TEFL for Older Folks: Advice for the Job Search

A reader wrote to me and asked:

I am 59 years of age with a university degree in Communications and a TESOL certification. I have applied to numerous ads in various countries seeking ESL teaching employment. I am a healthy, single woman with no children or encumbrances; therefore, I can offer flexibility to meet an employer’s requirements. I’ve had zero interest from these employers! The only conclusion I can draw is my lack of ESL teaching experience (although I have had plenty of adult teaching experience), coupled with my age, is preventing me from securing a position. I have lived abroad previously, but that seems to be of no interest to these prospective employers. What am I to do?

My response:

I have no doubt that the root of the issue is your age.

You are about my age and I too – if I was out looking for a job right now, would have some difficulty.

Ageism, Racism and just about every other kind of “-ism” exists in TEFL abroad and to a large degree such things are legal in those countries where you might hope to find work.

But – most important is your question – What to do about it?

#1 – Go where you want to teach and apply IN PERSON. Schools don’t know that you are vital and full of energy and positive (all those things that us stereotyped older folks are not believed to be . . .). And especially for older men, schools assume we are cranky (and frankly, a lot of older guys ARE cranky!).

A lot of schools are happy to have the proverbial “Bird in the hand” when the older teacher shows up on the scene. If they can have you NOW or have to take a chance on a young teacher showing up – maybe – you may well get the job.

#2 – Market yourself addressing your previous skills.
See: http://tefldaddy.com/Your_Special_Skills.htm at http://www.TEFLdaddy.com

I wrote that webpage and it should help give you some great ideas on how to change your current job hunt strategy. The basic idea of that webpage is to job hunt in the area where you have the most experience.

If you were a nurse in a previous life, look for a job teaching English at a nursing college, an international hospital, or something similar. If you were an accountant, seek employment at business college, an accounting school or even at major international accounting firms ( I worked for Price Waterhouse once teaching fast track management accountants English before they headed off to their foreign postings).

Hopefully EVERYONE sees that if you have a bit of experience that focusing your search in that area will be far more effective. You already know the specialized language of the occupation, the stresses of the students and even what is important and what is not. Wouldn’t colleges, corporations etc be much more interested in you then – rather than a 23-year-old with no real world experience, especially in their area? You bet!

So – the youngsters have an advantage for the standard language school job, but us older folks, with a bit of thinking ahead, can get a job that we would enjoy MUCH more than a regular language school job, teaching people who can benefit from our years of experience in an occupation for which they are training.

Your lack of experience is not really an issue. People with no experience are hired every day – even people with no experience and no training get hired.

TED’s Tips™ #1: For us oldsters . . . give some creative thought to your job search then hit the road and go get it.

TED’s Tips™ #2: The two strategies above can and should apply to everyone who is having difficulty landing a job – for any reason. If you are gay, black, brown, green, too old, too young, too tattoo-ed up – for any reason.

Market to your strengths and hit the road to get the job you want. You will get it! There is nothing worse than sitting at home HOPING someone will contact you. You go out and contact them. Show the initiative that can and will change your life.

Planning a TEFL Career Abroad: Your Education

This post was inspired by a man who wrote the following:

Hi, I am 20 years old and trying to figure out what to do with my life.   Recently I heard about teaching abroad and this is now my goal. I’m about a semester away from my associates degree [a two year degree in the USA] and was wondering whats the next best step I should take.

This is a great question and as mentioned in the last post, one of my few regrets I have about living the TEFL life abroad is that I didn’t even KNOW about it as an option until I was 37.  If I had known as this young man does at age 20 – I would have been raring to go!    Good for him that he has found something that fires his imagination for living an extraordinary life.  He has already proven he is smarter than I am!

A Few Realities Intrude . . .

My advice to this  young man was to finish university with a bachelor’s degree.  Though if he would like to just go out for a year and teach to see if it is what he hopes it is – then he should just grab an online TEFL certificate and go for one year to a country like Cambodia where the TEFL certification will do him just fine.  And then get back to school and get the next level of degree.

Degrees and TEFL

A BA/BS degree is quickly becoming a requirement and while there are still a few places where you can work without one, the choices are shrinking by the day and you would only ever be getting jobs from the bottom of the barrel.  You might even think you could talk an employer into hiring you without one – based on your charm, skills and experience, but usually the degree is a legal requirement for your working papers.  Thus your potential employer usually has no choice but to hold out for the degree holder.

Get that degree.  There is another reason too.  And that is if you intend to be an educator, it is good to have demonstrated your own belief in education.   I sometimes find it amazing the number of people who say that you don’t need a degree to be a good teacher.  They are right, you don’t.  But how do you intend to sell your students on education if you as an educator don’t have one and demonstrate your disinterest in it?

