Finding Your TEFL Sweet Spot

Imagine doing something you love. Something you are really good at. Something people pay you to do.

Sounds pretty amazing, doesn’t it?

In 1992, after two years as a volunteer in Africa, I grabbed the first TEFL job that I could find without knowing I could make a connection between the past, present and the possibility of an incredible future.

Different strokes for different folks

People stand out, achieve and excel in their area of expertise. If you have a special skill or knowledge in a specific field of study, you are needed. The TEFL-world needs you!

During my time as a teacher and teacher-trainer I’ve taught and worked with different folks with broadly different skill sets. I’ve taught side by side with people from diverse backgrounds with highly specialized skills: engineers, accountants, lawyers, nurses, managers, artists, designers, social workers, journalists, travel agents and just about everything else.

Skills + Experience = Opportunity

If you have skills and knowledge in a specific area, put them to work for you in your new occupation: TEFL.

Who needs English teachers with your specialty?  Law schools, maritime schools, aviation schools, international hospitals, international law and accounting firms.  Just about every business that crosses international borders and the schools that teach the skills for those businesses.

A couple of simple examples: An international hospital would prefer to hire an English teacher that used to be a nurse.  Why?  S/he knows all the special vocabulary, the unique kinds of conversations and interactions that a nurse or doctor has with patients.  You and I don’t know those things and at best, can only guess.

Business schools, MBA schools and universities teaching international business would certainly prefer to hire me as an English teacher. Why, because I’ve managed an (admittedly smallish) international business and have an MBA.  I know how businesses work, the vocabulary and even what bosses are like.  I know the vocabulary of that business and what interactions they might have with their bosses and customers.

Got the idea?

The job hunt of finding that specialized college or university or business job might be difficult, but in the end you will be rewarded with a higher paying job and be rewarded with the satisfaction of using your skills – stick to what you know and enjoy the benefits!

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

ESP (English for Special Purposes, also called English for Specific Purposes) has many benefits – it provides a platform for you to share your knowledge, usually it pays better than the normal English Teaching job and you get the added benefit of meeting people along the way with whom you share the same interests, knowledge and passion.

My Good Luck

In every country in which I have worked I have had the privilege and good fortune to teach ESP classes. It was always more interesting and usually with more pay – sometimes with much more.  And I met and taught people who had similar interests to mine.  What better place to make new friends?

Ted’s Tips™ #1: Do an Internet search to find colleges, universities and large corporations in your field of knowledge based in your target country. Approach them and be sure to mention your related skill in your resume/CV – bring your special skills to their attention.

ESP students are usually more motivated because you are there to help them to do a better job with their English speaking customers and sometimes even their English speaking bosses.  In the case of university students, the skills you are teaching them may well help them land their dream job.

Ted’s Tips™ #2: If a school is not advertising it doesn’t mean that they are not looking for a teacher.  Approach them, they might need you and not know how to find you.

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Short-term TEFL Jobs

This is another post inspired by a comment on the website.  A reader wrote:

I thought about doing short term contracts over the space of about 1 year i.e. 4 months in say 3 countries. Would I be best to apply in country?

Devil’s advocate here . . . my response follows below and it will likely be unpopular with a certain segments of the TEFL crowd, but I will try to give you a good understanding of the issues at hand.

Here we go . . .

I am not a big fan of short-term contracts as they usually meet the needs of the teacher and do very little for the schools/students involved.

My personal opinion is that it takes even a skilled and experienced teacher a couple months to really get to know a school/culture/country/group of students and to become really effective. So . . . about the time you will become useful to a school, your thoughts will have already moved on to your next assignment and you will soon be gone.

I realize that is a rather harsh view of short-term teaching, but it is what I have observed during my 20+ years abroad.

Students, particularly younger students, need some consistency in their lives and classrooms and in their teachers.

