Reflections on Teaching English in Toronto (ESL/EFL)

Teaching English in Toronto, Canada

(Published Spring 2015)

Since returning to Canada, I have taught English in Toronto for about 2 years. Here is some information that you may find useful. Please note that this article is not exhaustive by any means. This is merely based on my experience, which has its limits.

Key Terms

  • Visa school = A language school that can grant study visas to students. Language schools usually teach general ESL and cater to young adults who come to Canada to study for several months to a year. The largest student groups at visa schools in Toronto are Brazilians, Japanese, Koreans, and Saudis.
  • TESL Canada = Basic ESL teaching certification in Canada. The program can be as short as 10 weeks full-time.
  • TESL Ontario = More advanced ESL teaching certification specific to Ontario. The program is in roughly the same in length as TESL Canada.

Is TESL Canada/Ontario certification needed?

Without TESL Canada certification, you’d probably be limited to private tutoring.

Visa schools like ILAC, ILSC, EC, etc. must be accredited by a body called Languages Canada. This accreditation requires that teachers have TESL Canada certification. Thus, it’s needed even for what might be considered the lowest rung of ESL teaching here.

The good news is that all of the schools/colleges/universities I have encountered so far are satisfied if you show them the certificate from the TESL Canada (or TESL Ontario) course you passed. In other words, after taking your TESL course, you likely won’t need to spend the extra two-hundred or so dollars to get accredited by the official TESL Canada/Ontario organization. Having passed the course that qualifies you for that organization is sufficient, which is rational since paying dues to join a club won’t do anything to improve the skills the TESL course gave you.

The Bar is Higher

One positive consequence of the TESL requirement is that most teachers here know their stuff. They can teach a communicative lesson and they understand English grammar. In my experience, this is different from teaching abroad, where you might be able to get by with minimal grammar knowledge or preparation. Because most teachers in Toronto are skilled, it gives the profession more credibility in my opinion.

It’s a Number’s Game

At visa schools, colleges, and universities, seasonality is extreme.

Visa schools: While it’s easy to get hired in the summer, most will begin laying off in September. By December, only the core teachers will be able to retain their positions; others will be laid off until student enrolment picks up in the spring.

Colleges/Universities: There is seasonality, but the patterns are different. At the English language institute of one university I am familiar with, the busy season is the fall term (Sept-Dec). Afterwards, enrolment tapers off until July. Essentially, any post-secondary program that caters to international students will have a period with few classes (likely spring/summer). One exception is continuing education classes (generally evenings and weekends at colleges), which cater to Canadians. Enrolment in these classes seem fairly consistent.

A General Outline of the Pay

Tutoring – $15-20 an hour unless you are teaching something specific, such as IELTS prep, which might warrant a bit more.

Visa schools – $16-20/hr. assuming you have a TESL Canada course certificate. The more experience you have, the higher your pay will be, though it won’t climb much higher than $20. This wage is low. Also, be aware that you’ll only be teaching from four to six hours a day, and you will likely get laid off when winter comes. This makes for poor daily take-home pay and pitiful yearly earnings.

Colleges/University – $45+ as a contract teacher, depending on your experience, certification, and education.

LINC – $30-40 an hour.

The Mess of Contract Teaching at Colleges in Ontario

From what I’ve learned, there are four types of employment at colleges in Ontario:

  • Contract – Part-time = 1-6 hours a week
  • Contract – Partial-load = 7-12 hours a week (unionized)
  • Contract – Sessional = 13 hours a week or more
  • Tenured employment (unionized)

Because partial-load workers are unionized, their hourly pay is much higher (e.g. $30 more) than the wage of part-time or sessional teachers who teach the same classes. For example, a college would pay a teacher $90 an hour if he taught three or four courses (=9-12 hours) a week, but only $60 dollars an hour if he were given two courses (3-6 hrs). Therefore, colleges try to keep people part-time (or sessional) to avoid unionized wages.

Another issue is that colleges are required to hire teachers after a certain length of time as contractors. However, to circumvent this requirement, colleges are known to simply lay the contract worker off and hire a new contractor.

Tenured Positions: It’s a Seller’s Market

Fact: Toronto is saturated with ESL teachers.

Colleges and universities can set high and specific requirements for tenured positions, and people will meet them. For example, one Toronto university requires a master in applied linguistics and speaking at TESOL conferences. An applicant who had a Ph.D. in English Literature would not qualify.

Closing Comments

It’s challenging to make good money teaching ESL in Toronto. Your salary will be pitiful compared to your Bay St. friends. For those who have real financial responsibilities (e.g. a mortgage, kids), this might not be a viable career choice. However, as a teacher you may only be working 20 hours a week (well, maybe not including prep. and marking time) and hopefully you’re enjoying your work. Your friend, on the other hand, spends 50 hours a week in Microsoft Excel, which, if you are like me, does not sound like the most authentic way to live out the days of your life.

So… should you teach English in Toronto? 

I can’t answer conclusively as I am still trying to find my place in this industry. I would wager that there is a way to survive if you don’t need a lot of money. Time will tell for me. I know it won’t be glamorous though and it will require some hustling.

– Ron Jenkins / Guest Contributor for Englishcurrent.com

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