It Takes All Kinds to Teach English

Just who will my colleagues abroad be?

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is a career embraced by a diverse group of people.  Don’t be shocked when you learn the backgrounds of your new coworkers!

Like, Who?

Most EFL teachers are just like you and me.  They’re interested (and interesting!), adventurous people who saw a great chance and jumped at a life abroad.

For example, not too long ago I had dinner with a Chicago attorney who had just attained his TEFL certification.

Besides lawyers, I’ve come across hotel managers, sports coaches, manual laborers, former soldiers, social workers, businesspeople, a factory manager, a ship’s pilot, reporters, therapists, salespeople, public school teachers, a petroleum engineer, and…well, those are only the ones I’ve asked! While it’s always interesting to find out what someone did before they chose to go into teaching abroad, I’ve ceased being surprised. There is just so much diversity of background among English teachers.

So, why are they teaching abroad?

There are thousands of reasons a person may switch careers and start teaching overseas, but the best one may be, simply, “why not?”

I occasionally overhear someone say that so-and-so has “run away” from their home country or “escaped [insert country’s name here].” I don’t like to think of it in those terms—in my experience it’s more likely that ESL teachers are running TO a new, interesting, exciting and fulfilling lifestyle. They are grabbing their dream of seeing the world and making the most out of life. The reasons they first come abroad are as diverse as the teachers themselves.

OK, but why do they stay abroad?

There are many reasons why someone would go abroad and why they would stay abroad. I think most people who live abroad long-term do it because they love it.  They’ve fulfilled their personal and monetary goals and don’t feel pressured to “go home.” For myself, I recently retired abroad—not my plan originally, of course—and I love it!

I may be an exception, however, as most EFL teachers will find themselves pulled “home” eventually. But I’ve decided “home” is now a wonderful, tropical island which I may never move away from!

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Take a few moments of self-reflection and explore what YOUR reasons are for wanting to teach English overseas. When you do this, though, don’t pressure yourself to come up with some cast-iron “heavy” reasons. Maybe you’ve just got good old-fashioned curiosity!

TED’s Tips™ #2:  The next time you browse a forum where expats discuss life and work abroad, pose the question of what people did for a living before they transitioned to a new country. The answers and the diversity of people and careers may well surprise you!



Teaching English Abroad: Realistic Expectations

We get a lot of questions here from people thinking about teaching English abroad. Some of these questions are missing all logic and practical reasoning, a lot of these questions, relating to working abroad, are asked with totally unrealistic and unreasonable expectations!

Here are some statements and questions which have made their way to me:

“Of course the school will plan long paid vacations as they will want me to travel around their country.”

“I don’t need to wear a suit and tie, do I?” asked by someone who will be teaching at a university.

“How will I negotiate my ‘relocation package’?” asked by someone who is off to a country where airfare, accommodation and other relocation costs are not included

“Should I ask the students any questions?”  from someone who will be teaching Conversational English.

“I won’t need any training as we will just chat, right?”

Let’s set the record straight now…Teaching English abroad is not about YOU! It is all about the school that has students who need your help!

Sorry to disappoint you, but you are not doing them a favor touring their country thus they will not plan or give long paid vacations to you (unless you land a good university position). And don’t expect a ‘relocation package’ unless you have a graduate degree with lots of experience!

Unfortunately, of course, YES, they might like you to wear a suit and tie in some schools.

And again, YES, you should ask your students questions!  Or do you plan to talk about yourself the whole time?

To receive English education from an English native is a privilege in many countries.  They pay a lot of money to attend your class and they will expect you to meet their needs.

Use your common sense when heading abroad, the basics of how to seek work and how to succeed at a new job will be the same all around the world.

Dress for success

My tip to you is to dress for the job you want, not the job you have. If your fellow foreign teachers dress in ragged jeans, t-shirts and flip flops does that mean you should do it too? Dress in the same way your host country co-workers are dressed, if it’s a suit and tie (common for university jobs) you better suit up!

“Should I ask the students any questions?” Please. Yes. Ask them!

Your students need to talk to practice, to get more confident and familiar with the language and gain experience. You might think that you are an interesting foreigner and you might be…but only for a few minutes.  You can’t expect people to pay to sit in a class just to hear all about you? Students need to talk, help them to talk about themselves (which they will find much more interesting – don’t we all?) rather than you talking about yourself!

TED’s Tips™ #1: Dress for Success

Dress as your local co-workers dress, not as other foreigners. This is your career, take charge!

TED’s Tips™ #2: Be prepared to teach!

When you arrive on the job, be ready and prepared to teach! You can’t just walk into a class anymore and expect to have random chats with your students, prepare and be ready to teach new skills to your students.  Dazzle your employer and co-workers with your readiness. Learn how to teach and know what you are doing before you arrive, it just takes practice!  Get some training.

Teaching Internships in China

“Winging it” in TEFL: It’s Just Teaching English . . .

A reader in our comments section once wrote: I think I could wing it.

Well . . . maybe you can!
Or maybe you can’t.

After all, many people think that if you can speak English, you can teach it.  But, I don’t really agree with that idea.

There are effective ways of teaching English and there are ineffective ways and most untrained teachers have no idea what really works and what doesn’t.  And one of the most difficult and frustrating issues for learners of English is pronunciation and untrained newbies almost never know how to teach pronunciation in a useful way that helps their students.

What many people are proposing when they suggest “winging it” is to go to a developing country and take the money of poor people who are paying what is for them a LOT of money to sit in your classroom.  These people are paying good money hoping that you know what you’re doing and hoping that you will impart skills that will improve their future.

Is that really the approach you want to take in starting your new life abroad?  I hope not.

