So, you’ve decided to look for something a little different; a change of scene, a new adventure or simply an overwhelming desire to spend some time living overseas and you’re wondering how to go about it?
Although there are lots of different ways to go about working and living overseas, Teaching English must be one of the best, giving you the opportunity to live pretty much anywhere around the world and through its very nature ensuring that you get to work and live in and amongst the local community straight away – after all that’s who you’re going to be teaching.
What do you really need?
If you search the internet you’ll find all sorts of people telling you what you do and don’t need in order to teach English overseas. Some are telling you because they’ve got something to sell, some because they want you to work for them and others because they are out there loving it and want to help and encourage others to travel, live an earn like they are. Unsurprisingly you’ll see a real range of suggestions, must’s, mustnt’s and ‘facts’ – with the annoying thing being that they’re all right and wrong at the same time!
You’ll see all many people saying that all you need is to be able to speak English and way you go. That’s fine (well sort of) and some people will always be able to find a teaching job (legally or illegally) with no other qualification other than the accident of being able to speak English (well or otherwise!). However, how would you have felt if your teachers at school had just turned up assuming they were able to teach you with little or no idea what they were doing (and yes, before you start, there will always be some who are trained to the nth degree who still manage to convince everyone they don’t know what they are doing – but they were in the minority weren’t they?).
Realistically, as a service to you future students if not yourself, you should be looking to get some training prior to teaching. Let’s remember that the people you are going to teach really do want to learn English and are either paying for it themselves or their parents are paying for them. Teaching, and teachers, can be amongst the most significant elements in people lives and if you have an idea of how to go about constructing a lesson and delivering it then you’re going to be a lot more use than trying to ‘wing’ it for a year or two. This is before we even consider that more and more governments are making a TEFL qualification a necessity before granting a work permit to work legally in their country.
A TEFL training course, and the resultant qualification, are therefore good things to have – but what else do you need?
Some countries do demand a degree (interestingly usually in any subject) as part of the work permit process but many don’t. If you don’t have a University degree, don’t despair, just target your job search for somewhere that doesn’t require a degree. Whilst there is a strong logic to the requirement of TEFL / TESOL certification, the degree situation is slightly less clear but there’s no point arguing about it – it is what it is and after all the potential teacher is going to be a guest in someone else’s country so I guess it’s fair enough that they make their own rules.
So, a TEFL certificate (and ideally one which is 120 hours or so in duration and includes practical teaching) and a degree and the world is your oyster (don’t have a degree and much of the world is still your oyster!).
But surely there’s something else you need?
The answer is of course yes. Whatever anyone tells you, not everyone is cut out to teach. Think back to the teachers you had a school – some were inspirational, some OK and the odd one truly awful – and they were all qualified. What was it that made the difference (and we’re assuming here that you’re looking not only to get a job, any old job, but to do something you’ll enjoy and hopefully be good at)?
All great language teachers have an empathy for the people they are teaching and a real desire and passion to not only make a lesson interesting but also to help and allow their students to learn. It’s not very difficult to sit and chat away, crack a few jokes and for students to appear happy. But let’s not forget that students also want to learn – and after a few weeks of fun and games they’ll soon start wondering why their English isn’t improving and look for a new teacher. Yes, personality, charisma and a healthy sense of humour is a huge asset in the classroom, but so is the real desire to help people develop and achieve their goals. Don’t worry, you don’t need to suddenly transform yourself into Robin Williams in Dead Poet Society, but if you continually remember to focus on your students LEARNING and manage to deliver this in a creative and constantly empathetic way then you’re half way there. If you’re going to spend your time in classrooms wishing you were on the beach, exploring the local museum or even just sleeping off the night before then perhaps the job isn’t for you.
Am I too old / young – delete as appropriate!
Unfortunately in some cases the answer, whatever the law and a sense of justice says the answer is yes. However, if you look hard enough there are good employers all over the world who choose who to hire based on skills / experience and ‘fit’ to their school irrespective of age. The honest answer therefore is yes, you can be too old / too young for some employers but at the same time with a great CV and desire to teach you will be able to find employers who don’t discriminate in this way. I personally know someone in their late 60’s who’s still loving the classroom in a country famous for preferring younger teachers and she’s recognised as bringing not only a wealth of teaching experience to the classroom but also a large amount of life experience to share with her students. So, if you’re a little more ‘experienced’ than many of the teachers out there – don’t give up.
There are enough employers around who recognise that age is not hugely relevant, rather it’s the passion, experience and skills that count in the classroom.