Just as an analogy, have you ever worked a job where you got a new boss every three or four months?  I have and I well remember a different focus with each one.  Each one thought different things were more important.  What was stressed by one, was ignored by another or we were even told that the old way was the wrong way.   Where does something like take a student?

Also, in the past, when you knew you were going to leave a job in the next month or two, did you always give 100%?  Or was your mind wandering on to the next job?

I’m not totally against short-term teaching jobs – really.  Summer and winter camps where everyone – including the student – knows this is going to be a short-term intensive program, that’s a different story.

But  do, please, put the student foremost in your mind if you wish to be a teacher.  They need to come first.  If that is an unpopular view then so be it.

TED’s Tips™ #1: It is only fair that we think about how our behavior affects our students.  Teachers coming and going can have a pretty negative effect on students.  I am sure there are teachers who can handle this to the betterment of their students, but I have not met many of them.

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

The Most Common TEFL Scam

You might as well see it and know it, so here it is.  This email arrived in my inbox yesterday.  Not the first one like it, they seem very common these days.  So . . . let’s take a look at it:

Hello English Teacher,

I am Mr. ******* from Russia live here in Newcastle England. I
have my son and my wife with me here. I need them to learn ESL to
enable them speak English well in while here in England. Their names
are Robert my son and Irina my wife respectively.
I can be able to pay you £4,000GBP monthly and then will also pay you monthly for health allowance. Also, I will be responsible for some the fees for your visa documents.
I need you to send me your CV and other credentials so that I can evaluate you for this job.


This one is easy, right?

The writer appeals to your greed, to your interest in earning a wage far above what most EFL/ESL teachers would earn for what seems a very cushy job.

But the most important thing is that this scam approached me.  Not me applying for a job – the email came to me and asked me to apply.   Yet this person doesn’t know my name, he just harvested my email from God knows where.

Interestingly, he writes: I will be responsible for some the fees for your visa documents.

Bad English and all – this is where the scam plays out. I will apply for this job to earn big money, but right before I can take it, there will be a last minute need for me to send – oh . . . probably US$500 or so – to pay for my “Visa Paperwork”.  Do I want this job that is going to pay big money?  Perhaps I already paid for a plane ticket?  Told my family about the great job I got?  Quit my job? Living in my parent’s basement? I’d better send the money right away.

Well . . . that will be that last you will hear from your potential “employer” and your money will be long gone.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Key factors to look for in a scam:  #1  —  They approached you directly, yet probably don’t even know your name and want to pay you more than the going rate for what seems to be an easy job.

TED’s Tips™ #2:  The scamster sets the stage for asking you for money by mentioning “visa fees” – though this won’t come up again until the very last minute.  Now – there is nothing wrong with paying visa fees.  But you pay them directly to the embassy of the country from which you are obtaining the visa, not to an individual you have never met.

TED’s Tips™ #3: The request for money will be at the very last moment.  It was never made completely clear in the beginning as to an exact amount.  The idea was only briefly mentioned, but it set the stage to ask you for money and for you to feel like you were fairly warned – and you were.

TED’s Tips™ #4:  Use your head.  This particular scam is no different than if someone walked up to you on the street and offered you US$1000 if you would wash their car.  Might you think there was something not right about such an offer?  Yeah.  So would I.

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Hiring Season for TEFL

The Best Times of the Year to Look for TEFL Jobs

If you’re from an English-speaking country in the northern hemisphere, chances are when you think of the “school year,” you’re envisioning the time between September and June. Our students study during these months because, traditionally, during the summer many children and teens were required to work in the fields or otherwise help provide for their families.

However, other countries with different traditions and varying agricultural seasons and weather patterns have very different schedules for their school years. Now, all of this may seem just a bit of trivia—unless you’re looking for work as a teacher overseas.

If you want to find work as a TEFL teacher abroad, you’ll need to know what times of year are best for applying—and what times of year you’ll be unlikely to land a job.

First, let’s look at Asia.