Even the most basic of online TEFL training classes can help you understand the basics of method and give you some idea of what works and what doesn’t.  And that you need to minimize “teacher talk time” and why.

Come on, get some training.  Feel good about what you are doing and do it right.  It really is as simple as that.

TEFL Training isn’t rocket science and even just a bit of good basic training can make a huge difference in what you deliver to your students and how much they learn.  And if they feel they are getting their money’s worth from you or are being scammed.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Deliver what your students are paying for.  They deserve your best efforts.  They really do!  Get some training.

The BEST EFL Teaching Jobs in China: Government Colleges, Universities and Secondary Schools offer the most reliable and worry-free jobs in China. Click on the Link if you would like to Teach English in China

How do I Find my First TEFL Job?

Landing that First Job Teaching English Overseas

The TEFL Job Search

This is, for me, the fun part. You’ll find hunting for a job teaching English overseas much less humiliating that the job hunt back home. In fact, not humiliating at all.

Schools and companies overseas actually NEED and WANT you! WoW! Kind of a nice self-esteem thing . . . and the first dramatic change that this life can bring to you.

This is a short page as I want you to get to work on this dream of yours – that can be a reality in just a few weeks!

Now that you have made the decision, I will allow myself, just for a brief moment, to be a salesman for the TEFL Career. Preaching to the choir, so to speak.

A Short Personal Story

My wife and I sometimes look at each other and say, “Would you ever have imagined, a year before we left (almost 20 years ago!), that we could have done all the things we have done? That we would have worked and lived in so many countries? That we would have been able to travel to so many different countries? That we could have learned and experienced so much?” Our answer is always, “Nope, could never have imagined it!” It still surprises us!

This life can be real for you!

One of the very best places to look for information is over at, a website I wrote some years ago to help answer all the questions people were asking me. The TEFL Job Search section there is better than anything you will find elsewhere on the Web.

Go ahead, fantasize a bit – cruise the jobs boards at: Dave’s ESL Cafe, ESL Jobs Now and even at

TED’s Tips™ #1: This is the time to branch out and check every jobs website you can find. Contact employers. You’ll be amazed at how easy it really is.

The BEST EFL Teaching Jobs in China: Government Colleges, Universities and Secondary Schools offer the most reliable and worry-free jobs in China. Click on the Link if you would like to Teach English in China

Is Teaching English Overseas Appropriate for Me?

Will I be happy and successful working abroad?

This is one question that only you can answer, but I will provide some guidelines and questions here that will help you take a solid look at yourself and come to a good answer.

Life overseas is not for everyone. It is a life full of wonder and new experiences, but along with all that also come some new challenges and difficulties. Sometimes even simple problems easily solved “back home” can br quite difficult to sort out abroad. Just getting a driver’s license in some countries is probably equal to getting a bachelor’s degree.

What are the things to consider?

Do you have a family that you are responsible for? How would they feel about moving overseas and living in a foreign land? Things often don’t work well unless everyone is on the same team.

Do you have a spouse or partner? How would s/he feel about giving up their job? Will she be able to find work overseas? Is she interested in teaching English also?

Do you have children? How will you educate them while overseas? How might they feel about giving up their friends? Educating children while abroad can be a very expensive proposition. International schools charge huge fees for their (usually) corporate-sponsored families. School fees can easily exceed what the ordinary English teacher earns each month.

Do you have debts that must be paid while you are overseas? If so, choose your country carefully. In some counties it is easy to save US$1000 a month, in others you can live well on the local economy, but it will be difficult to save more than for a ticket “home” once a year.

Are there special medical issues for you or your family that must be considered? This is sometimes an easier issue to deal with abroad. Medicines and medical care in some countries can easily be only ten percent of what you might pay in a Western country. But, some countries won’t have the latest in cutting edge medical care and drugs. If you have chronic or complex medical issues, check with your physician first and double check what is available where you intend to go.

Do you have the financial reserves to return to your home country and re-establish yourself if things don’t work out? It is good to have a little emergency cushion, just in case.

Have you ever taught before – do you have any reason to believe that you might enjoy teaching English? Teaching is a “helping” profession, do you enjoy working with people?

Have you ever traveled or lived overseas before? Did you enjoy it? This isn’t a “have to” but it does help you know. I went to Africa at age 37 only having been across the border to Mexico for a few days. Wow! What a transition. But it worked out okay – for me. It might not for everyone.

Would you find the daily problems of living and working overseas frustrating – or a refreshing challenge? Life’s daily frustrations don’t go away just because you are living in another country.

This list is only a beginning – as individual as each person is – so are the questions that need to be answered in making this decision.

What qualities are needed to succeed?

My observation has been that people who succeed in TEFL overseas have the following characteristics and knowledge:

They have reasonable expectations about their new occupation and what it can and cannot provide for them.

They understand that their new country is not like their home country. Solutions to problems that work at home often don’t work overseas.

They realize that problems they had at home will probably also exist overseas.

They know they will have good days and bad days, just like back home.

They know they may experience good bosses, bad bosses, good jobs and bad jobs, just like back home.

They are flexible people who can roll with surprises and “punches” and can bounce back from a bad situation.

They are willing to work under different cultural expectations, willing to follow different cultural work rules.

They are not generally moody or depressed people.

They view their success as a personal challenge.

They spent a considerable amount of time researching their move, before they moved.

TED’s Tips™ #1: While it is useful to seek other’s opinions on these issues, listen to your heart. Is this something you really want to do? I had dreamed of living abroad for years and years before I finally made the move. It was in my heart to do it. If it had not been, I would not have survived those two years in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

TED’s Tips™ #2: This doesn’t have to be a decision forever. If you find you hate it, you are still free to return home. Few things in life are totally irreversible.