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, 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.

Teaching Internships in China



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

Teaching Internships in China





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). is a good one; 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.

TEFL Educator / TEFL Boot Camp

Teaching Internships in China





Getting around your new town

Getting from A to B in Your New Home

Moving abroad? Once you’ve settled in your new home overseas, you’re going to need to get around your new town and figure out your commute to work. Chances are, if you’re from the U.S. or Canada, back home you used to drive to work and to do your shopping. But in most places overseas, teachers of English as a Foreign Language will need to look at modes of transportation other than private car.

 What kinds of transportation are available to you will depend a lot on whether you’re moving to an urban or rural area, and whether you’re in a developed or developing nation. Generally speaking, rural areas in developing nations will have the most, um, interesting modes of transport. However, because everyone everywhere needs to get to work somehow, you may be surprised at the ease and efficiency of travel, even in places with spotty infrastructure like Central America or Southeast Asia.

Common misconceptions about transportation options overseas are:

  That it’s crowded

  That it’s unreliable

  That it’s unsafe

  That it’s cheap

While you will definitely find crowded transportation on your travels around the world, you’re most likely to find this to be the case if you have to use rush-hour buses or subways in a major city.

Public transportation is often the only option for the people living in your city—they might not be able to afford a car. So, local governments overseas often recognize the importance of reliable and efficient bus and subway systems, more so than most local governments in the U.S., where officials expect most people to have their own transportation.

Likewise, because local people must use it, there’s pressure for it to be safe, as well. In places where the government-funded options don’t have such a great safety rating, as in some places in China, for example, you’ll probably find private companies that offer similar services, like bus routes, at slightly higher fares.

The price of your transportation is going to depend largely on where you’re living. In Tokyo, for example, it’s quite expensive to get around. But in Lima, Peru, you’ll find yourself spending mere pennies for buses or other transport options. Salaries will also vary, of course.

A Variety of Options

If this is your first time traveling abroad, you may be amazed at the variety of transportation options that are available to you.

In big cities, subway systems, are usually the quickest and most efficient way to get from point A to B within the most densely populated areas of a town. Light rail systems, which often look just like the subway train but are above ground, might extend into the suburbs. A few cities, like Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, have skyrails, too—trains that run on tracks elevated above the streets.

In Eastern Europe, Japan and Istanbul, many neighborhoods are served by streetcars (also called trams), which run on rails and keep city buses out of heavy downtown traffic.

In China, Thailand or elsewhere in Southeast Asia, you might find yourself getting to class on the back of a motorcycle taxi. These taxis, often licensed by the local government, have negotiable fares and are perfect for zipping through traffic jams during the morning rush hour. They’re not so good if you’re carrying a heavy backpack or if you’re a woman wearing a skirt, however, and you’ll need a bit practice before either of those scenarios feel comfortable.

Bridges aren’t the only way across bodies of water: taking the ferry or a water taxi might become part of your commute if you live in Bangkok, Hong Kong, parts of China, or Lisbon.

In Asia, three-wheeled carts powered by motorcycles—called tuk tuks in Thailand, and various other names elsewhere—are another way to get around. These are usually run by private drivers, but in some places they run routes, just like a city bus. Other places rely on converted pickup trucks or other hybridized vehicles. These might take some getting used to, but they’re often a lot of fun!

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Don’t be put off by local transportation. Travel like the locals and soon you’ll feel like one!

TED’s Tips™ #2:  Learn transport schedules and buy a transit pass if available. This will help you feel empowered to get out and explore your new home.   

TEFL Educator / TEFL Boot Camp

Teaching Internships in China




Technology in the Classroom

Apps and Other Stuff for EFL Teachers

People have been learning languages with just a trusty chalkboard, paper and pencil, for hundreds of years. Using advanced technology in your classroom may not make or break your efficiency as an English teacher, but it might brighten up your lessons and provide breakthrough opportunities for students who have different learning styles.

Music Gets a Class Going

First of all, let’s talk about the benefit of music in the classroom. You can bring in musical instruments and get your students to beat a rhythm while you drill pronunciation—that’s lo-fi. Or, you can bring in a CD player, computer, or hook your MP3 player up to speakers to bring professional musicians right into the classroom. Music not only provides text for listening assignments, but can signal breaks between sections of the lesson, set the mood for conversation practice, and help moderate the energy levels of young learners. (Need them to perk up? Rock and roll in the morning is magic. Too rambunctious? Classical piano soothes and comforts.)

Computers Aren’t Just for Facebook

Next, computers. If your classroom already has a computer or several computers, you might use them to run PowerPoint presentations, show short video clips or scenes from movies, or even run an interactive game with a small group of students. Many foreign teachers choose to bring their personal laptops in to the classroom to show photos. Laptops are good for this because they can be passed around. They’re bad for this, because there’s always the risk of having someone drop it or spill something on it.

App It Up with Tablets

And then, tablets. Tablet computers combine the multimedia potential of audio and video recording and playback with the functionality of a piece of paper. You can take notes, make sketches, and show “handouts” right on the tablet, without wasting a lot of paper. There are tons of educational apps, including beautiful, bright flashcards; dictionaries with pronunciation guides; and, if you’re really stuck on a student’s question, instant translator apps. There are also language-based games on tablets (things like word scrambles) that could provide a nice reward for early-finishing groups while you wait for the slower students to finish their lessons. Some schools are providing teachers with tablets, while some teachers just decide to bring their personal ones into the classroom. Your students may also have their own tablets that they bring to class to use.

Interactive White Boards are Fun and Functional

Finally, interactive white boards. I’ve noticed more and more ESL job ads boasting that they give their teachers interactive whiteboards, like the ones from the brand SmartBoard, which allows you to save any board work written on it and email it to your students later. The danger of these is that the classroom becomes more board- and teacher-focused, but if you’re teaching higher levels, students may appreciate being able to annotate in class any PowerPoints shown for difficult sections of the text, and the brainstorming you do with the class on the board will be useful to them later when they read through the emailed notes.

However, just because great technology is possible to use in the classroom, doesn’t mean that when you come to class it will actually work. You should always test technology before a lesson and have a backup plan in case something is not functioning the day of your lesson. Every experienced teacher has had that sinking feeling when they press “Play” and nothing happens. This is usually followed by a moment of panic as the teacher wildly tries to figure out what they’ll do instead of the listening assignment, DVD clip or multimedia presentation. Save yourself that moment of discomfort by trying everything out beforehand, and embarking on “Plan B” if that doesn’t work. Plenty of teachers have wasted precious class time crawling under desks trying one plug after another. If it doesn’t work when you want it to, let it go and try again another day.

Ted’s Tips #1:  Don’t let the technology become the lesson. It should aid you in presenting your class in a new way, or let students interact with language and each other in an interesting manner. But, don’t let your lesson plan just become: play a video. That will get boring pretty quick.

Ted’s Tips #2:   Have a backup plan in case the technology doesn’t work on the day you want it to.

TEFL Educator / TEFL Boot Camp

Teaching Internships in China