Scoring your First TEFL Job

Do you want to teach English as a Foreign Language (EFL), overseas?  Well, luckily for you, employers worldwide are eager to hire someone just like you. Newbie teachers are often amazed how easy it is to hook that first job offer.

However, as with any line of work, it’s important to weigh your options and take the right position for you. If you take your time finding your first EFL job, you and your employer will be happier for it.

One thing to consider when you’re choosing which job fits your best is the length of contract.  Are unsure  of committing to a whole 12-month contract in an exotic land? Check out TEFL Temp, where you can find listings of short-term TEFL jobs. You might even find the rare four-month posting that includes airfare and training. An offer like that is hard to beat!

Also, don’t forget to read the advice at our sister website, TEFL Newbie.  There, you can find all kinds of information about searching for (and getting) your first job teaching English overseas; living abroad; and the ins and outs of working in a foreign land.

It doesn’t matter if you’re thinking about just doing a few months or even years abroad or if you think TEFL might be the lifelong career you always wanted, odds are TEFL Newbie will have some information to interest you.

Of course, every teacher’s expectations, requirements and talents are one-of-a-kind, and you won’t find every answer you seek on-line. But TEFL Newbie is a good place to start. It was created by a former Peace Corps Volunteer (Botswana 89-91) living and working abroad ever since then, and it tries to answer all those questions a first-time English teacher might have before they go abroad to work.

Topics on TEFL Newbie range from how to choose what country to teach in, how to pay back your outstanding student loans while you are overseas, insurance, family matters, and of course visas and contracts.   There are also hundreds of comments/questions and responses that just might fit your particular situation

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Cruise over to TEFL Boot Camp and pick up some FREE ebooks about everything from finding your first job to how to create success overseas.  You can sign up for those free ebooks HERE.

TED’s Tips™ #2: While it’s a good idea to think twice before snapping up the first TEFL  job that comes your way, recognize that not everyone’s first teaching job will be the perfect one for them. Just like in an industry, your job (and your employer) may have its ups and downs. Approach this with a professional attitude.  And – to be honest – sometimes an “entry-level” job is just that – what you need to do to get your foot in the door.

TED’s Tips™ #3: Don’t forget that there’s more on this website that can help you. Maximize what you get out of that first job by going through the other sections of this website, paying special attention to English for Specific Purposes (ESP) and Business English.

Teaching Internships in China


Jobs Market for Teaching English: Is it too Good to be True?

A reader over at TEFL Newbie wrote this comment:

I am a little overwhelmed by the sheer volume of positions in S. Korea, China, and Japan. The job market situation appears to be the inverse of the market here in the USA. In the postings for positions in China I am surprised by the sheer volume of listings and by the often times scant requirements and sometimes the offers seem a little to good to be true.

Things are – in fact – booming in Asia.  The demand for teachers is as great as it has ever been.

While it can seem a bit “too good to be true”, it is only because the jobs market in the developed countries is terrible right now.  Has been for a couple years and probably will be for a couple more.

China and Korea continue to be the largest of the job markets for teaching English.  Korea requires a degree and no TEFL certification and China doesn’t require a degree but does require a TEFL cert, though some employers can get around the requirement.

While wages in China can seem modest, when you throw in free accommodation, airfare reimbursement, subsidized utilities (sometimes) and possibly even free lunch some days and a transportation payment – and all of a sudden you are doing okay.  Add in really low taxes (from zero to three to seven percent at most) and you can see that all of a sudden, your wages are basically for food (inexpensive) and fun (can be expensive!).

Teachers in China can often save US$200 and up.  Not a lot, but how much can you save working at Walmart or McDonald’s?

Korea too, offers what can seem to be a modest wage, but by the time you throw in all the perks – well – most people in Korea can save US$1000 a month without really trying.   If you can’t save that much, you need to take a break from the nightclubs and stay home every now and then . . .

Korea, for the above reasons, is a more competitive market than China.  Lots of fresh graduates from university head to Korea to pay off or at least put a dent in their student loans.

China is a better option for teachers who would prefer teaching at university, but don’t have the graduate degree required to do so in Korea.   Chinese universities pay modestly compared even to Chinese language schools, but you work less and there are often options for increasing your income — and the status of a university position helps a lot.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Don’t make yourself a victim of the “It’s too good to be true” syndrome.  The jobs market for teaching English overseas is alive and well.  High unemployment in the USA, UK and Ireland means that Korea is more competitive, but there are still more jobs than can find teachers in China.

TED’s Tips™ #2:  Try for a good sampling of what is available around the world.  You will truly be amazed.

