Succeeding Abroad in TEFL and in Life

TEFL certification courses don’t teach you how to succeed

Those of us with a business or management education will remember the research that says that only about 20% of people who are fired from their jobs are fired due to a lack of skills in their occupation.

The flip side of that equation says: 80% of people fired from their jobs are fired for other reasons – usually poor work habits and social skills issues.

So, yes, I hope you study your TEFL training carefully and develop the skills to become a teacher that provides great benefit to your students. But, there are a few more things involved along the way.

A favorite topic of mine is intercultural skills and learning to adapt and thrive in a foreign culture. Add intercultural miscommunication to that 80% of people fired for other than job skills and I think that all of a sudden you will find that 80% becoming 90% or even more – for people living abroad. And that would reflect my experience and what I have seen working in five different foreign countries.

What to do? How to learn more on these type issues that your TEFL Training doesn’t cover?   Go on over to this page at TEFL Boot Camp: Free eBooks where you can sign up and get a couple good ebooks that will help you get started, but also – Seven Secrets to Success Abroad – and that book will help you understand how to operate in a different culture with different expectations at work and outside school.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Pick up some intercultural skills and you will go a long way toward assuring your success while living and working overseas.

Teaching Internships in China

Online TEFL Training

The BEST EFL Teaching Jobs in China: Government Colleges, Universities and Secondary Schools offer the most reliable and worry-free jobs in China. Click on the Link if you would like to Teach English in China




Will Schools have already Prepared Lessons for You?

Be Prepared for TEFL Freedom

One of the most commonly asked questions I get when I am placing people in schools in China is this: Will the school have already prepared lessons and lesson plans for me?

Well, after I stop chuckling . . . my usual answer is, “No.”

But really the answer depends on where you are going to teach. In China with only a BA/BS and a TEFL certification and a bit of experience you can land a university teaching position. With only a TEFL Certification and a degree and no experience language school positions are available.

Here is my real life response to someone who is taking a position at a university (more about language schools next time) who asked specifically:

I was wondering if I should bring teaching materials with me, and how much flexibility will I have to use my own materials?

My response:

I’ve taught in four countries and frankly ALWAYS preferred my own materials to the often irrelevant and unfocused materials that were usually offered (if any were offered at all!). Some schools do have some decent materials, but most don’t.

How much flexibility? Probably a LOT and hope for a LOT. Usually schools that have a well-defined and pre-designed program are rigidly holding on to what are often terrible materials and a curriculum that doesn’t work well for their students.

Colleges and universities, especially the ones with small EFL programs, usually just expect that you know what to do and give you the freedom to do it. I have rarely encountered even a decent syllabus after working at eight different colleges and universities in those four countries. Very large English departments though are more likely to be better structured and organized.

I don’t mean for my comments about these schools to be negative – it is in fact very positive – as the freedom tends to allow you to build exactly what is needed for your students. Nothing is worse than being forced to teach a very structured program that doesn’t help your students at all.

Now, sometimes a school will give you a book, the book somebody used last year. Sometimes you will be expected to use it as the campus bookstore ordered it and sold it to all the students already.

Understandably, the students would be upset if they were required to purchase a book that was never used, so you use it a bit and add in your own materials and gradually fade out of the book. You will need to use their book a bit, so the students don’t complain – practical considerations! Next semester you get to pick the book.

How the world really works

I had a teacher contact me once, looking for a job because he was about to quit the job he had just taken. His comments were: The school is very unprofessional – they had nothing prepared and told me to just develop my own program.


Yeah, in my mind the PERFECT teaching position! And he was going to quit!

Be happy for the freedom you will have in a position that offers it.

Certainly in most Asian countries and especially at smaller schools you will be offered a lot of freedom and the school will expect you to know what to do. Especially as they are often paying you more and sometimes much more than the non-native speaker local teachers.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Just another reason to get some training before you take up a teaching position as many schools will expect you to put together the program you are going to teach.   Especially at the university/college level you can expect that the school will assume that you know what to do and will ask you to get on with it.

Teaching Internships in China


Travel and Teach English or Teach English and Travel?

Or . . . how those TEFL recruiters and some TEFL certification companies can mislead you.

I am always a bit dismayed about the advertising I see on different recruiting and TEFL certification training websites.

Particularly the ones that tell you that life teaching English abroad is one big party of traveling and seeing the world.  Some even include travel in their name, but nothing about teaching!

They hardly mention – Oh yeah – there is a job you need to go to every day and do a good job at it.

Now, I am happy to tell you that I headed overseas to see the world.   But in 1989 when I went, I fully realized that I was taking a job and it needed to be performed well.  Not that I was traveling and sometimes might need to work.

To have a successful life abroad you need to flip Travel and Teach English around to say: Teach English and Travel.

Your J-O-B needs to come first.

What Employers Would Like to Hear

Every now and then employers of English teachers would love to hear how much a teacher candidate enjoys TEACHING, how important it is to help their students improve their English skills and how rewarding you might find that to be.

All that said, I have done an amazing amount of traveling and seeing the world in my 21+ years abroad. Perhaps the best way to look at it might be with Zig Ziglar’s famous statement: If you help enough people get what they want, you will get what you want. And notice that the helping people get what they want – comes first.

TED’s Tips™ #1: To have a successful life abroad, you need to put your JOB first. Life overseas offers so many opportunities to experience cultures AND to travel that you can pretty well assume that those things will come with your job.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Head overseas with a strong commitment to your job and your students and everything else will fall into place. Head overseas with your travel plan number one and you might be surprised how quickly things fall apart and you are on your way back home.

Teaching Internships in China