So, you’ve got a TEFL qualification, a degree (maybe – depends where you’re heading) and the ability and desire to educate. What next? How do I find that first job?
As with any job there’s an element of skill combined with an element of luck and a dash of hard work thrown in for good measure. However, there are some simple tips that can prevent a lot of wasted energy and heartache.
Before you start making applications make sure your CV / resume is up to date, looks good, is relevant (ie stress the bits that are relevant to teaching, working with people, presenting) and doesn’t have any typo’s – remember, you’re applying to teach English and if you can’t spell correctly what does this say to the people you want to employ you?
Your CV shouldn’t be longer than 1 or 2 pages – no-one is going to read too much – and should communicate effectively why someone should hire you, or at the very least give you an interview. The world of TEFL may be less formal than some other occupations but that doesn’t mean that employers don’t care – 99% of them do, passionately – and you need to make that all important impression very quickly with your CV. Rumour has it that most people spend under a minute looking at a CV the first time round, so get the important things towards the top of the first page and show your passion for teaching.
Don’t forget to include your contact details as well but a tip – make sure your email address is something reasonable and ‘professional’ – firstname.lastname@example.org is unlikely to make the impression you were looking for on an employer. Simple thing but you’d be surprised how often this can make a difference. Oh – and you might want to make sure your Facebook page gives the right impression too! Make sure those privacy settings are as you want them and delete any photos that you think could just give someone the wrong idea.
Some countries and employers also like to see a photo with a CV and, contrary to opinion you’ll find in some areas of the internet this isn’t to check that you’re a ‘looker’. Rather it’s just to see that there isn’t anything that may go against the ‘cultural’ norms where you’ll be working. Unfortunately in the vast majority of cases that does mean no facial piercings, no ‘wacky’ hairstyles and no visible tattoos. Like the need for a degree in some countries you can complain all you want but it isn’t going to make a difference – so, make sure the photo portrays someone who looks trustworthy, presentable (ie clean!) and smart. And if you have those piercings – take them out!
Unless it’s stated as required, submitting a photo is up to you but if you have a nice presentable photo that you can clip to your CV then why not – and let’s be honest, pretty much all of us can brush up well when we want to.
Pretty much expected in any other line of business so why not Language Teaching? No, you can’t guarantee that they will be read but it only costs you a little bit of effort so why not? There’s no need to write ‘War and Peace’ – and few people have read that either – but a short letter showing that you’ve done some research, know as much as possible about the school, or failing that the area / country / age groups doesn’t harm. It also allows you to put across a little more personality than your CV and for someone to get a bit more of an insight into how you may be in person. Same rules apply as with your CV – use the spell check, get your grammar right and tailor the letter to each prospective employer. Trust me, when recruiting for posts in Thailand I have received more than one cover letter professing a lifelong dream to work in Taiwan – hmmm, where do you think that application went?
Right, let’s assume you’ve got your CV in order, a photo your Mum and Dad would be proud of and the core element of a great cover letter nailed. It’s time to actually see what’s out there.
Where can I teach?
Before we look at how to get a job it’s probably worthwhile taking a realistic look at where you can teach English overseas. There are many websites and books that will claim that you can work anywhere, and whilst to an extent this is true (I’m sure there’s one lucky devil who got a job teaching English in the Maldives!) it’s not the reality for most people.
It might not sound like rocket science but of course the majority of jobs are in countries / cities where the demand for English is highest. This might sound silly but you’d be surprised ….. Whilst there are jobs in ELT in English speaking countries the vast majority of these jobs are taken by highly qualified local teachers – and if they aren’t then the visa rules make it nigh on impossible for a first time teacher from overseas to get them legally. So, for the time being lets rule out UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada. Yes, it can be possible to get a teaching job in these countries but competition is fierce enough from locally qualified teachers and visa rules are generally strict.
If you have an EU passport then of course Europe is an open door (with the exception of places like Switzerland where getting a teaching job as a non-Swiss resident is pretty much impossible) and you can work legally pretty much wherever you fancy. In Western Europe Spain, Greece and Italy have for many years been favoured destinations for teachers and why not? Great culture, food, climate and people offering a great lifestyle and community. However, don’t ignore lesser TEFL destinations such as Portugal. Competition for jobs in France is fierce but of course there are jobs there.
