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Teaching Under the Table

The Ethics of Private Lessons

At first, they look like any two friends meeting for a coffee. Except, one of them is foreign, and the other is local. They sit close together in the crowded cafe and lean in so as not to miss a word the other is saying. After a while, they consult a book and make notes.

They could be colleagues, working on a project. They could be planning a party for a mutual friend. They could be dating.

And then, when saying farewell, the local slips the foreigner some cash.

Welcome to a private English lesson, happening daily in a Starbucks near you.

Private Lessons Take Place Anywhere

Private English lessons, or tutorials as they are sometimes called, can be fun, lucrative part-time gigs for foreign teachers working abroad. They don’t have to happen in a coffee shop, either—some students ask teachers to go to their homes, or come to the teacher’s apartment. Or, they might meet at a local library, the food court of a shopping mall, a bar, or even in a park. Sometimes several students will group together and ask for a lesson. These lessons’ informal nature makes them a treat for both the student and the instructor, who often end up becoming close friends. And, many an English teacher has been pleased by the extra pocket-money gained from teaching a few hours off the books.

But, that teacher’s main employer may not be so pleased. Especially if the teacher in question has a school-provided visa and accommodation.

It’s an Ethical Decision

The decision to teach private lessons or not is mostly an ethical one. First of all, some employment contracts flat-out prohibit teaching outside lessons. In some countries, to get a teacher’s visa the school has to promise the government that it is responsible for that teacher’s actions. Or, the owner of a training center that provides lessons to a wide demographic may feel that your under-the-table lessons are robbing him of customers. Or, your employer may worry that you’ll be so successful in your endeavors that you’ll open your own school in competition with theirs—it’s happened before.

Secondly, aside from your agreement with the school (and some schools are fine with it; I’ve heard of a boss who told teachers to go ahead and offer private lessons—as long as students from his school got a discount), you’re most likely breaking the law by taking money from someone without paying taxes on it.

It’s Not about How Much You’re Making

Now, you may be making only a nominal amount—“will work for beer” is the motto of many teachers abroad—but, on the other hand, you might be banking more than you make at your regular job. Private students who are pleased with your lessons are likely to recommend you to their friends. Who call up their cousins who want English classes. Who bring in their sister’s coworker… you get the picture. It’s not uncommon for English teachers who are willing to teach off-schedule hours to fill up their evenings and weekends with extra lessons. If this happens to you, it might be a sign that you’re ready to start off on your own, as a freelancer. But that’s a topic for a different post (see the previous post).

The point is, if you’re accepting cash for private lessons you are putting yourself at risk for violating your visa and local tax laws. That’s not to say that you should turn your nose up at the scent of easy money—just that you should make sure you’re informed about the rules and whether you’re breaking them or not. It’s a good idea to talk to your co-workers or to an online forum about whether private classes are ignored by your school and the local authorities or not.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Check the contract you have with your school to see if they frown on teachers giving private lessons. If it’s not mentioned in your contract, ask your coworkers or boss. Sometimes you’ll hear that they just don’t want to know about it; other times you’ll find out it’s a firing offense.

TED’s Tips™ #2:  If you do give private lessons and find yourself in demand, you might look in to the logistics of becoming a freelance English teacher at the end of your existing school contract.

TED’s Tips™ #3:  When working in non-language school settings such as public schools, colleges and universities, it is not uncommon for your school to ask you to teach an individual or even a small group of students or government officials.  You still need to clarify the legality of the situation and make your own decision about whether to proceed or not.  In my personal experience, I never had a problem with these types of lessons.   But that doesn’t mean they are legal.  Know before you go.

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Teaching Internships in China



TEFL Scams!

How to Avoid TEFL Scams

Welcome back! See the ROUGH DRAFT (not finished yet!) transcript of the video below.

Now… let’s get rid of the elephant in the room. TEFL scams. It’s what nobody wants to talk about, but what everyone wants to know about. Have I seen TEFL scams in 30 years abroad? Sure. Five or six times, not so much, but they do seem to be more and more common.

Here are links to pages referenced in the video: https://www.teflnewbie.com/the-most-common-tefl-scam/ and

I got a scam letter one time. You might as well see it, so here it is. This email arrived in my inbox yesterday. They seem very common these days.

Take a look:

Hello English Teacher,

I’m Mister (fill in the blank) from Russia. I live here in Newcastle England. I have a son and a wife with me here and I need to …..

Well it’s a very nice little letter. he’s offering to pay me (wow!) in the US that would be a little bit over $5,000. He’ll also pay a monthly housing allowance – or can give me a free place to stay. So he wants to know if can I send my CV and other credentials right away? You bet I can!

This is pretty easy, right? I really like to make a lot of money and this writer appeals to my greed because we’d all like to make a ton of money. And I’d like to tell everybody back home how much money I’m making. How much money I’m saving and flying around the world – even in business class if I can!

