TEFL for the Non-White Non-Straight Non-Thin Non-Blonde OLD People

The great majority of us do not fit into the little box into which some EFL schools abroad would like their teachers to fit.

I am not young, white, thin, blonde, native-speaking, straight or…what now?

In the TEFL world it is common to deal with schools looking for a blond, blue-eyed, young, thin and straight native teacher. Schools have a stereotype in their mind about what their native-speaker teacher should look like. Languages schools often try to impress their customers (students or parents of the students) by advertising their idea of this ‘ideal’ Aussie, American, Brit or someone else.

One should be aware of this problem and find a strategy to deal with it.

Luckily you will find a wide variety of people in this occupation and the reality is that there are not enough native-speaking EFL teachers to meet the demand. Come hell or high water, racist or ageist, even those language schools looking for their “perfect ideal” native-speaker teacher will find themselves very lucky to hire those of us who don’t fit to their idea of the ‘perfect’ teacher.

What if I am older, 30, 40 or even 60?

At the age of 41 I began teaching English in Korea, it was a month before my 42nd birthday and I had grayish hair and a white beard at the time. That didn’t stand in my way to get a job and even now, at 60 years and thinning white year, I still wouldn’t have much trouble getting a good job!  I’d have to hustle a bit, but I could still find a job.

I have worked with people over 60 years old and even met a teacher older than 70!  You have the advantage of life and work experience.  Use it and never allow your thoughts about age to limit your goals! Age is just a number.  The older you are the more know that success in life is about finding a way around obstacles.    Not just giving in to them.

What if I am not white?

Most countries are beginning to realize that people from the UK, USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa are part of the mosaic of the world, nations of immigrants and not necessarily white.

I saw a beautiful ethnic mix while teaching in Korea in 2005 – Chinese-Canadians, Hispanic-Americans, Black-Americans and about every kind and every combination you might think of.

You will find an open-minded employer in the country of your choice if you persist in your job search.  It may take a bit longer to find the right employer but it will surely be more enjoyable to work for someone less short-sighted.

What about gay, lesbian or other non-straight people?

When it comes to sexuality, Western countries are usually more open to it than the rest of the world. These alternative lifestyles and preferences surely exist in other countries, but it is often hidden, secretive and not talked about openly. Your sexual preferences should not be a problem when trying to find, or keep a good English teaching job overseas.   The topic simply won’t come up, unless you bring it up!

It is not always necessary to be totally discreet about your life while working overseas. You will find helpful information on discussion boards  and blogs that will help you deal with such situations.  Many countries abroad don’t share the same values about opening up your personal life to other people.  Check that out too.

What if I am fluent in English, but not from a native-speaking country?

Some countries have a list of countries from which you must have a passport if you want to teach English legally. Currently I am aware of two countries with such lists: South Korea and Indonesia. Some countries, without lists, still believe that you can’t be fluent if you are not from a native English speaking country.

If you are fluent but not from an English speaking country, then it’s up to you to prove them wrong. The best strategy is to go to the country and do your interview in person.   On the spot you’ll change their misguided notions with your fluency. Thailand is one of the best countries at hiring non-native speakers as English teachers.  China will often hire non-native speakers from European nations.

This direct interview approach will also be a good choice for the older teachers to prove your point that you don’t fit into the stereotype of a cranky, tired, old person. This same approach may also help other non-standard people land jobs.

A personal meeting/interview is the easiest way to show your possible employer that you are friendly and easy to get along with:  two characteristic that are often the #1 hiring criteria.


If you are worried about anything about yourself, relax! You will sort out the problems and can easily get useful information about the possible difficulties on the discussion boards or blogs! There are people out there who had the same concerns and they would be happy to advise and encourage you.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Don’t let anything stop you from a life overseas

If you want to do it, you can. If you want something bad enough, push through and life will give it to you.

TED’s Tips™ #2: A personal interview often overcomes barriers

In Asia, the #1 thing many employers want to find out is if you are friendly and easy to get along with. You can show employers these characteristics by showing up in person for an interview or application.

A great and fun blog to check out is The Black ESL Teacher.

Please suggest other blogs and I will post them. The blog above makes me think of doing The Old EFL Teacher . . .

Teaching Internships in China

Author: Ted

Semi-retired EFL teacher/teacher-trainer working and living abroad since 1989 in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.