Essentially, you can find work throughout the region with some hard work, a bit of research and then the right application and interview. The vast majority of employers will want to interview you face to face before hiring but, as it’s a short flight from the UK then this shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
Eastern Europe is another great source of teaching jobs and for many this is a better starting point that the more competitive countries like Spain and Greece. Often the cost of living is lower in Eastern Europe meaning you can have a higher standard of living on your teacher’s salary, and, although these roads are well travelled for many there is something more interesting about living and working in lesser visited countries like Romania, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. One word of caution – students in Eastern Europe can be masters at grammar and want more and more so if grammar isn’t your thing (and let’s be honest – you may be a qualified teacher but not everyone is a grammar junkie) then think carefully about the students at the school you are considering.
Europe is a great place to work in ELT and there are thousands of jobs throughout the region. Key locations are highly competitive, as you’d expect, but if you have an EU passport, a decent CV and qualification then you will be able to get a job and, hopefully, have a great experience. Remember, don’t rule out ‘smaller’ countries – you can often find it much easier to a) find work and b) to become part of the community.
Job search rating: High (as long as you’ve got an EU passport!)
Russia and the ‘‘stans’
Yes, I know Russia is supposedly part of Europe (they are in the Eurovision Song Contest after all) but it’s probably worth looking at it – and it’s neighbours – separately. The demand for teachers is high in Russia and it can be an incredible place to live and work – and a million miles from the expat enclaves that exist throughout the more ‘popular’ Western European destinations. You are guaranteed a real life experience working in Russia and the opportunity to explore and discover what is still a largely misunderstood country.
Although the majority of posts are in the major cities – and that might not be for everyone – culture abounds and it certainly isn’t all about oligarchs and cowboys. However, do as much research as possible about the country before you accept a job and remember that the climate can be harsh – both in summer and winter. If the cold isn’t for you then think carefully….
For the even more adventurous, the ‘’stans’ are beginning to provide an interesting new locations for English teachers with the demand for learning high, the culture factor high and the advantage of being a relative pioneer. If you are looking for something very different then countries like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan do exist and are pretty much guaranteed to deliver not only an interesting job but also a fascinating insight into these little visited countries.
Job search rating; High – but beware the harsh climate and make sure your visa is in order!
It feels a bit strange to try to talk about ‘Asia’ as a destination for language teaching, after all it’s such a huge and diverse continent. So we’ll break it down into more manageable chunks!
South Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Nepal)
Traditionally not a huge destination for TEFL teaching with the combination of English already being spoken widely either as a formal or informal national language – at least at the higher levels of society. However, there are some teaching jobs available throughout the region although unsurprisingly many roles are filled by local English speakers. Whilst not necessarily on the mainstream route for TEFL teachers, jobs in this region tend to be hugely rewarding with a keen drive to learn from your students and, with the fact that English is widely spoken throughout the area it being relatively easy to enter into community life. Of course that’s before you consider the amazing cultural life on offer and the incredible ‘experience’ on offer living in this part of the world.
Although paid teaching jobs do exist throughout the region, they can be hard to come but volunteer teaching roles are numerous and this can be a great way to utilise your skills and give something back.
Job search rating: Low – jobs do exist but they can be hard to come by and in many cases you are competing with highly qualified local speakers. However, lots of volunteer roles if that’s what you fancy
South East Asia (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia)
With the exception of Malaysia, South East Asia is one of the most popular parts of the world in which to teach English and it’s not hard to work out why. High demand for English exists throughout the region with it being a key skill to get a better job / work in the tourism industry and that’s coupled with it being one of the most beautiful and fascinating places on the planet. But before you envision yourself sipping cocktails on the beach and hitting a full moon party every month do remember that the vast majority of teaching jobs are in the big, or relatively big cities and those in the most scenic locations are highly prized (and not given up lightly!). Although much of the region requires legal workers to have a degree, this is a great place to start your teaching experience. Friendly and welcoming with a great climate (as long as you like the heat!) and food to match the cost of living is relatively low and there’s great potential to explore at weekends and holidays.
Thailand, and in particular Bangkok, is probably the teaching hub of SE Asia with hundreds of private language schools and regular schools all crying out for English teachers. However, don’t ignore those off the beaten track destinations. Although there are fewer jobs you can often find the slower pace of life more attractive and it a little easier to settle in and become part of a community.
Vietnam is also quickly becoming a hub for language teachers with great opportunities focussed largely on Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi – both great places to live and work.
Phnom Penh is definitely the main location for teaching jobs in Cambodia – another great place to live and learn about.
Wherever you decide to head in SE Asia you are pretty much guaranteed to have a fascinating time as long as you throw yourself into the community. Don’t expect to get rich teaching here, but the lifestyle and opportunity to live in these beautiful countries more than makes us for the relatively low wages.
Job search rating: High – demand for learning is strong but beware choose your employer carefully!