Teaching Internships in China


What They don’t Teach you at TEFL School #28

Be Sure to Keep your Contacts “Back Home”

Okay, it’s not really #28 but we will have 100+ before we get done.

Whether you intend to spend three months, six months, one year, or the rest of your life – overseas – keep networking with your friends and former coworkers back home. Keep in touch with them. Maintain your friendships!

When you go back home on vacation, visit with your former coworkers.  Go to lunch or out for a beer with them. Exchange e-mails. Send them photographs of your travels and of your life overseas.

Let them know you are doing REAL work, not just traveling around on a lark. And you will, btw, be doing real work (you may be surprised just how hard you end up working!). You never know when you might need, or want, their help to transition back home again.


Yes! Even more so than back home, networking is critical in the EFL business. In the last 18 years I’ve only done a few real interviews!  Of my last two EFL jobs – one was completely arranged by a long-term friend, and the other was with a former employer I kept in touch with and went out for a beer with whenever I was in his town. And I bought more than a few of those beers to keep our relationship equal, though he was at the time a far wealthier man than I.

After 16 years in the TEFL world, I now keep in touch with friends in several countries, all of whom would be willing to help me find a job if I needed their help.

And, I would be willing to do the same – and they know it too.

Foreign Cultures

Networking is even more important in many foreign cultures than back home, so keep those contacts solid at home and everywhere you work overseas. You’ll be amazed how important they can become. In many cultures introductions are just as important as, often more important than, qualifications and experience.  As I mentioned earlier one of my more recent jobs – a nice university position – was arranged by a friend.  They hired me on the strength of his recommendation.  That and a three-minute telephone interview.  I think it was him more than the interview.

WILL I have trouble going home?

Just because you are overseas – living big maybe – doesn’t mean you can forget about the world back home. You need to keep your contacts up to date, continue educating yourself in your previous occupation and in your new one.

Depending on your previous career and the skill level required, and how fast that career field is changing, it DOES become more difficult to return home into the type of position you held at the time you left. This is true particularly after about five to eight years of being away (in my opinion).

My Case

I last worked in my chosen profession back home (social work administration) in 1989. Though I have maintained many contacts in the field, I do not think I could return to the level of job I had when I left. BUT! I don’t think I would have trouble returning to that line of work, due to my contacts. I might have to start a little lower down the totem pole.

I last went to lunch with a former supervisor about a year ago. I really believe that she would help me land a quite decent job if I asked, and she is certainly in the position to help as her responsibilities and abilities have moved her high up in such organizations (CFO and CEO of large non-profits) in the time I have been gone.

Twenty-one Years Later

When I first wrote this page, I was preparing for the visit of a friend with whom I worked in Africa in 1989 (a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer)! Good friends, great experiences over all these years, no doubt we would be happy – and pleased – to help each other if we needed.

You will develop the same type of relationships. It is a very special world out here! It really is.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Keep up your contacts. You never know when you will need them. And they are very nice to have if you do need them.

But I’m Not a REAL Teacher

Secret Fears of TEFL Teachers #1

Even teachers who have taught overseas for years sometimes have this issue in the back of their mind. But probably 98% of us that have been teaching overseas for more than just a year or two started out just like you. No real experience teaching English. Most of us with no teaching experience at all.

Some people feel like they are masquerading as a teacher.

What to do about it

Before you begin looking for a teaching job, get yourself familiar with what it is all about. About HOW to teach. Get some training so you have at least a basic idea about what to do on the job. About how to provide good service to your students. About how to help them improve and enjoy learning.

It really is about teaching, even thought teaching EFL is a bit different from other kinds of teaching in that classroom participation is critical for the success of students.

Even if you already have a teaching job, spend some time improving your skills. The internet is loaded with ways for you to improve yourself. From forums of teachers looking for new ideas and advising each other to online programs to teach you new skills. Ebooks, videos, podcasts, just about everything and anything.

Move on Up

If you intend to stay in the profession for more than a couple years or if you are truly hooked as many of us are and intend to stay overseas for a LONG time tasting of different cultures and countries – get yourself graduate degree in TESOL or applied linguistics (essentially the same).

There are some great distance programs offered, especially from Australia, that have good reputations and reasonable costs. A good graduate degree will help qualify you for university positions almost anywhere in the world and add a bit of polish to your skills.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Improve your skills to improve your self confidence and self concept as a teacher.

Teaching English Abroad: A Typical Day

What is a Typical Day for an EFL Teacher Overseas?

What is Teaching English Abroad like?

Teaching is enjoyable work if you enjoy people. Like any occupation, each specific job can vary greatly. It depends on what type of school or company you work for, the country you work in, and the ages of your students.