Get that degree.  In fact, if you have a BA/BS and find you like teaching abroad – I usually recommend that you RUN – don’t walk – to get a master’s degree.  The differences between a BA and an MA are about as huge as between no degree and a BA.

A graduate degree will make you eligible for college and university positions, a more likely candidate for teacher training jobs and Academic Director type roles and wages along with the amount of paid time off can improve dramatically.

During most of my teaching career I had anything from ten to twenty (yes – that’s 20!) weeks paid vacation per year.   All that paid time off is a special treat if you love to travel or if you need to earn a little extra.

Many teachers take a short paid job while on vacation to boost their savings.  Others use the time to visit family and see even more of the world.  And many of us did both.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Okay – I’ll say it a THIRD time: Go get that degree!


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

Living Abroad is Not for Everyone?

A reader recently commented – and copied part of a previous post – and also asked a good question . . .

[My only regrets about living the TEFL life abroad were...]  “That I waited until I was 37 to do it! Had I known, I would have gone as soon as I graduated from university in 1976.  I don’t dislike America, it’s just that it is all too familiar. I had already spent 37 years there and there is too much to see, too many places to experience and enjoy.”

The reader then wrote:

What you wrote is exactly how i feel right now today. I am 37 and was thinking these exact same thoughts. Thank you.

Question – why do you say living overseas is not for everyone?

Over on my first ever TEFL-type website www.TEFLdaddy.com I wrote a checklist of questions about whether heading abroad is a good idea for an individual.

Let’s revisit that idea.  From a positive perspective the question might be:

Is Teaching English Overseas appropriate for me?

It might be.  Only you can decide if a career in TEFL – teaching English overseas – is the right path for your life at this time.

What are the things to consider?

Do you have a family that you are responsible for?  How would they feel about moving overseas and living in a foreign land?

Do you have a spouse?  How would s/he feel about giving up their job?  Will she be able to find work overseas?  Is she interested in teaching English also?

Do you have children?  How will you educate them while overseas?  How might they feel about giving up their friends?

Do you have debts that must be paid while you are overseas?

Are there special medical issues for you or your family that must be considered?

Do you have the financial reserves to return to your home country and re-establish yourself if things don’t work out?

Have you ever taught before – do you have any reason to believe that you might enjoy teaching English?

Have you ever traveled or lived overseas before?  Did you enjoy it?

Would you find the daily problems of living and working overseas frustrating – or a refreshing challenge?

This list is only a beginning – as individual as each person is – so are the questions that need to be answered in making this decision.

What qualities are needed to succeed?

My observation has been that people who succeed in TEFL overseas have the following characteristics and knowledge:

  • They have reasonable expectations about their new occupation and what it can and cannot provide for them
  • They understand that their new country is not like their home country – solutions to problems that work at home often don’t work overseas
  • They realize that problems they had at home will probably also exist overseas
  • They know they will have good days and bad days – just like back home – and don’t blame the bads days on their job or new country.
  • They know they may experience good bosses, bad bosses, good jobs and bad jobs – just like back home
  • They are flexible people who can roll with surprises and “punches” – they are resilient and can bounce back from a bad situation
  • They are willing to work under different cultural expectations, willing to follow different cultural work rules
  • They are not generally moody or depressed
  • They view their success as a personal challenge
  • They spend a considerable amount of time researching their move – before they move.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Give yourself some honest answers about the questions and then you will know if you are ready and appropriate for the challenges of living and working in another culture.


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

Karoke and the Culture Game

Can karaoke really get me a raise?
Should I socialize with the people at work?

I am convinced that I once got a nice raise (the very next work day!) because I went singing with the boss and other administrators.  In some cultures, after work socialization is very important (it is in ours too – isn’t it?).

Because of the great cultural divide, it is quite useful to socialize with your coworkers – on their terms and in their ways – to help them get to know you.  Make an effort and actually sing if asked.  BTW, nobody cares if you sing well, it’s only that you make the effort!  And, once you do it a few times, you’ll love it!

Socializing with Coworkers?

Why not?  You did back home, didn’t you?  I know most of my long-term friends are people I met at one workplace or another and that is even more true now.

Do it just to be polite.  But also be open to finding some new friends who are enjoying life just as much as you are.

Be careful, however, of getting sloppy drunk or becoming too familiar with members of the other sex until you know your coworkers a bit better and the culture a bit better.  You don’t want to start off on the wrong foot.

Now get out there and SING!

TED’s Tips™ #1: You’ll enjoy your life abroad even more if you break out of your shell about singing in public.  Just go – just do it.  You’ll soon enough get over your embarrassment about it.


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