The ‘Far East’ (China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan)
Another huge hub for teaching jobs, the ‘far east’ continues to have a huge demand for learning English and therefore language teachers with China alone alleged to have a shortfall of over 10,000 language teachers a year!
All four countries are great locations for teaching with relatively high pay in Japan, Korea and Taiwan (although remember that the cost of living is equally high!) and lower pay in China (although outside of Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing the cost of living is considerably lower as well). Although you will see message board complaints relating to living and working in each of these countries, don’t be put off. Such different cultures aren’t for everyone and there’s always bound to be someone who can’t stand where they are working – however, the experience of the vast majority of travelling teachers is that the Far East offers a great chance not only to earn some decent money but also to try to explore and begin to understand somewhere totally different to their own country. Yes, there will be frustrations but it’s easy to forget that there are frustrations in our own countries too!
Do be prepared for teaching Young Learners in this part of the world – and by young, I mean young. You’ll come across children as young as 4 and 5 in private English schools and whilst it can be a huge amount of fun teaching lively kids it’s a very different skill from teaching adults and can be a lot more tiring!
Job search rating: High – lots of jobs throughout the region
Interestingly, for such a huge continent, outside of a handful of countries the opportunities for paid English teaching work in Africa is relatively low. North Africa generally provides the most opportunity with Egypt, and in particular Cairo, having been a major TEFL hub for many years. You can find jobs throughout North Africa – although the recent troubles in the region have put many people off living there for the time being – and indeed a little further South with Khartoum having been a location for the more intrepid teacher / traveller.
However, you don’t then hit the next major hub until you’re all the way down to South Africa. Cape Town and Durban have quite a few language schools and from time to time it’s possible to pick up a job, although competition is very high from local qualified teachers.
Although it’s possible to find paid English teaching work in many other parts of Africa it is a lot more difficult than in Europe or Asia and there are perhaps more opportunities for volunteer teachers – a great thing to do if you have the resources and the desire to help others.
Job search rating: Low – with the exception of Egypt (High) and Morocco (Medium)
The Middle East
For many years the ‘holy grail’ of high paid teaching jobs, with some sacrifices of lifestyle required, the Middle East varies widely in the opportunity it offers language teachers. Whilst it’s still possible to secure well paid jobs in Saudi Arabia, competition for these roles is strong and qualifications and experience are key. On top of this there are of course the lifestyle sacrifices one needs to make and the fact that life for women in Saudi can be very challenging. However, there are still some excellent roles around and in some cases employers will provide schooling for dependent children and flights etc for a spouse.
Other parts of the Middle East vary widely both in terms of the money on offer and the ‘lifestyle’ one can lead. Even with the instability in parts of the Middle East the region still offers incredible opportunities for serious teachers although it is often easier for men to find work than women (but not always!).
If you’re interested in the Arab world, open minded and prepared to listen and understand (or at least live with) a very different way of life then the Middle East can offer you the opportunity to earn good money and get an insight into a series of very different cultures. Not always the easiest place to work but for the right people a fantastic experience.
Job seach rating: Medium – more opportunities for men but a great experience for the right people!
Central America (including Mexico)
There’s no shortage of language schools in many parts of Central America, and a fair degree of competition for the jobs largely from North Americans. As with many parts of the world the jobs tend to be focussed around the major cities, Mexico City being a major hub. As with SE Asia the salaries tend to be relatively low but, with the exception of parts of Mexico and Costa Rica the cost of living is equally low meaning that you can afford to have a reasonable standard of living and explore the country in your free time.
Speaking Spanish is a huge advantage in this part of the world – and probably more so than speaking the local language pretty much anywhere else – but by working and living in the region you will pick things up pretty quickly. Also, don’t ignore the ‘smaller’ countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua – fascinating places to live and work offering a great experience for a year or two of language teaching.
Job search rating: Medium – lots of jobs around but not in the volumes of Europe and SE Asia / Far East
Opportunities exist all over this immense and diverse region but as with many other areas they are largely focussed in the main cities of each country and where you head depends very much on the sort of life you are looking for. The more affluent (relatively) countries of Brazil and Argentina tend to be the hubs for language teachers but interesting and fulfilling jobs exist throughout and if you’re keen to live in and experience South America don’t ignore destinations such as Quito, Lima, Santiago and even destinations in Colombia – renowned as one of the most beautiful countries in the world.
Interestingly South America seems to attract longer term language teachers rather than the ‘dip your toe in for a year or two’ which is more often the norm in Asia. But don’t worry, if you’re just looking to live overseas for a year or two South America provides a large number of opportunities throughout the continent for those willing to look a little harder.
