What Kind of TEFL Job Do You Want?

You should be aware that there are two different branches of the TEFL tree. As you climb through your career, you need to think carefully about which branch suits you best.

The two different branches are: teaching at a language school or training center, and teaching at a college or university.

I think it’s important for TEFL newbies to consider which branch they’d like best  before they apply for their first job and even before taking their TEFL training, so they can be sure their certification course will help them as much as possible.

So, how are these two branches of TEFL different?

Language Schools Can Be Fun

If you choose to teach English at a language school or training center then you will probably find yourself teaching young learners, and teaching those kids quite basic language functions.  Your daily teaching time will also probably incorporate singing and/or dancing and other tomfoolery (some call these “dancing monkey” gigs) to really bring the language alive for the children.

For some teachers, this is an excellent fit. There’s a lot of positive energy to go around when you teach a bunch of excited youngsters. Dance, sing, laugh…have fun! For others, a child-centered classroom signals a headache-inducing disciplinary knot of issues centering on screaming kids.

Of course, most people will probably find themselves in a middle zone—neither joyous nor tortured. But in reality TEFL newbies are often scheduled to teach the very youngest kids, especially if that teacher is also young. Class sizes for children’s classes are usually small, often with only six to 12 children.

Do you think teaching kids is right for you?

Universities Can Inspire

If you choose to teach English at a college or university, then clearly, your average student will be older. Most of the time, your classes will center around intermediate to advanced language skills. Your students will be young adults or even adults. Some of your classes may be full of people who are required to take English to complete their degree requirements regardless of their personal feelings about the language and desire to succeed. Others will be English majors who are true Anglophiles, with a deep-seated drive to learn and improve their skills.

Some teachers will find that university students, who have usually some basics of the language, are easier students to work with. Others will struggle managing the larger numbers of students per class—sometimes there are only 15-25 students per class, but it’s not unheard of to have 35-45-50. One time, I had more than 100 students in a reading class. Thankfully, I had a co-teacher for that one!

Do you think teaching older students is right for you?

More Differences

The age of the students and size of the classes aren’t the only differences you’ll see between language school jobs and university or college jobs. Class loads are also different.  University lecturers may only be scheduled to teach 12-20 class hours per week. A class hour is generally 50-60 minutes long.

Meanwhile, a language school teacher probably will have 25-35 hours per week on their schedule. Those hours may be measured in increments of 30-50 minutes.

Another difference is in paid vacation time and personal leave.

Teachers who work in Asia at a language school may only have a week per year of paid vacation. A university teacher usually gets more than that. A month of paid vacation is minimum and, with some positions, university teachers may get up to 12 or even 20 weeks of paid time off each year.

Quite different, right?

That last point—vacation time—has always been a big factor for me when I evaluate what branch of TEFL to continue pursuing. Who doesn’t like a lot of paid time off?

There’s yet another important factor to consider, though. In general, a university or college will look to hire teachers with more education, training and experience than language schools. If you have a bachelor’s degree then you can get a good position in a language school in almost any non-English speaking country.

If you have a TEFL certification on top of your bachelor’s, then you will probably have luck getting university positions in a few countries. A TEFL certification with no degree will be accepted in only a few countries, primarily at language schools. If you have a relevant graduate degree, plus a TEFL certification, then you can pretty much pick and choose what job you’d like in almost any country.

Wages aren’t what you might think.  Often wages for the two type of positions are roughly the same.  Some places a university position might pay even a bit less than a university position. However,  if you are only teaching 12 class hours per week, you will certainly have more time to seek additional income.   And, the longer you stay in the career, the college/university track will tend to pay more.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Take some time to consider which branch of TEFL teaching is best for you. Do this before you leave your home country or make this review early in your career.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you are thinking of TEFL as your long-term career, then you should probably take a hard look at following up jobs in the university sector. If you do not yet have a graduate degree, then that should be be written at the top of your To-Do list. In today’s world it’s no big deal to do a distance-study program while teaching overseas. There are many good quality MA-TESOL programs to choose from, and, you’ll be able to do your homework and classroom research in the field as you work – when and where it makes the most sense.


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.

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IT People Make GREAT EFL Teachers

Technology = TEACHnology = Good TEFL Method

This comes up so often that it is worth talking about.  This is actually the first time – and possibly the last – I have ever written specifically to a particular occupational group.  Strange?  But not.

Yes, people who work in information technology (IT) – in my experience as a teacher trainer – often make the BEST EFL/ESL teachers.

What?  Why?

I’ve taught a lot of IT people to be teachers and I have also communicated with a lot of them about changing their careers.  Something about IT seems to encourage people to get OUT.  Perhaps it is the cubicle work environment or even the tedium that can come with systems design and work.

If you work in IT and are thinking of a career change – TEFL may be a pretty good choice for you.  Why do IT people do so well?  It is largely because of the step-by-step process by which they are used to analyzing their work.   It is very method intensive.  This works, so you add a step.  If something doesn’t work you back up step-by-step until you can make it work – then you begin to add steps again.

Step-by-Step Method is great for TEFL

That kind of careful analysis and that method of approaching problems is exactly what your EFL students need.  That kind of method translates super well to designing lessons for your students.   And with so much practice, IT people just seem to “get it” much faster than other TEFL trainees.  They are very used to and familiar with PLANNING what they do.  And if it doesn’t work – going back and taking it apart piece by piece to find out why it didn’t work.

