Questions YOU Should Ask during your TEFL Interview

We all want to impress and be offered that dream job, but how do we make sure it is a job we want?

This post is an update of one I wrote about two years ago – with a little bit more thinking attached to it.  Hopefully not too much thinking!

Don’t be too shy about asking questions.  There are important things to know before moving yourself halfway across the world (if you are to be hired directly from abroad). Ideally, spread these questions across several contacts so you don’t overwhelm your potential employer or make them wonder if you are going to be a problem – or not.

Here are some important questions to ask:

What will I do on a daily basis?

How many classes a day will I be expected to teach?

How long is each class? Is each class considered “one hour” even if it is only 40 or 50 minutes long? Some schools will pay you for a full teaching hour even if the class is only scheduled for 40-50 minutes. Others will pay you only 5/6th of your hourly wages for a 50 minute class. This often depends more on the country than the individual school.

Will I be expected to stay at the school even when I don’t have classes? Will I have “Office Hours” that I need to keep?

Will I have responsibilities other than teaching?

Will I be paid for that time? Like cleaning your classroom or the school, recruiting students, evaluating students for placement, handing out flyers for the school, etc.  Be careful about demanding to be paid for every little thing that is not specifically “teaching”.  Some countries – some schools – will hope that you will pitch in with a few extra duties.  It is not always terrible and some schools will reward you in surprising ways for pitching in.  More on this idea in next week’s post.

Does the job provide housing?

Is it furnished? What does “furnished” include? How are the bills paid and who pays them? How far is the accommodation from the school? Is it easy to get to work from there? Do I need to pay a deposit for my housing? How big is it? Will I have to share my accommodation? Are there any required monthly fees I must pay for?

Who is my boss?

To whom do I report? Who evaluates me? Who decides if I am doing a good job or not and what criteria is used to decide if I am successful?

How much sick and vacation time do I get?

Who decides when I can use it? Can I use my vacation time all at one time? Does it accrue monthly or can I only use it at the end of my contract?

Is there a bonus or gratuity payment at the end of my contract?

How much is it? How is it determined? Bonus payments are standard and required by law in many countries but employers sometimes pretend that it is something nice they are doing just for you . . .

What teaching resources does the school provide?

Teacher’s manuals? Photocopy machine? Who regulates its use? OHP? Internet? Great for lesson plans and finding activities., Computer? Printer? Paper? Chalk/Markers? Really! Some schools don’t provide even the basics or make it so difficult to access them that you will go ahead and buy them yourself. Not a super big deal if everything else works fine.

Is there air conditioning and/or heating in the classrooms?

I ask this one from personal experience!  This can be important! I still remember asking my very first EFL employer in Korea for a heater for the classroom on a bitterly cold morning and my employer with frosty mist coming from her mouth said, “It’s not cold”! So, I taught with a heavy coat, long johns and mittens . . .

How many students are in a class?

How are they placed or evaluated for placement? There is a big difference between 100 people or 5 in a classroom – I’ve taught both. One requires a lot more preparation than the other.

How do we decide if the students are progressing or successful?

Does everyone pass or are you supposed to implement a strict grade curving system? A grade curving system usually means you will need a very well organized testing system that is thorough and fair. Language schools tend to just pass everyone.

Will I have a work space available at the school?

A desk, an office, internet access?

Are there other foreign teachers at the school?

Can I talk to them before I make my decision? Red flag the job if they don’t want you talking to existing or previous teachers, but do realize everyone has a different experience abroad – so take any opinions under realistic consideration.

Those basic questions should help you get started.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Find out as much as you can about the job BEFORE you accept it. Once you are on the scene is too late.
Obviously you can’t find out everything and much of what you find out will be filtered either by your employer or by the good or bad attitude of an existing teacher.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Understand that each individual’s experience abroad is unique and individual.
What others hate, you may love. Every school – good or bad – will have past and present teachers who love it and hate it. Your job is to interpret what they say and translate it into something that is meaningful and useful to you. I have certainly worked at schools where some of the teachers hated it and I loved it. Much of this is about an individual’s attitude toward life in general and you will need to filter out the attitude to get to the specifics of how a school operates.  The same thing applies to Internet forums and blogs.  Look for a general trend rather than accepting the word of just one person or website.

Teaching Internships in China


Apostille: What is it? Why do you need one? How do you get one?

Someone asked me recently:

Can you comment on what an apostille is?

This is asked often enough that it is worth making a post out of it. It can be made to seem quite mysterious and complicated, but…

Long story made short. Your potential employer expects that you will not be sending them the original of the documents requested.  Therefor you need to have a copy made.

A notary (if you are in the USA/Canada – similar if elsewhere) – needs to make the copy for you and notarize the copy as being a true copy (not an altered or false one).    You then must send the copy – with the notary signature on it – to the Secretary of State in the jurisdiction (state/province) in which that notary is registered.

The SoS then verifies that the notary’s signature is real.

It’s a mess, but so many teachers have falsified and altered documents that schools/employers (and sometimes countries) now have to do this.  Sadly, all you ever hear about is all the bad schools – you never hear about the bad teachers . . .