But the most important thing about this scam, and here is the interesting part… I’ll be responsible for some of the fees. This is where the scam plays out.

Here’s how it works: I quit my job. I’m living in my parents’ basement to get ready to go to the job. I told all my friends I got this great job. I’m leaving next week to go to the UK to teach for this guy.

So… late in the game he sends me a note… by the way can you please pay $500 for your Visa? You know… government paperwork stuff. Hmmm, smells fishy, but I already quit my job. I’ve got no money in my pocket. What am I going to do? I’ve to go pay it to get to the job. But that will be the last time you hear from him. Your money will be long gone.

How a TEFL Scam Works

So here’s what to look for in a scam. They approach you. They don’t know who you are. Maybe don’t even know your name. They make you a greaet offer, say they will “pay for everything” except that you might “be responsible for a few small fees…”

The request for money will be at the very last minute. You’ll be so embarrassed if you don’t follow through. You told your parents and friends. You were working a lousy job not saving any money. A dead-end job. You have to follow through and send the money. There is always a bit of ris in great gain… no?

Don’t do it.

Now… there will be times when you will need to pay for your work permit or visa, but you pay that directly to the embassy/consulate or ministry that is going to issue the document.

How Much Can I Earn as a TEFL Teacher?

It’s not how much you can earn, it’s how much you can SAVE.

Let’s Talk TEFL Money…

See the DRAFT (not finished yet!) transcript below.

Here’s the real bottom line: it’s all about money.

A lot of people go overseas to teach English because they want to save some money and when they’re working an entry-level job in their home country they can barely make ends meet. They can’t save a dime, can’t pay student loans, so can’t really have that much fun.

They’ve heard about teaching English abroad and that you can have just one heck of a good time and still make some real money. But people always ask, “Hey how much money can I make in Taiwan, Korea, China, Thailand or?

Would you be surprised if I told you that’s not the question to ask? The real question is how much money can you SAVE.

If we want to compare for example Thailand versus Korea versus China, then you can make more money in one of those countries, but you’d end up saving more in a different one.

In Taiwan, they don’t usually provide accommodation or cover airfare, you’ve got higher income taxes, and the cost of living is really high. If you go to Korea or China though, accommodation is provided and airfare is usually reimbursed. The cost of living and taxes are much lower. In China, some schools will even pay or subsidize your utilities. Even free meals are provided at some school. What all that means is that when you get paid it all goes in your pocket.

So you might make a certain amount, but in Taiwan, you might spend every bit of it in China and Korea you might save almost all of it. Yeah! In Korea it is pretty easy to save at least $1,000 a month.

Another issue is the freedom to teach “private classes” away from your school. In Taiwan, most teachers do and can fairly easily increase their income by 20-30%. So ask about income possibilities. Often in Korea, your employer might ask you to teach their friend or an important person for additional income. Illegal, but quietly done all over the country. Who wants to turn down US$40-60 an hour for a pleasant evening helping someone improve their English skills?

So… what you need to realize is that it’s not how much money you can earn how much money you can save.

Remember to ask about:
Ability to earn more
Any subsidies: for transportation, meals, utilities
Cost of living: What’s it cost to go out to eat, to go to a move, to have a few beers with friends, etc.

Your Introduction Video: How to do it for a TEFL job

What you need to reveal about yourself to make your best pitch

How to do your TEFL introduction video

See the DRAFT (not finished yet!) transcript below.

Welcome back. One of the best ways to help a potential employer see who you are and to get a sense of how you might fit with their EFL school is to submit a short video.

I want to recommend that you do one of these and you can do one on your telephone, with a simple inexpensive camera or anything you have available. Even the webcam off your tablet, notebook or Chromebook will work fine, It doesn’t have to be perfect

Here’s what you want to do. You want to demonstrate to your potential employer that you have a nice clean clear voice with no real super accent that they can understand you when you talk to them.

Keep this keep this video just nice and short and simple. Only one or two minutes is fine. if you make it too long no one will watch the whole thing. You want ti to just be a teaser of all your potential.

Don’t focus ONLY on you. Somewhere along the line be sincere expressing interest in the country and culture where you are applying. The video – indirectly – is about them, not about you. Of course, you want to tell them a little bit about yourself but it’s not all about you. It is more about how useful can you be for the school.

Sometimes people make videos about I want to share my culture and that is not usually what a school is looking for. If it’s China, mention an interest in Chinese food and culture and show that you at least have read something about China. The same for any country – show and interest. A REAL interest.

Smile and show that you are friendly. As we mentioned in other videos, what schools are really looking for is somebody who’s friendly and can keep students in the classroom and keep the students coming back again and again. That’s almost the number one criteria. So put a big smile on and show that you’re a friendly reasonable person and easy to work with.

It is important that you speak clearly. Just a bit slower than normal and no slang. You may well be showing this video to non-native speakers and if you are like me, you tend to speak a little too fast especially if you’re a bit nervous. So slow it down just a little. Not too slow, so you don’t sound like you’re doing baby talk, but just a little bit slower than normal. Try to minimize any regional accent you might have (we all have one!).

Here’s the way to see if you have done a good job with your video. Watch the video yourself and see if you think that if the school showed your video to a parent (who is usually the real customer) – would that parent say, I want my child in that teacher’s classroom! if you can look at the video and you know you conveyed that idea then you did a good job.

If a parent looks at that video and thinks, I want my child in that teacher’s class. I think my child is going to learn English super well from that person then you did a great job!

Make sure you do the video in MP4 as that will allow pretty much any device to play. If your phone or camera does not do MP4, then use one of the many websites on the internet that will convert it to MP4 for you. Keep the video less than two minutes, preferably around one minute to lesson the size of the MP4 file. Many places in the world have not so great internet connections and sometimes big files don’t make the transfer well.

How to Market Yourself For a TEFL Job

See the DRAFT (not finished yet!) transcript below.

This is one of the most important segments if you’re out there looking for a job and it’s how to market yourself, how to look at all the things that are important, to make sure you present yourself in the best possible light. So what you need to think about is how can I make myself as attractive as possible for a potential employer.

Two things are important. Make them want you on their team, to think this is the person I’ve been looking for. And make yourself an attractive candidate in every way and let them know you don’t have the problems the last person they had to let go.

Be an attractive candidate both literally and figuratively. Make sure your photo on your resume is professionally done. Be sure to dress professionally. When I was hiring and placing people in China and other locations, people literally sent pictures of them drunk with friends or snuggling up with a boyfriend and girlfriend our making out with a boyfriend or girlfriend. What message did they want to give a potential employer?

For the photo, be dressed professionally. Men should be in a dress shirt and tie and women should dress with a similar level of formality. Teachers are taken seriously in most other countries (Especially in East Asia). They are expected to act and dress as a profession would. Smile in your picture. If you have visible tattoos, especially if on your face or neck, hide them as best you can. You are after all looking for a job in a market that is most likely far more conservative than your own. Teachers in most places are expected to project a relatively conservative appearance.

The point here is to try to make yourself competitive, as competitive as you possibly can. When you can, demonstrate that you have some real interest in the occupation and are not just trying to get a plane ticket to another part of the world. Let an employer know that you have volunteered, have any kind of multicultural knowledge, travel experience and or multilingual skills.

Any previous experience you have had with other cultures and countries will reassure potential employers that you will not freak out and run away after only a week or two on the job.

Be sure that you eliminate any negative issues. Show specifically that you are reliable that you can hold down a job for a long time. Note any family responsibilities, if you’re married and anything else that stresses stability and dependability. Schools are used to or people just passing through and they are hoping that you’re going to be really stable and reliable.

Expectations of employees are sometimes reflected in contracts employers will show you. Try to counter any of the negative ideas the contract may raise. In another video, I mentioned that in my very first teaching contract there was a clause that said exactly this: If the teacher gets drunk and breaks up furniture at the school, the teacher will be expected to pay for it (!) What kind of experience do you think they had with teachers! Think a bit about the chances the school is taking and present yourself in a way that will reassure them.

What you need BEFORE you apply for a TEFL job

The documents and information you need BEFORE you apply for a TEFL job

See DRAFT (not finished yet!) transcript below

Let’s get down to business. Here’s what you need before you apply. With your course materials there is an ebook called How to Teach English Overseas and in that ebook we list the things that you need.

#1. Super important! Have a passport as no one will take you seriously without it.

For some years I placed people in jobs in China and Thailand and when people send you their resume or CV or they don’t have a passport, their information usually goes right in the trash bin. Why? Because it takes weeks or even months to get that passport and they may change their mind.

2. If you have a degree or certificate, it’s always good to get a “true copy” (notarized copy of the document as being a true copy of the original – not altered in any way) of the document. You don’t want to send the original off to somebody who may lose it. It might get lost in the mail or they may not return it. They may send it to immigration to process your visa and it never comes back. It also doesn’t hurt to have two or three “originals”

#3. One of the most important documents is your photograph. Get a really nice business-like photograph with you perfectly groomed. If you have a beard trim it nicely just make yourself look the very best you can. Put a smile on your face and get 20 of those photos because when you’re new in a country everybody wants a copy of your photo. They will want copies for your visa. The Ministry of Education and your employer will want one or more each. You’ll need one or more to get a driver’s license, to buy a cell phone, to rent an apartment, to get your employment physical and for many reasons you and I have never heard of. Take 20, so everything is covered.

#4. Scan everything and save it on whatever computer or device you take with you. That way you have a copy of everything so if you lose anything you always have the ability to at least print out what you need.

#5 Not to mention CV/resume of course, but we cover that in another video.

Most important: Get that passport if you don’t have it yet.