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.

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Just How Long are TEFL Contracts?

The Long and the Short of It . . .

What if I only want to go abroad for a few months? Or a few years? What if I want to spend my life doing this?

Sometimes I hear from people who want to dip their toes into the ocean of possibility that Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) provides, but who don’t want to commit to a long-term contract. Other times, I hear about teachers who are tired of the uncertainty of three- and six-month contracts, and yearn for something a little more promising in the time department.

The good news is, in the TEFL industry, there’s a bit of something for everyone.

Less than one year

It’s not always cheap for schools to obtain the relevant permits and visas for their foreign staff. Employers who don’t want the hassle and red tape will sometimes offer short-term employment to teachers coming from overseas to get around the long-term working visa problem.

I’ve noticed an increase in positions lasting less than one year and some might even reimburse the teacher for their airfare. A good place to start your search for short-term work is at TEFL Temp. And, if you can’t find paying jobs in your dream country for a short time, you may also consider volunteering there. TEFL Temp also offers hook-ups for volunteers.

A year or more

The industry standard is one-year teaching contracts. These are easy to find. And, if you do a good job, your employer will likely offer you an extension to your contract. Keep extending, and you’ll find your original year abroad can stretch to a fulfilling life-long career.

If you’re older

One thing to think about is that discrimination based on age can be common in parts of the world. Therefore, older teachers may find that they are offered shorter term contracts than they wish, or may be passed over altogether. That said, at the time of this writing I was 58, had white hair and—let’s face it—a few ‘laugh lines,’ but I could still find TEFL jobs in several countries. I was a late bloomer—I started in EFL at 40—and had no problem getting jobs in the beginning, either. However, know that the older you are, the more you may need to plan ahead for your job-acquisition tactics. For example, it may make sense for you to go to your target country before finding a job and then look for work once you’re on the ground and can prove yourself.

That’s not to say that there aren’t many older EFL teachers. When I was in Korea a few years back I met many teachers older than 40, and even a few sexagenarians. This is true in other Asian countries as well.

If you’re younger

More youthful ESL teachers will find themselves very much in demand. However, they’ll also probably be scheduled for teaching the youngest students a school has, as employers often think that the younger classes require more energy to teach and that older students may not respect young teachers enough. If you like teaching kids and you’re a young teacher, you’re in a good position for finding a great job, because children’s classes make up a lot of the market overseas.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Whether you want to be in TEFL for a few months or a few years, it’s all your decision. Pick a contract length and go for it!

TED’s Tips™ #2: Teachers who are in their fifties and above may need to plan on arriving in their target country and organizing their job search from the ground. Being able to give face-to-face interviews with prospective employers will demonstrate your energy and passion for teaching abroad—and will show your new boss that age really is nothing but a number.