By: Kelsey Ax
When my husband and I were living in Barcelona back in 2014, we would’ve never guessed that in a few short months, we would be packing our bags and heading for the first time to Asia, specifically Singapore, to settle down for years to come. While living in Barcelona, I had been taking the 170-hour Online TEFL/TESOL course with the International TEFL Academy, and I was ready to put it to use.
Singapore, as a matter of fact, chose us. As we were applying all over for a new job to coincide with the new year, the owner of a tuition center in Singapore contacted us about a potential job opening. At that time, we hadn’t yet considered moving to Asia, but the notion still excited us enough. Within a week of our interviews, we were heading to our new home.
Singapore is a unique choice for a TEFL certificate holder on the job hunt. Primarily, the people here already speak English. More specifically, people speak a dialect of English called “Singlish”. “Singlish” is a hybrid between English and the mother tongues of the different Singaporean ethnic groups (Chinese, Malay, and Indian). The dialect is exclusive to the city-state and surprisingly challenging for non-Singaporeans to replicate, although I’ve heard many try.
“Singlish” plays an important role in the demand for foreign teachers in Singapore. As “Singlish” is riddled with lexical and grammatical errors, it’s the parents’ desire for their children to be exposed to native speakers of English. With this exposure, these foreign teachers are hoped to influence the way their children speak.
Furthermore, mentalities of many Singaporeans also create a need for teachers from overseas. “Kiasu” is a term for a Singaporean mindset meaning the fear of losing out or the desire to be first. This can be seen throughout Singapore whether it be waiting in long queues in fear of losing out on what could potentially be at the end, or signing their children up for extra classes in order for them to be the best and the brightest.
Without a degree in education, these extra classes are where a majority of foreign teachers get hired. Many parents enroll their children in tuition centers. These education centers provide courses that correspond to subjects taught at the government schools. These subjects include, but are not limited to: Math, Mother Tongue, Music, Science, and English.
Tuition centers are businesses whose goal is to promote their individual programs which aim to advance students’ understanding in that particular subject. Providing teachers from English speaking countries entices parents to have their children interact with natives from the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa in the expectation that this, along with the program, will boost their English to a higher standard.
Upon arrival, tuition centers generally make arrangements to assist with the transition into life in Singapore. They also provide each teacher with in-depth training regarding the programs they offer and how to deliver the lessons. This provides a solid background on what to expect before taking charge of a classroom. The overall responsibilities of the teacher include executing the lessons within the curriculum, tracking student improvement, and updating parents regularly on their child’s progress.
Despite that sounding like a lot to handle, overall the job is straightforward and manageable. The companies provide you with all the necessary materials and resources with clear-cut goals to achieve each lesson. The workload is not overwhelming and therefore contributes to a healthy work/life balance.
Unfortunately, working on the weekends is a requirement which might not initially sound appealing to those accustomed to a Monday-Friday schedule. Because children are at their regular schools during the day on Mondays-Fridays, afternoons and weekends are prime timings to attend these auxiliary courses. In lieu of Saturdays and Sundays off, teachers receive off two consecutive weekdays. For instance, my off-days are Mondays and Tuesdays.
Even though I occasionally miss events held on weekends, having a Monday-Tuesday weekend has its perks. Since flights leaving Singapore are cheaper leaving on a Sunday night rather than a Friday night, I’ve been able to travel all over Southeast Asia on my weekends. Additionally, as someone who dreads crowded places, I bypass the colossal assemblies of people hoarding the malls and restaurants on Saturdays and Sundays for quieter, less hectic shopping and dining experiences. Most importantly, many teachers at tuition centers have similar weekends, therefore socializing on days off is not a worry.
Advantages of Living in Singapore
Living in a place with such a high standard of living such as Singapore is just another advantage to teaching in this country. Most teachers are able to afford to reside in condominiums equipped with swimming pools, gyms, and other extras. Having a swimming pool alone can be a real life saver with the hot equatorial heat that Singapore endures year-round. The combination of swimming pools, sleek and easy to use public transport, and a nearly island-wide access to air conditioning can make it easy to forget those 100% humidity days.
Also, people here, no matter their country of origin, can easily find food and treats native to their homes. Seeing those brands that filled the shelves of grocery stores back home is a surefire way to ease even the most severe cases of homesickness.
What must be mentioned, and one of the greatest perks that comes with teaching in Singapore, is the amount of vacation time throughout the year. Annual calendars of tuition centers relate to those of the government schools. Therefore, when the schools close for a term break, so do the tuition centers. Because of this, every three months, centers close anywhere between five to nine days providing teachers the opportunity to travel to faraway destinations. In December, two to three weeks are given off so teachers can fly home to spend the holidays with family and friends. The only downside is that only fifteen to twenty of these days are paid. However, if planned well and in advance, this can have little to no effect on your finances.
In addition to the two days off each week and the term breaks, centers also close on all national public holidays. These can provide a nice midterm break or, when alongside the weekly days off, create an opportunity for a fortuitous long weekend trip.
Although staying in one place for many years was never my intention, my time thus far in Singapore has not only provided me with the funds but the time to explore and experience so much of what Asia has to offer. I’ve enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, endless travel opportunities, and I also have been able to save money with each paycheck. If you haven’t considered this little red dot to be your next teaching destination, it should be on your list.
Kelsey Ax is 25 from Rockford, IL, with a BA in International Studies and German from the University of Illinois. She began teaching in Barcelona in 2014 for several months before moving to Singapore. She has been teaching there for over two years. Kelsey has been lucky enough to have visited over 40 countries and counting and loves sharing her insight and experience with fellow travel-lovers.
To learn more about her experiences teaching English in Singapore, check out: