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 . . .

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Long-Term Job Security in TEFL

Is some sort of job security possible when teaching English overseas?

I get this question a lot and I usually answer…’yes and no’.

Job security mainly depends on your employer and the country in which you decide to work. The shady employers are out there, but their are good ones too, you’ll find the same type of characters just like in your home country.

Be careful when you are choosing your employer. You need to take your time and weigh all the options before selecting your employer, just like back home.

Take control of your future

Take some advice and listen to all the people in this business: consider yourself a ‘private contractor’. You are working for yourself and building your own future. Don’t count on an employer to assure your future.  You will only be disappointed if you do.

Take a good friend of mine for an example: He worked for a university in Korea for over ten years with promises of being permanent in his position, only to find that they had decided to implement a new policy in which foreigners would be limited to working only for three years.

He gave his all to the students and the school; he was settled and comfortable in his town and in his job but the reality was that he had to leave! Bags packed, out of the door.  Bye bye!

One-Year Contracts

In this industry you will find that one-year contracts are the norm. With a one-year contract you should be prepared to go job hunting every year, even though you don’t actually have to do that. If you do a pretty good job, your school will renew your contract. A lot of people work for many years at all kinds of schools. You can also find longer contracts – they are not rare, though they are not common either – it depends on the job and the country.

It’s a great idea . . .

Creating your own security and learning how to do so, will be one of the most rewarding things you can do for yourself! You will be highly content and satisfied if you are building your own employment and financial world that is completely independent of your employer(s).

Take care of your future – don’t follow in the footsteps of the WorldCom, Citibank and Bernard Madoff employers or even those who relied on defined benefit retirement plans from some of the largest corporations in the world. Your future is in your hands!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Taking care of yourself is a GREAT idea! Do it!

Maybe you just want to spend one year abroad, or two, but it is possible that you might surprise yourself and stay longer than you ever planned for. If this is the case, get educated for your long-term financial security.

I bought and paid off several rental properties to provide for my old age. I am not rich, but I don’t have to stress and worry about a former employer going bankrupt or not paying my salary! You too, can prepare for your old age while teaching English and seeing the world!  Enjoy life and seeing the world are not incompatible with financial security.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Get information about medical plans independent of the minimal plans offered by your employer.

It is always wise to prepare yourself for life’s curve balls and surprises that may come at inconvenient times – even while you are young and healthy and when a medical plan is not your focus.

It is possible to find a good quality insurance for a good price because the cost of good medical is so much lower than in Western Countries.

If you have your own insurance, you are more likely to be covered even outside the country in which you are working (be sure to ask!). Usually, you will be covered while traveling and the portability can also mean that you are free to change jobs when you want. You will likely even be covered between jobs. You most likely won’t get these benefits with an employer provided insurance benefit.

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Is TEFL the Right Choice for You?

Will teaching English Overseas be the right thing for you?

Will you be happy and successful working and living abroad?

Will you be happy and successful?  That is a question that only you can answer. Take a good look at yourself before making the final decision – you can use the guidelines and questions here to help you.

Living abroad can be a life filled with new, wonderful and enriching experiences but at the same time you’ll have to face challenges, problems and difficulties.  It is not for everyone.

While you can easily sort out simple problems back home, some of those simple problems can be a real headache abroad.  In some countries getting a driver’s license is almost equal to getting a bachelor’s degree.

Take into consideration the follow issues:

Are you responsible for your family? Would they be comfortable with the idea of moving and living overseas? If you are not on the same team as your family things might not work out so well.

Do you have a spouse or partner? Will s/he be giving up their job, find a job overseas or be interested in teaching English also?

If you have children how will you educate them overseas? How will they deal with the transition and feel about giving up their friends? Educating your children while abroad can be very expensive – International schools fees can cost you an arm and a leg and may be more than what the ordinary English teacher earns monthly.

Should you pay off debts? If yes, choose your country carefully because while it may be easy to save up to US$1000 in some countries you’ll find it difficult to save in other countries. You can live well on the local economy but even saving for a ticket back home once a year may be difficult in these countries.

If things don’t work out will you have some financial reserves as a back up when you return to your home country? It’s always good to have a little bit of emergency money to fall back on.

Do you (or your family) have specific medical needs? While medicines and medical care can be cheaper than what you are used to (sometimes as little as 90% less than you would pay in your home country) some countries are not up to date with the latest in cutting edge medical care and drugs.

It’s best to ask your physician first if you have a chronic or complex medical issue and make sure what is available in the foreign country.

Are you an experienced teacher or is this your first time teaching? Do you think you will enjoy teaching English? Teaching is a “helping” profession, you’ll work with people – is this your kind of job?

Have you ever traveled overseas? Did you enjoy it? What about living overseas? It helps to know this. Before I made the big change I have only been across the border to Mexico for a few days, but at age 37 I went to Africa. It was a huge transition, but it worked out okay for me, it might not work out for everyone.

How would deal with the daily problems of living and working abroad?  Will it be frustrating or a stimulating challenge? You’ll find daily frustrations in many countries.

This list only gives you an idea of what you should keep in mind as an individual before making the decision.

What qualities do you need to make a success of yourself?

People who succeed in a TEFL job overseas usually have the following qualities and knowledge:

They have reasonable expectations about their new job and what they will get out of it.

They understand that their new country – and all the problems and solutions – will not be same as their home country.

They realize that the same problems they had at home may exist overseas.

They know that, just like in their own country, they will have good and bad days.

They know that, just like in their own country, they may experience good bosses and jobs and bad bosses and jobs.

They cope with and withstand adversity, be flexible enough to roll with the punches and have the ability to bounce back from a negative situation.

They are able to work under different cultural expectations, work ethics and rules.

They don’t get moody or depressed about minor issues.

They view their success as a personal enriching challenge.

They do a lot of research about the move they are going to make.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Listen to the voice of others, but also listen to your own voice, your heart! Do you really want to make this move? I had a dream of living abroad for years. It was in my heart. If I had no dream or desire to succeed, I would not have survived those two years in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

TED’s Tips™ #2: This decision doesn’t have to be a ‘for the rest of my life’-decision. If you don’t like life abroad, you will always have the freedom to return home.  At first just look at it as a one or two or three year experience.  After that time you will know for sure if you want to stay out in the new world you have found.

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TEFL Job Options: More than you Know

What kind of TEFL job can I look for?

We have no idea how many types of TEFL jobs exists…more than what we know of, more than we can imagine.

EFL instruction is needed in almost every area of any kind of International business and or industry.

Most non-English speaking countries have big EFL industries to teach English to children and or adults. Their universities have EFL programs for students.  But these are the more traditional jobs.

More TEFL Options

International airlines often need EFL training for their staff, as well as travel agencies and tour guides, resorts and hotels, scuba instructors and just about anyone who is dealing with tourism and hospitality.

International hospitals in major cities around the world hire EFL staff to teach their nurses and staff how to communicate with their patients, who come from around the world.

EFL instruction is even needed in the Army, Navy and Air Force as well as the Police Force in countries and cities where English speaking tourists and residents are common.

This is good news!

This means that as a newbie in the TEFL world you may be able to find a teaching job related to your interest and previous employment. If you have the experience in a specific field you would be considered a natural. You will have the knowledge of the special vocabulary and specific terminology. You willl be the preferred hire.

Keep an open mind

You need to get creative looking for all those job possibilities. They exist but not all of them are traditionally, regularly and widely advertised. The most obvious place to ask about these jobs would be the Internet’s TEFL discussion boards. Be careful though, many of these jobs might are not familiar to the typical poster on the Internet’s TEFL discussion boards and you may hear your question or idea pooh-poohed.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Find a job related to your skills and experience.

Almost everyone has a unique set of skills, talent and experiences in different fields. If your skills are worth anything, exploit them and use them to your advantage.

TED’s Tips™ #2: The best job might not be splashed online

If you are looking for an English teaching job in a specific field, don’t expect to find the job in the traditional ‘TEFL teaching jobs’ section online. It might not be advertised in the usual way. It might not be advertised at all!

One of the best examples is the Resort and Hospitality Industry. Many major five and six star resorts don’t advertise their job openings because they will get swamped with eager applications from eager applicants wanting to get a “dream job” in a resort setting. If you have experience in the hospitality industry (waiter/waitress, hostess etc), take the chance and call the resort to present yourself, even if it is unexpected.

An example from the past: A few years ago LeMeridien Resort on Phuket Island advertised for an English Teacher. Sixty people applied, but only twenty were willing to travel to Phuket for the interview. In the end only three showed up! If you have the specific industry experience and if you know what and how to teach, you have a huge advantage!

TED’s Tips™ #3: If you want to work in an “outside the box” occupation like TEFL, it is good to consider conducting your job search in a non-traditional manner. There are some quite unusual settings for you to work. More options than you can imagine.

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