Where and How to Start your TEFL Career

Finding That First Job Teaching Abroad

Fantastic! You’ve decided you want to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). But, now what?

There are a few more questions you need to find the answers to before you’ll be able to greet your first set of students. You’ve got to decide which country you would like to work in, and make a realistic estimate of how much money you would like to earn, including how much money you need to save.

Balance these wishes with an assessment of your qualifications and how many English teaching positions are available in your target region.

Also, think about the following:

Teacher Training

I always recommend that new teachers do some kind of teacher training course before they begin teaching. It’s good for the teacher and very good for that teacher’s students. When it’s possible, I also recommend taking a training course in the country in which you would like to teach. Even doing the training in a third country may benefit you more than doing it in your home country.

For starters, taking your training abroad affords you the opportunity to dip your toes into what it feels like to live overseas – trust me, it’s much different from the experience of going on a vacation or short trip (or even a long trip) to another country. Secondly, while abroad you’ll network with teachers who are already there and maybe one of them will turn up a lead on a good job later.

Additionally, when you do your teaching practice as part of the training course, it’s a huge advantage to you if the students you are practicing with are similar to the ones you’ll be paid to teach when you land your first job. Knowing some of the particular quirks of a country’s students will give you a head start in the classroom if you’re a brand-new teacher.

Every country’s students have their own different learning problems when it comes to English – pronunciation, grammar, syntax. I’ve taught EFL in four countries, and every one of them had different learner errors. Even experienced teachers need to research and plan for new learner errors when they switch countries.

A final advantage to taking a teacher training course in the country you wish to teach in is that you’ll be on the ground and able to interview in person for the job. In the interview you’ll be more confident, knowing that you’ve been taught what that particular country’s students want, need and expect in the classroom. In different countries, EFL teachers will be wise to take different approaches to how they structure their lessons, for example, in Thailand students love playing English games as a way to learn target grammar and language. However, a similar group of students in Saudi Arabia would not appreciate playing around. This kind of thing is key to know BEFORE you do your interview.

This knowledge will also come in handy if you are asked to do a ‘demonstration’ lesson.  This ‘demo’ is, in some countries, requested as a part of the interview. If you have been trained to know what the interviewers are looking for in the demo, you’ll be way ahead of the other newbie recruit who just stepped off the plane with no idea of for what their prospective bosses are looking.

Don’t dismiss the monetary appeal of taking a TEFL training course overseas, either. Often, it’s cheaper than taking it at home – both in tuition and in the cost of food and lodging during your course.

Headhunters – and Can You Trust ‘Em?

Whether or not you do your training abroad, it’s time consuming finding the right overseas jobs to apply for. So, another major decision you need to work out is if you want to use the services of a recruiter. You will hear a lot of back-and-forth between experienced English teachers over the benefit or harm a recruiter can do you.  Many people believe you should absolutely never use a recruiter because of their own bad experiences. Yet others believe recruiters are in a position to negotiate a better deal with your new boss than you would be able to if you approached the job by yourself.

I think both ways can be fine—I’ve done both.

For my first job, I used a recruiter. I experienced some problems, but the recruiter solved them all. Because I was not yet confident and really didn’t know much about the business yet, you could say I was a true newbie, having a recruiter took a lot of the pressure off of my shoulders.

However, there are some recruiters in operation who simply look at you as a way to get their finder’s fee from the school. They’ll stick you in any old job as quickly as possible and won’t care if you are suitable for the school or if the school (and location) are suitable for you.

Whether you use a recruiter or not, it’s a very good idea to get in contact with other teachers who are working at the school where you might teach before you sign the contract. Ask the teachers what problems they’ve experienced and if they are satisfied working there. Make sure to also ask “Why?” if it looks like there are problems or if the teachers are unhappy.

More Food for Thought

Browse through the other posts on this blog and you’ll find a lot of other things to think about before you begin teaching overseas. I hope the blog is helpful in reaching your dreams of teaching abroad.

But quickly, here are another few things to think about when you start looking for a position teaching:

1) What demographic are you interested in teaching? Do you want business people, hotel and hospitality workers, young children or even nursery-age kids as students?

2) Is it important to find the job before you go overseas or is it easier to find a good position from the ground? The answer to this question depends a lot on what country you’re targeting and how much confidence you’ve got in yourself.

TED’s Tips™ #1: When you’re starting out, you should know that there are some countries that are considered easier— more”Newbie Friendly” if you will—than others. For example, the Middle East and Europe are a bit harder going in for the first time. By contrast, China and Korea are easier for newly minted teachers. They often hire from abroad and pay the airfare and accommodation of their teachers as part of the salary package.

A lot of new teachers dream of teaching in Thailand because of the beaches, good food and interesting culture, but it’s not the easiest place to work, and they don’t often hire from abroad and you’ll need to foot the bill for your housing and plane fare.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Make a budget and stabilize your financial situation before you go abroad. You also need to estimate what your financial situation will be in the new country. You wouldn’t want to get settled abroad and then realize that you can’t meet your financial obligations at home if you have student loans or other obligations to meet.

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.