In China, schools also follow the September to July schedule, which means that new teachers should look for jobs in July and August to start the new school year. However, schools here often like to hire teachers for summer classes as well, which means they’ll be hiring as early as April or May. A few opportunities can also be found from ads popping up in December or January, for jobs starting after the Chinese New Year (the dates of which are determined by the lunar calendar and vary from year to year, but are usually in January or February).

Japan, however, begins its school year in April or March (again, it depends), so not everywhere in Asia has the same schedule. Japanese schools also seem to hire teachers with more lead time than Chinese employers do. Korea also begins in March, and Thailand schools usually begin classes in May and end them in March.

In Europe, schools mostly follow the North American agricultural-based schedule, though employers here tend to hire farther in advance of the job opening than Asian schools do. That’s a generalization, of course, but it doesn’t hurt to start looking in the spring for European jobs starting in the fall.

In South America, below the Equator, many schools begin their new semesters in January, expecting teachers to commit until the following December. However, depending on the country, some schools hire in January and February for jobs starting after Easter, which is usually in March or April.

Mexico follows the same school schedule as the U.S.A., roughly, but the rest of Central America usually has school schedules beginning in February, with new jobs on offer in January and December.

For jobs in the Middle East, teachers can expect to start in August or September, with the hiring process beginning a few months before. Some jobs also come available in December or January, so look at the job boards in November or earlier to make sure you don’t miss the best postings. African schools also usually follow the September start schedule.

Other Things to Consider

Some institutions, like private language training centers, have classes year-round and so may need to hire teachers at various times throughout the year. So, if you’re looking for work out of the peak hiring seasons, it’s still worth browsing ads. Also, hiring managers at schools are often recruiting year-round, and it can benefit you to be ahead of the pack with your application, as long as you try to make personal contact with the recruiter, and don’t just send generic letters to everyone.

Another thing to keep in mind is that, if you know you won’t be able to travel to the target country in time for the beginning of the school year, odds are the school will not be able to hire you. Most schools need all hands on deck for the beginning of the semester or school year, and won’t be able to accommodate your individual travel plans.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Research the country you most want to move to, and plan to apply for jobs two to four months before you’d begin the job. Earlier is usually better, but not always, as school managers may not know if existing staff will renew their contracts or not until the end of the semester.

TED’s Tips™ #2:  Even if you don’t apply for a job this time around, keep track of what country’s schools are hiring when—this will help you anticipate when to apply if you want to change jobs and countries after your first year of teaching.   

 TEFL Educator / TEFL Boot Camp

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What You Need Before You Apply for TEFL Jobs

Putting It All Together

Before you start applying for jobs overseas as a new teacher of English as a Foreign Language, you need to make sure you have everything you need ready, so you’ll be able to field requests for interviews and job offers with ease.

Here’s what you need:

A Passport

This is the number one, gold-star, most important thing you need before you even look for a job overseas. No employer will take your interest in working overseas seriously if you don’t have a passport. Plan this in advance as it may take a few weeks to get a new passport processed. Many job applications require you to send in a photocopy of your passport along with your resume, so get this done first!

Now, some people, especially people who have traveled abroad before and know how vital a passport is, may get cold feet about sending their passport details around to strangers. They worry about identity theft, or that some other kind of scam will result. However, the risk of having your passport details stolen is very slim (passports are hard to counterfeit), and you’ll not be taken seriously by employers if you don’t provide this. It’s a calculated risk, but really, not much of a risk at all.

Passport-Style Photos That Make You Look Employable

For travel purposes it doesn’t matter if your passport photo makes you look like a hobo living under a bridge.  It just has to look enough like you that the immigration officers are satisfied. But, you’re going to need lots of small photos for your job application paperwork, your visa paperwork and possibly for other uses, as well, like staff ID cards and embedding on your resume (you know to do that, right?).  You could try your luck with a pro photographer, or get a friend to try their hand at making you look professional. However, the cheapest, easiest way to get these photos is to put on a nice, collared shirt, comb your hair, and get some more passport-sized photos done. Wear a dark-colored shirt (it shows up best on the white background) and be prepared to get lots more of these made throughout your career in EFL. Ideally, wear your “Sunday Best” outfit.  Shirt, tie, jacket for men.  Professional suit or similar for women.

