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Teaching in...The USA & Canada
The USA is home to several of the world's most exciting cities, some truly mind-blowing landscapes, a strong sense of regionalism, more history than the country gives itself credit for and, arguably, some of the most approachable people in the world. Those who object to being told to ‘have a nice day’ by everyone they meet, are probably plain bitter. It’s also a very big place. As such, the East is a long way from the West, and somewhere in-between the mindset changes, and possibly more than once. It is also one of the most visited places on the planet and a magnet for different people from a world of different places.
Those expecting Canada to be a blander version of the USA should check their assumptions at the door. Canada's wild northern frontier, which has etched itself into the national psyche, and its distinct patchwork of peoples have created a country that is decidedly different from its neighbor. It's the edginess between Canada's indigenous, French and British traditions that gives the nation its complex three-dimensional character. Add to this a constant infusion of US culture and a plethora of traditions brought by migrants, and you have a thriving multicultural society.
The type and location of jobs vary a lot in North America. Most of the ESL work is concentrated around cities that have a high percentage of immigrants or tourists. These are not always the cheapest cities to live in but CELTA qualified teachers are able to make a sufficient salary. Teaching jobs are often during the day (especially in private language institutes) though colleges and immigrant groups are more likely to offer evening classes and they pay better. It helps for new teachers to be flexible and willing to work different shifts (and sometimes at different centers) to earn the most money. The difference in pay between new teachers and experienced teachers can be quite high. An experienced teacher working in a community college can earn up to three times more than an inexperienced teacher working at a private-language school.
People, Culture and Politics
North Americans are famously friendly and hospitable. Even in the big cities, strangers find the time to stop to give directions and give the time. Foreigners also find it quite unusual how frequently strangers will start talking to each other; at bus stops, supermarket lines, in a restaurant.
Both Canada and America have achieved quite clear national identities while still supporting vastly different ethnic groups. Language can play a large part in the culture, with the big three—English, French and Spanish—all having large influence. Both America and Canada have full democracies.
- Canadians are almost always punctual, both professionally and socially, and expect the same from others.
- In America it is a faux pas to put either your age or a photo of yourself on your résumé.
- In North America good eye contact is important. You need to be confident, but not arrogant; a good speaker but also a good listener.
- It is wise to avoid discussing salary and other parts of the compensation package early in the interview process. However, if requested, you should state your salary preference.
Unless someone is a good friend, asking someone how much they earn can result in an uncomfortable silence.
In America, always err on the side of caution and look more formal at the interview than you’d expect to have to wear at the job.
Sending a brief note of thanks by email or regular mail after an interview is considered polite.
Canadians are more likely to show a humble spirit and style. Appearing overly ambitious at an interview in Canada may be considered in bad taste.
Virtually all U.S. and Canadian jobs are given to teachers who apply directly. Teaching jobs are occasionally advertised in local press or online. Occasionally a teacher can just turn up and enquire personally at a school, though this is less common and a Director of Studies who is busy will give little time for teachers walking in off the street unannounced. If you are keen to try this, avoid Mondays as this is a busy time for everyone, and avoid lunchtime. We know of no agencies that directly recruit ESL teacher candidates in the U.S. or Canada. Because of the organization of hours (which are often divided between different centers and can be throughout the day) and the lack of structured recruitment, teachers need to do a lot of research and be flexible to get the best jobs.
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