Adults or Children

The teaching of adults is often less-structured than the teaching of children. They are, usually, more motivated, have a reason for taking the class, and already have some English speaking skills. Kids, on the other hand, are often in class because their parents signed them up, have short attention spans, and need a lot of activity to keep them interested.

New Teachers

New teachers tend to teach children’s classes, though this is not always true. Everyone has their own preference – some people love to teach kids and even kindergarten – some prefer to teach only adults. Perhaps because of the more structured lessons, new teachers are more frequently assigned to the very specific routines that younger learners need. That’s not to say that teaching kids is easier – I think it is more difficult!

Teaching Kids

Language schools often hire EFL teachers for kids classes. These classes are usually after school and will involve teaching the basics in a very interactive format. Note the stress! Kids need action! This is not a lecture class. Songs, games, activities and imitation drills will provide the basis for these classes.

Sometimes these classes will be 30-45 minutes instead of 50-90 minutes more typical of adult classes. Often, you would teach four to six of these classes in one day, with from six to fifteen kids in each class.

Adult Classes

These are sometimes called “conversation” classes where adults come to sharpen their already existing basic English skills. While this sounds like a “chat” class – you would still be expected to provide instruction, some activities, some error correction – and a lot of encouragement.

These classes can vary, but typically are 50-60 minutes – and you might teach three to six of them in one day. Sometimes, due to adults’ working schedules, you might teach very early in the day, or late in the day, and sometimes both!

Adults tend to be easier to teach (IMO), but you can end up with some difficult work schedules to accommodate your students.

University Classes

Particularly if you already have a masters degree, you might find yourself teaching at a university or college. High status – maybe – but you might also find yourself teaching 30-100 bored students who are required to take the class. In my experience, a class of less than 25 is hard to come by.

I once taught a reading class with 100 students in it – and have heard from another teacher who taught 150 students in one class. Don’t attempt this kind of teaching until you get a little experience under your belt. Typically, you will teach fewer classes per week, but you can see from the numbers that preparation is critical – and any kind of home work will lead to piles and piles of work – that you will need to do at home.

Most classes will be 60 to 120 minutes.

Middle and High School Students

These classes, tend to be middle of the road, lecture a bit: language principles, grammar, pronunciation, etc., then an activity. Sometimes these too can be large classes of students who may not be highly motivated. If you are teaching at a public school, classes can be quite large, in a private language school, classes will be smaller.

Corporate and “Company” Classes

Some companies will hire you to improve their workers’ English skills. Classes will tend to be small, but often at odd hours to work around your students’ work schedules. Student attendance may be erratic. I personally enjoy these type of classes, but many teachers don’t, as students are often quite tired after a hard day of work and just want to go home. I can’t blame them! These classes tend to focus on “Business English” and the language of the workplace.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Expect just about any combination of the above and you will not be surprised!

TED’s Tips™ #2: Your “typical” day may well be very different from anyone else’s typical day. Take it all with a grain of salt, keep an open mind and as always, stay flexible.

TEFL Certification and Your First Job Teaching English

I am taking a little vacation so the posts for the next few weeks will be responses to questions and topics suggested the readers of the blog.

Starting your career Teaching English Abroad

A recent reader wrote in and asked:

I am an engineer and thinking seriously of changing careers and getting certified to teach English abroad. I am very interested in TEFL certification. If I did that next spring, how long could I expect to have to wait to get my first job? I currently have a BS degree, some teaching experience while in college (late 90’s), but none after that.

My Response was:

Any good TEFL Certification will do a lot to help you land the job you want faster and usually will put you at the top of the list. Even if it is not required it shows that you are interested in doing a quality job. And that says a lot to a potential employer.

You asked, “…how long could I expect to have to wait to get my first job?”

The answer to that depends a lot on where you want to teach and even who you want to teach. If you want to teach in Korea or China, you can probably sign a contract within days. If you have something very specific in mind it might take a bit longer.

For example, if you want to teach at a resort on a tropical island, your job search should be more detailed and take a bit longer . . .

By the above, I mean what country and what kind of setting (university, preschool, language school, secondary school).

I would encourage you to read these webpages to help you sharpen your focus:

Types of TEFL Jobs


Please feel free to contact me and ask more questions.
Happy to help if I can.

What TEFL Training Courses DON’T Teach You #1

Be Prepared for TEFL Freedom

One of the most frequently 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 us?

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 you can land a university teaching position. With only a TEFL Certification OR only a degree 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 my criticism of 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. 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 about being sold the book – 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 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: LOVE the opportunity to release your creative skills in the classroom. So few teachers in the world have that opportunity.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Teaching is a profession. Treat it like one. Roll up your sleeves and get to work.