Job search rating: High in major cities
OK – I know where I can teach / where I want to teach but how do I get a job?
Years ago finding that all important first job could be quite a challenge. If you were at home you had to rely on newspapers, the odd magazine advert, noticeboards in Language Schools and the odd recruitment agency. Failing that you had to get on your bike, head to wherever you hoped to teach and pound the streets until you found a job, or ran out of money and came home with your tail between your legs! The internet has changed all of that but for many the chosen route is still to jump on that plane and head to wherever it is that they want to teach.
Travelling ‘on spec’ to the country you want to teach in
Even though the ‘fear factor’ is high, one of the most popular ways to find a first teaching job is still to get on plane and head to wherever it is you fancy teaching. Not too expensive if you’re in the UK and looking at teaching in Spain or Greece, but slightly more scary if you’re thinking of Latin America and Asia. Before you do jump on a plane remember that in some countries it’s not possible to get a work permit when you are in the country – so you might be able to meet your potential employer face to face but you’re going to have to leave again to get a work permit and then travel back. Of course you don’t necessarily have to fly all the way home (neighbouring countries will usually suffice) but it does add cost and time to the process. Several popular Asian destinations are in this category including Japan (and remember the neighbouring country is Korea – a relatively pricey flight away) and Thailand (slightly easier – a quick trip to Malaysia or Cambodia will usually suffice!). So, do your research before you leave home.
If you’ve made the decision to travel on spec then how are you going to find that first job? Of course you’ve still got the internet (assuming you find an internet café / brought your laptop with you) with the advantage that you can reply to ads and agree to an interview the next day but other resources do open up when you’re in situ.
Don’t ignore the local English language press – many local employers still advertise jobs locally in newspapers and these are often specifically targeted at people already in the country.
Find out where the schools are that you’d like to work in and pop in! It’s unlikely that you’ll be offered a job on the spot but you’ll be able to see the school for yourself and get an idea if they are hiring. Perhaps not the most efficient way of getting a job but leave your CV, make a good impression and you never know.
You’ll also find that in many countries there are ads in Guest Houses / areas where travellers congregate for jobs. Without wanting to write these off completely you’re unlikely to find your dream job this way (if a school is recruiting from the traveller / backpacker market then you can bet the churn rate of teachers is high and then ask yourself why?) but it’s a start.
- You can meet your employers face to face before you agree to work for them
- You can have a look around the school and get a feel for whether it’s right for you
- You can interview for a range of teaching posts (hopefully!) and choose which one is right for you (remember it’s not just about the money – you’re going to want to be happy where you are working)
- If you’ve not been to the country before you’ll get an idea of whether it really is for you – before signing up to a contract
- You can network and meet some people who are already teaching in the city you’re in – well hopefully, although nothing’s guaranteed
- It’s exciting – there’s nothing like the buzz of getting off a plane in a new country and needing to find a job. Certainly focusses the mind although admittedly it’s not for everyone
- It’s relatively risky and can be an expensive waste of time if you don’t get a job
- If you don’t know anyone in the country / city it can be a bit daunting trying to find your bearings, work out where the jobs are (and how to get there!) and, if you don’t speak the language, just getting settled can be a challenge
- Visa situations – are you sure you can work legally on the visa you entered the country on (or can transfer the tourist visa to a work permit)?
- Money – how long is it going to take you to find a job and do you have enough funds? For the more adventurous (or cash rich) this often isn’t a problem but it is worth considering – if you’re down to your last meal you don’t necessarily want to grab a job that’s going to turn out being a nightmare.
Despite this being a relatively high risk strategy for further flung locations, for those looking to work in Europe jumping on a low cost flight and scouting around is still probably the most popular way of doing things. But be sensible – why not make contact with a few schools before you leave home, see if you can arrange a few interviews or if not then take the addresses of all the schools you can find before you fly meaning you can focus your attention on actually getting the job when you’re in the country rather than researching (which you could have done for free from home!).
This is definitely a decent option but we’d recommend thinking carefully before heading anywhere on spec and, if you do decide to take this approach, do your research first (visas, schools, salaries, teachers comments on working in the country – with a healthy degree of scepticism, remember, people who aren’t happy are more likely to blog than those who are too busy enjoying life to spend hours writing about what’s wrong with it!), get hold of as much money as you can (so you’re not stressing on day 2 about how you’re going to eat) and go with a positive attitude.
Getting a job before you travel!
For many people this is the preferred option and understandably so – it is of course nice to know that you are going to be able to feed yourself before you get onto that plane and have some sort of plan in place.
However, before we get to the nitty gritty of actually getting a job it’s worth considering what sort of school you’d like to work for and what sort of teaching you want to do – after all, you’d think about something similar applying for a job in any other industry wouldn’t you.
Although we couldn’t cover every sort of school here (well we could but you’d have fallen asleep by then) here’s a list of the most common (with some advantages and disadvantages to each!). However, do remember that much is down to you and your own preferences – not everyone enjoys the same working environment and indeed this can change from country to country!
International chains – ie a number of schools in several countries around the world. Some are truly global, others focus on a region (ie Far East)
- Range of locations and countries
- More job vacancies
- Opportunity to transfer to other locations once you’re ‘in’
- Opportunities for promotion and career development
- Usually well organised and official – ie pay, work permits etc
- Used to managing first time teachers / first time arrivals in the country
- Instant community of fellow teachers
- Good resources for teachers – usually
- Can be a bit impersonal and ‘corporate’
- Often high ‘contact’ hours are demanded, leaving little time for planning and development
- In some cases money may take precedence over teaching (but to be fair this can happen in any set up)
- Not always as well organised as you may think
- Tends to be more ‘office politics’ in the larger chains
- Some teachers feel that they are on a ‘conveyor belt’ in these organisations
- You may be ‘forced’ to follow very rigid course / syllabi with little room for creativity
National chains – ie several schools / locations throughout one country
- Range of locations within the country you are looking to teach in
- Usually well organised and official – ie pay, work permits etc
- More job vacancies within the country
- Opportunity to move locations within the country once you are ‘in’
‘Stand alone’ language school – ie a single language school (generally owner operated)
- Often a huge amount of care and attention from the school owner
- The feeling that you are important and part of ‘something’ special
- The sense of ‘ownership’ that you can feel in a small organisation
- You students are often part of the school ‘family’ and community
- Often reliant on the whims of the owner – a good owner can be great but a bad one……
- May be less stable that a larger chain and less financial resource to manage more difficult times
- In some cases (and I stress here not all cases) the school may be less organised and formal with regards to pay, work permits etc
- Generally fewer job opportunities and room for career progression
Government schools – ie primary (elementary) and / or secondary (high school) schools run by the government requiring English language teachers (like state schools in the UK)
- Depending on the country, often large number of job opportunities
- The opportunity to be part of a whole school life and to get involved in wide ranging activities
- You are very much part of the community and will be working alongside local teachers as well as native English speakers
- Excellent if you want to focus on young learners and want to be part of their formal education
- Usually well structured in terms of timetables etc and also pay, work permits etc
- Lengthy school holidays!
- In many cases (depending on the country) they can be seriously under resourced
- Usually much larger classes that ‘language schools’ – creating it’s own set of challenges
- ‘Office politics’ tend to abound and in some cases there can be large divisions between local and foreign teachers, particularly where there is a large disparity in pay
- Pay is generally lower than in private language schools – although contact hours are often less
Private Schools – as above but privately owned and fee-paying
- As with government schools although pay can often be higher
- Many are the same as per government schools although the private schools do tend to be better resourced
- Your students may be from a small selection of society – not necessarily a bad thing but some teachers prefer to have a great socio-economic mix!
International Schools – private schools aimed largely at expat children and affluent local families seeking a UK / US standard of education / syllabus
- Excellent pay, although usually require high level qualifications and experience
- Very well organised and resourced
- Opportunities for professional development
- Often only dealing with a small section of the school – ie those for whom English isn’t their native language
- Can often be viewed as the ‘poor relation’ in the school compared to the core subject teachers
Universities – many universities and colleges, particularly in Asia, have excellent English language departments to support a range of students, not only English majors.
- Usually well organised and structured
- You know the age of your students – important if you don’t fancy teaching Young Learners
- Many (although not all!) are highly motivated to learn
- Often good opportunities for professional development
- Good resources
- In some destinations these are rightly regarded as the best jobs to have with good salaries, relatively low levels of contact hours and a lot of respect accorded to your position
- Some students may only be studying English because they have too – not always the greatest motivation for learning
- You may in some countries be expected to be able to speak the local language and have some years experience teaching in that country
So, let’s assume you know have an idea of where you want to teach and what sort of school you want to teach in (don’t worry if you don’t though – for many it’s just important to get that first job and get earning). What next?
The first place to start really is the internet (surprise, surprise) but, if you’ve had a look already, you’ll have noticed that you could spend the next few months trawling through the seemingly thousands of TEFL related job sites out there.
Depending where you want to work and the sort of school you want to work in (large private language school chains, small private language schools, elementary / high schools etc) you can narrow down your searching very quickly.
If you’re looking to work in a large international chain school (ie with branches all over not only the country but in many parts of the world) then it’s quick and easy to visit their website to see what jobs are going (and one of the advantages of these schools for your first job is that in many cases they will run interviews in the UK / US etc meaning that you can get a feel for what they are like
If you don’t fancy working for one of the larger ‘chains’ or you’re not sure then don’t worry, there are a handful of great global resources on-line.
Perhaps the most famous is ‘Dave’s ESL Café’ – http://www.eslcafe.com/jobs/ – which has literally thousands of jobs from around the world. The challenge with this site is that searching isn’t easy and you can be ‘overwhelmed’ by the sheer volume and the lack of ‘organisation’ around how the jobs are listed. As with many sites of this nature you also don’t really get any insight into what the employer is like.
Up there with Dave’s in terms of volume of jobs in www.tefl.com – but the search facility on this site is much better and easier to use. With hundreds of new vacancies every month this is a great resource to get you going.
Even if you can’t find something that tickles your fancy on these sites, most of them allow you to ‘upload’ your CV for free in the hope that recruiters will find you. Although this isn’t always the best way to find a job (you could be waiting for years!) it costs nothing and takes very little time.
Aside from these big global jobs resources there are also one or two excellent country specific sites online with perhaps the best being:
The beauty of both these sites is that not only are they a great source of jobs but they also contain a host of other information on working and living in the country – and let’s face it, yes you need a job but at the same time it pays to be somewhere that you think you’re going to enjoy living in and this gives you a great idea from the inside, rather than the glossy postcard version that you get in travel brochures / programmes.
After exhausting possibilities on these sites don’t forget newspapers (or at least their on-line versions).
You’ll also find listings in the online versions of English language papers of the country that you are looking to work in. Although the number of jobs appearing in newspapers seems to be in terminal decline it’s still worth having a look around at the online newspapers from where you are heading – and if you don’t see any jobs you are interested in at the very least it gives you more insight into the country and what’s going on where you looking to live!
Of course it may be easy (or relatively easy) to find a job online but how do you know a) that school is going to deliver what it promises and b) is going to give you a job.
Obviously you don’t – but you can do a few things to minimise the risk!
Firstly, see if there are any reviews of the employer online, but do so with a healthy sense of scepticism. You’re always going to get someone who doesn’t like working somewhere or fell out with their boss and decided to vent online. Just have a quick look on TripAdvisor for your favourite restaurant / bar / hotel and you’ll see people slating somewhere you love….. However, if you see a large number of negative experiences then it could be time to re-consider!
Secondly, have a look at the organisations website. Although this isn’t infallible (far from it), a half-arsed website is not usually a good sign but conversely no website at all doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good school or employer – they may after all recruit their students entirely within the local community and not need an all singing and dancing website.
Thirdly, post on the message-boards that all the good job sites have asking if anyone has worked for XXXX or knows of people who have. As with the reviews you need to keep a sense of perspective about response but you can begin to get a bit of an idea of how things may be.
Finally, take the plunge, send through your CV and covering letter and keep your fingers crossed. If you don’t get a response in a reasonable amount of time (remembering that many ads will tell you when they’ll respond by etc) then don’t be afraid of sending a polite follow-up mail. However, don’t be tempted to chase too much, experience shows that those employers who don’t respond is a decent amount of time (unless they say only successful applicants will be contacted) often are the very sort who you should steer clear of!
In some cases your potential employer will either have an agent in the UK / US who may be able to conduct an interview (but by no means in every case) or alternatively they will arrange a phone interview with you. Obviously face to face is ideal not only so you can help yourself get the job but also giving you the opportunity to weigh up the ‘culture’ of the organisation and how you would fit it. However, if that’s not possible then at least with a phone interview you can ask all the questions you’d like too about the school and the organisation. Prior to the interview list some of these questions out (and the beauty of a phone interview is that you can have your list beside you!) and make sure you ask them – you’re looking at moving abroad for a year or more so it is a big step – as once you get the job (notice the positive thinking here) you have to make the decision whether to accept it. We have a list of potential questions to ask later in this guide!
Advantages of on online search and application
- The world really is your oyster
- Thousands of jobs posted every month in all areas of the world
- A range of qualification and experience requirements
- A range of commitments from a few months to a couple of years
- Allows you to apply for as many jobs as you’d like – it’s your time!
