teaching a variety of different levels and ages, but always English language classes. The students have all of their other classes in Khmer.
The English classes in my school (and in most schools) are grouped by ability, so a mix of different ages from 13-18. In general, though, the starter/elementary classes had younger students and the advanced classes had older students – simply because of how long they’d been learning English.
The lessons were a mix of speaking/listening and reading/writing classes and you are provided with lesson planning books to guide you through each lesson. Some lesson planning was still required and I would always familiarise myself with the topic before going into the class. You don’t want to get caught out with tricky questions or terms (I learned that lesson with Gerunds!)
What were the pros and cons of your job?
On an hourly rate, I didn’t get vacation leave at all, but Cambodia does get a lot of public holidays! This is one argument to become a salaried teacher, but if you can manage with slightly more uncertainty in your pay – it definitely does pay off long term to get hourly paid!
The pros are that the students are amazing. Genuinely some of the most interesting, passionate people I’ve ever encountered. I grew very attached to some of my classes, particularly the advanced, older teenagers who are so committed to learning!
The cons are that the Cambodian education system is a massive bureaucracy and generally pretty poorly managed. Lots of the rules harmed the students’ learning and could be really frustrating. For example, if you fail your exams, you have to retake the year – with the exact same books and topics. However, at 18 you graduate regardless of what level you are.
What’s the best way to find an English teaching job in Cambodia?
The best way is in person! Hardly any schools or companies use emails and the phones just go to receptionists. Take resumes and cycle round to speak to directors in person. It’s how everyone gets a job in Cambodia.
Why did you choose to live and teach in Cambodia? What did you like and dislike about it?
I had travelled there extensively and decided I wanted to settle there for a while. It was an amazing experience and Siem Reap is the perfect place for expats and travellers. It has an amazing community, great food and tons to do.
Be warned – it can be really noisy! The dogs barking all night, the four-day weddings, building sites appearing outside your window and everyone getting up at 5am does eventually take its toll!
What is the cost of living like compared to your earnings? Are you able to save money?
I was only teaching part-time so my earnings were reasonably low. I was easily able to pay my rent, buy groceries and eat and drink out whenever I wanted with my wages though. Our apartment was on the pricier side at $375 a month (plus $50-70 electricity bills for a/c) but split between myself and my partner it left us both with plenty of money to spend. We didn’t save much while we were there, but travel within the country is so inexpensive it meant that we could take trips and really enjoy our time there. If working full time, you would be able to save more for sure.
Have you taught in another city or country before?
I was an English tutor in the UK for a number of years and have some classroom experience.
What advice do you have for people considering moving abroad to teach English?
It’s a great way to live abroad, learn new languages and immerse yourself in other cultures. I would definitely recommend it, but caution that it can definitely be hard work and to only get into it if you actually have a passion for teaching. I saw a lot of backpackers come and go, thinking it would be an easy way to make a few dollars and it really wasn’t fair for the students!
There you have it! I don’t know about you but I’m ready to pack my bags and head to Cambodia! Just kidding….not really (I’m having serious Southeast Asia withdrawals right now).
Cambodia truly is an amazing country with tons of things to experience. There’s way more to see than Angkor Wat. From the beaches in Sihanoukville to the caves in Battambang to the chilled out vibe of Kep and Kampot there is something for everyone. So why not teach Engish for a year to fund your travels there?!
As Elise mentioned, you need a TEFL certificate to teach in Cambodia. Not only will it help you find a job in Cambodia, but it will also teach you classroom management, how to plan a lesson, be entertaining while teaching, and help you teach with confidence.
We are proud partners of My TEFL – an online TEFL certification organization that has prepared thousands of teachers for the ESL classroom. Our readers can get a 35% discount on any course by using the code gypsies35 at checkout.
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Stay tuned for the next interview in our ESL Around the World series!
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