This kind of approach, which is second nature to IT people, is often difficult for TEFL trainees (EFL teachers in training) to get a good handle on.


I remember taking a FORTRAN class back in 1970 or so – and it taught me some good skills that I still use today.

So . . . IT people – all I am saying is that if you wonder if you might do well in TEFL.  My answer will almost always be YES, you probably will do very well.

For the rest of us non-techies, we can do pretty well too, but sometimes we struggle with the process.  Not a big deal – it’s not rocket science – pretty much everyone gets it during their training, it’s just that it comes very naturally to the IT folks.

TED’s Tips™ #1: If you work in IT and you wonder if TEFL will be easy or difficult for you, I am telling you here that it will likely be a very good transition for you.  Go for it!

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Your Long-term Future as an EFL Teacher

I’ve been living and working abroad since 1989 and there are a few lessons to be learned if you wish to survive and thrive long term overseas.    Here we go . . .

#1 – No matter what you do, where you work, who you work for – you are essentially – SELF EMPLOYED. That means you work for yourself and you need to look out for yourself and not leave it to someone else to be responsible for your life – for your future – or for anything else.

A great life lesson really – no matter where you are or what you do. Look at the people who worked at Enron, WorldCom, even General Motors who left their pensions and futures to the planning of others. Not a good thing to do.

#2. Plan for your future.   I saved and purchased rental properties in my home country. Fully paid off and providing rental income. That will be part of my pension when I get really old. We all know about the property bubble/bust so that did not turn out perfectly, but the properties are paid off, so they will still help me a bit.  You might try a different approach  or strategy, but choose one and follow through.

#3. Invest in a business of some sort that will provide an income stream as you grow older. There are a zillion ways to do this – none of them easy – most filled with hype and false promises – but the opportunity is out there is you are persistent and determined.

By the way – #1 above – “You work for yourself” – does not mean to be a selfish lout. To me it means that while you are working for others (until you get #3 going) that you need to be a VALUE ADDED employee. That you need to be the “go-to-guy” for your employer. The person they can count on to get things done. The person they can rely on to be there when times get tough. NOT the person who says they aren’t going to work an extra 15 minutes unless they get paid for it. There is no room for selfishness when you want others to help you meet your goals.

As a relevant aside – last year I saw a scruffy looking down-and-out foreigner digging through the garbage cans (rubbish bins in UK English) in a tourist-beach tropical-island destination. How sad that is!  This was – no doubt – one of the “live for today” crowd – now reduced to eating garbage left by tourists. It was both shocking and really sad. And a lesson.

The lesson is: Man up (or Woman up!) – be responsible for yourself – plan for the good and bad times. It really isn’t difficult. The fat times need to be recognized as such and used to ease the lean times.

TED’s Tips™ #1: I will alter Gandhi’s famous quote here:  Live as if you will die tomorrow, plan as if you will live forever.

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Important Choices for a TEFL Career

Two TEFL Tracks Examined: University or Language School Options

Teaching English abroad, to me, has two different career paths. And they are both important to consider before you seek that first job and even before you take your TEFL Training if getting a certification is on your agenda.

The two paths?

Teaching at a language school or teaching at a college or university. How are they different? Many many ways.

Teaching English at a Language School

Teaching English at a language school often involves a large dose of teaching children very elementary language skills. But it also can involve a fair amount of singing, dancing and what some people might call “being a dancing monkey” to keep the little ones occupied and happy.

Now some people can think of nothing more joyous than filling their days with enthusiastic and energetic young kids, dancing, singing and laughing. Others see it as a very loud classroom with hyperactive screaming kids that present constant discipline problems.

The reality is probably somewhere in the middle, but TEFL newbies are often placed in with the youngest kids, especially if you are a very young newbie. Class sizes can often be small, with six to twelve kids per class relatively common.

Is this setting for you?

Teaching English at Colleges and Universities

Teaching English at colleges and universities usually involves teaching intermediate to more advanced language skills to larger classes of young adults. Some of those students don’t want to be in the classroom, but the class is required by their major. Other students will be enthusiastic English majors with a real curiosity about the language and a desire to improve.

Some people find teaching these students, who already have some good language skills, to be a a lot easier. Others find it difficult to manage the larger numbers of students that are in a university class – sometimes only 15-25, but 35-45 are not unusual – and I once taught a reading class (with a co-teacher) of 100+ students.

How about that setting?

Other Important Differences

A common difference between the two jobs is that university teachers usually teach only about twelve to twenty 45-50 minute classroom hours per week. Language school teachers will find 25-35 hours to be more common. Those classes though might range from only 30 to 45 minutes each.

Paid vacation time is usually significantly different. A typical language school teacher – let’s say in Asia, for example – will get about one week per year of paid vacation time. University positions vary significantly but a month paid vacation is about the minimum and some schools, as you move up the food chain, offer anywhere from 12-20 weeks paid leave per year.

BIG differences, no?

Now, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like long paid vacation time, but there are probably a few out there. To me the university/college path was always the best bet.

One final difference is important though. Generally university positions will require more education and/or training than a language school job. With only a degree you can get a decent language school job in almost any non-English speaking country.

A degree and a TEFL certification can land you university positions in many countries. Just a TEFL certification with no degree will usually see you in a language school in few choices of countries. A relevant graduate degree and a TEFL Certification and the world is your oyster.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Before you head out decide which path might be best for you.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you are not sure, give both options a try before committing long term.

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