- You’re in control of your destiny (well, hopefully)
- The difficulty of knowing if the reality matches up to the advert and promises
- You could be offered a job and still have little or now idea about what you’re going to
- The ease for fraudsters to post jobs etc online (remember, do as much checking as you can before signing on the dotted line)
- It’s still a bit of a lottery – but then again so is any new job!
What if the online job listings don’t appeal to you / you decide you really would prefer meeting someone prior to travelling to your new job overseas? A good option then, other than the large language school chains who usually have an office in the UK where they conduct interviews etc, is to look at a TEFL recruitment agency.
Why I hear you ask should I use an agency when we’ve just seen how many jobs are on-line?
The easy answer is, assuming you work with a reputable agency, that they will only work with schools that they have vetted, they save you the hard work of sorting out the wheat from the chaff and, ideally, you have someone to turn to if things don’t work out as planned. The best agencies these days often even have representatives in their most important destinations to help support teachers they have sent and it doesn’t get much better than that!
Now as with everything in life there are going to be good agencies and bad ones – and often you won’t find out until you are in country and working away. As a rule of thumb here are things to look out for:
- Did they ask you for money to get you a job? If they did, walk away immediately. A deposit held against a completion bonus or similar is fine (as long as you think you are going to complete your contract) but not money to get you a job! If you’re asked to pay for the job then run a mile. You wouldn’t pay for a job in the UK so why would you do so overseas? Again – a refundable deposit once you’ve been offered the job etc is fine and in fact in many cases is a good thing. Money just to get you a job… NO!
- Do you have the opportunity to actually meet someone from the agency – if not, why not?
- When you speak to the agency do they sound friendly, knowledgeable and professional?
- Did they encourage you to ask questions – and answer your questions / get back to you if they didn’t know the answer immediately (remember, no-one is ever going to know everything!)
- Did they do everything they said they were going to – even with the little things like responding to you within x days. It all counts. If they don’t do what they promise when they are trying to recruit you then what are they going to be like once you’ve signed on the dotted line.
- If you went to their office did it seem / feel professional. Now it doesn’t need to be a huge but if it’s a tatty living room then you need to ask yourself why?
The very best recruitment agency’s will interview you face to face (or at least by phone), look through your CV in detail (and you’ll know they have by the questions they ask you!) and work with you to match you to a job that’s right for you – and you’ll generally get the feeling that this is the case.
They will be professional in everything they do and offer you some form of security against heading to a job that isn’t what it was you thought it was. However, to be fair to any agency they can’t be blamed for any problem you may have overseas and whilst the job should be fine, if you can’t settle overseas / don’t like the city / country etc then it wouldn’t be fair to blame the agency!
Finally, if what the agency promised isn’t delivered then you should have some form of recourse in the country the agency is based, particularly if any information they gave you turns out to be significantly inaccurate.
- The agent should know all about the school and working set up
- You should be able to meet face to face prior to travel
- It can take a lot of the ‘luck’ out of applying for jobs you know little about
- You do have some form of recourse should things not be as you expected
- There are some unscrupulous agents out there – unfortunately
- You will only be looking at a limited number of jobs available – ie those who the agent has a deal with
- Most agents only specialise in particular part of the world
Lists / Databases of TEFL schools around the world
You’ll find some offers of lists such as this and unless it’s free (and even then think carefully) steer clear. It’s highly unlikely that anyone has gone through and checked that every address and contact detail is up to date and you have no idea how up to date the list it. Additionally, do you really want to plough through thousands of schools – with no information as to whether it might be something you are looking for – only to send off your CV and never receive a reply or even worse for your mail to bounce back saying the address doesn’t exist? If you’re intent on finding list of language schools in a particular country or city your much better off simply googling and taking it from there!
Whoever you did your TEFL course with?
If you completed your TEFL course relatively recently (ie in the last year or so) then whoever ran your course is often a good source of information on jobs abroad.
All the good TEFL course providers (and even some of the not quite as good ones) should and usually do offer help and information on getting your first job overseas. This will range from general advice matching where you want to go and the sort of school you want to work in to direct links with schools in particular countries. As with an agent be wary of those who charge you money for the job – unless there is a very good reason for them doing so ie providing you with support, additional training etc – and remember it is in the interests often of the course provider to help their graduates get a job as if people can’t get work with their training then ultimately people will stop training with them!
If taking this route, as with any other method, just make sure you have a list of questions that you want to ask and remember that it’s your job that you are interested it, nothing else! Don’t be pushed into taking a job somewhere or doing something that you really didn’t want.
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