A Well-Thought-Out Resume

Your resume for TEFL (also called a CV in many parts of the world) should highlight your skills and personality. Even if you’ve never taught English before, you probably have transferable skills from previous jobs or volunteer positions. Take a look at our post on how to write a great TEFL resume.

Certified or Real Copies of Your Diplomas and Certifications

Merely listing your qualifications on your resume will probably not be enough for the hiring process overseas. Even if your employer couldn’t give two hoots whether you went to a community college or an Ivy League university, unfortunately the government agency handing out working visas may want tangible proof of either. This will depend largely on the country that you work in, so do your homework on what’s required. In some countries; Japan and Korea, for example, you’ll need hard, true copies of your four-year university diploma. Other places just need a photocopy or a scanned, digital file. Here’s a good tip—things sometimes get lost overseas, or in a bureaucrat’s office, so you won’t want to take your only, original diploma. Instead, contact your alma mater, pay their fee, and get a “true” copy (a new “original”) sent to you before you start seeking jobs overseas. Also, have photocopies in black and white and in color, and a scanned copy on your computer or saved in your email. The same thing goes for any other important educational certificates and your TEFL certificate.

An Email Address that Sounds Vaguely Professional or Neutral

Most job queries for TEFL jobs are done via email. So it’s important that your email address be one that’s easy to understand for non-native English speakers (as your employer will likely be). YourName@Whatever.com is a good one; KitTiKat785Cute@Whatever.com is not. 

Additionally, it’s good to have:

A Skype Account

Other VOIP services are also good, but Skype seems to be the most widely used around the world. It’s best to have an account ready in case a prospective employer wants to give you a phone or video job interview (audio is usually fine).

Letters of Recommendation

I’d say that most employers abroad aren’t going to pay much attention to your letters of recommendation, unless they’re from previous TEFL employers. However, they can’t hurt.

The Contact Information for a Doctor or Clinic to Give You A Check Up

Some countries (China in particular) will want you to get a doctor’s sign-off saying that you’re in good health and fit to teach before they’ll issue the paperwork with which to get your working visa. This can be expensive, so I’d say to wait until you have a firm job offer before actually getting the check-up, but doing your research ahead of time will save you from scrambling to find a suitable physician while your new boss waits.

A Video Demonstration

It’s easy and quick to make a short video of yourself teaching a mock lesson to “students” or at least introducing yourself to the camera. You can post this on YouTube or another service, and provide a link in your cover emails. While of course this video won’t be an accurate depiction of a classroom experience—unless you can co-opt 10 English learners to help you  make it—it will let prospective employers hear what your spoken English sounds like and illustrate that you’re a hard-working, go-get-it kind of person.

A System For Recording Job Applications

Applying for jobs overseas isn’t the same as applying for ones in your hometown. Unless you move to the country first and then look for work, which I actually recommend in most circumstances, you may be spreading your net looking for work over several different nations. After the first five or so applications it can be difficult to remember where you’ve applied, and which school is in which country. Was “English Hope” in Spain or Turkey? What about “A+ English?” A spreadsheet showing the name and location of the school, the email address or other contact information you used to submit the application, and the documents you submitted will help you not only for this job application, but in the future when you’re looking for your next TEFL job.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  If you don’t supply your passport details and other pertinent information asked for in the application, schools are unlikely to offer you a job – how else do they know if you’re really serious about applying?

TED’s Tips™ #2:  Even after you’ve secured employment, keep all these documents handy, especially the scanned copies. They will be useful time and again throughout your career overseas.

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