I apologize for the the political commentary – but it is so.  Zillions of pages on the internet about school scams – but in fact many times (probably more often) the scam is the teacher.  But just about zero pages on the internet about that.  So – don’t believe everything you read on the internet.

You can also Google – apostille – for a lengthier and possible better and certainly much more complicated though probably more accurate description of apostille.   But that is the basics.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Not everywhere or everyone asks for an apostille, nor will they always ask for it for every document. It is not usually worth getting it done “just in case” as it can be expensive in some states/provinces.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Unfortunately though, the process can often take a fair amount of time.  In that case send a regular copy or a copy of the notarized copy pending sending the copy with the apostille on it.

Teaching Internships in China

Of Dirty Toilets and Unmotivated Students: What to do?

Another wonderful reader has blessed us with some great comments and a question.  Very Very Real.

He wrote:

    I got my first job in Korea about a month ago teaching at an Industrial HS. To my amazement, I am teaching 17-19yo boys who have taken English classes for the last 20 years and still aren’t able to speak much English.

Add to that the school refuses to turn on the aircon in July and the toilets are filthy because they only clean them once a week.

I know you have posted articles about how you toughed it out your first year in Korea.  Any suggestions as to how I might improve my situation and working conditions?

I really don’t want to rock the boat and I do want to make this a success story, but conditions are soooooo     horrible.  Any wise advice?

My answer follows:

I have tried to think of something wise to help you . . . but I guess I am just not very wise!

The best guidance I can give you is to ask yourself if you have a goal at hand.  Why are you teaching overseas? To save money, to see the world, to learn more about other cultures, to become a better educated person, to pay off bills?  Focus on that larger goal to get past these little things that can get under your collar and really irritate you.

Have I lived in places I didn’t like?  Of course!  I spent five years in a country where I found the culture somewhat repulsive.  But I had some financial goals and toughed it out.

But, do you have to LIKE every place you are or where you teach?  Not really.  And why would you let some stinky bathrooms get in the way of YOUR goals – what YOU want to get out of the experience?

My five years in *country deleted* (previously mentioned country I didn’t enjoy) provided an incredible education about worlds that are different than mine, cultures that are almost incomprehensible to Westerners and also showed me how little my previous education had taught me about the real world out here.

When I lived in Taiwan, people would talk about the pollution – back in ’95-6 it was super polluted.  But people who saw only that really missed out on some incredible Chinese culture and just how beautiful the island really was.  People in Thailand sometimes complained about the beaches having litter on them.  Well, turn your head 180 degrees and look at that beautiful sea!

I have spent six years of my life in Korea – most of them just GREAT.  Stinking bathrooms, yeah, but Korea got me off to a life overseas that has just been incredible.  There were certainly times there when I could have bailed out!

There were times in my overseas career when I was so frustrated that I could just spit.  My wife’s job situation at times was even crazier than mine.  But I would say to myself, “I am not going to let these people decide whether I meet my goals or not.”

So – I could babble on a bit, but the point is – take a look at your goals and decide if you are going to let these things get in the way of what YOU want.  If you do, you will likely spend most of your life blaming other people and other things for not allowing you to live the life you want, when in fact, it is you who decides these things.

As an aside . . . and  just for a chuckle, I remember freezing my *ss off at the hogwan I first worked at in Korea and asking the owner to please get me a heater for the classroom – as I was speaking it was so cold that fog was coming out of my mouth.  Her response?  “It’s not cold”!  I could tell you a hundred little stories like that one, but I just want you to know how funny they seem to me these days and how infuriating they were to me at the time.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Keep your eye on the BIG picture – on your goals and go get ’em – don’t let the little stuff get in your way.

PS:  I think I also missed something here.  The poor guy had only been there a month.  Realize that culture shock and cultural adjustment can take some time to sort out.  Sometimes months.  During that time even little things can become very irritating. Be aware of it and pay attention to it, so you know what it is and how it is affecting you and your decisions.

Teaching Internships in China


Experienced and Qualified Teacher wants to Teach English Abroad

We frequently hear from people who are qualified teachers, some who are even teachers of English as a first language in their home country.

IF you are a qualified teacher in your home country with a few years experience, you might want to check out for positions in international schools.

International schools will tend to pay as well as good schools in your home country, but will provide a lot of extras such as paid/reimbursed airfare, long paid vacations, free tuition for two or more dependents attending their school and some schools will even pay for your accommodation and local taxes.

Quite good packages.

You can usually teach in your special area as well, instead of having to switch over to teaching English.  If you are just finishing university and about to start teaching locally, do consider doing that for a couple years before heading overseas as your wages overseas in a similar position will be significantly better than if you were teaching English at a language school, public school or college/university in a foreign land.

Most international schools will want you to have a couple years of experience in your home country’s public schools before they will hire you.

If you are going to Teach English as a Foreign Language, do get some training as teaching English as a foreign language is a different than teaching it as a first language and the way you present language to your students is different.  Their needs and motivations will also be significantly different.

TED’s Tips™ #1: If you are an experienced teacher in your home country, check out international schools as your best possible option.  If you do intend to teach English abroad, get some basic training as EFL is different from ESL.

Teaching Internships in China