1. What is TEFL?
TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. English is the most common language for business, economics, and politics across the globe. Due to a globally increasing demand to learn English; there is an increasing demand for qualified English teachers in most countries in the world.
2. Why TEFL?
As a TEFL teacher you will be able to live and work in countries all over the world. It is a way to travel, experience a different culture, and learn a new language (if you want).
Teaching English is a real job so you will earn a pay check while you experience a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Most jobs will allow you to comfortably live in your host country, give you extra spending money, and place you closer to all those things you’ve always wanted to see. So instead of spending next weekend going to a movie, why not visit the Great Wall of China? Or take a weekend trip Bangkok? Or visit the wine country in northern Italy? Teaching English can make all this a reality … and it’s not as hard as you think.
3. What is the hardest part about becoming a TEFL teacher?
Courage and self confidence. If you want to be a TEFL teacher you can, but gaining the courage to get on your flight can be a daunting task. That said, TEFL is a dynamic and open-ended opportunity for the motivated person and it is possible for almost everyone.
Traveling halfway around the world to teach English is not for everyone. Not everyone has the desire to leave all that is familiar in order to delve into a foreign culture for an extended period of time. Having the desire and confidence to follow through is tough. The attrition rate is typically quite high because of the significant cultural adjustment that every teacher must figure out for them self. If you have what it takes though, TEFL will reward you with an experience that you will never forget!
4. What qualifications do I need? Do I need a degree?
This is not a black and white answer, but as a general rule there are 3 requirements for most first-time TEFLers:
1. Be a native English speaker*
2. Have a TEFL certificate (at least 120hr online course to be competitive)
3. Hold a Bachelor’s Degree or higher in any field of study**
* Most teacher’s come from the United States, Canada, England, Australia or New Zealand. That said, I have heard of teachers hailing from Ireland, Germany, France and more. It is significantly harder to get a job unless you are from those 5 countries I mentioned, but it is possible if you speak exception English (I would recommend starting your job search in China or Thailand to increase your odds).
** The degree dilemma. The fact is most TEFL teachers do have a degree. Most schools require it and many will not interview applicants without a degree. There are any exceptions though. The Chinese government for example, requires a university degree, a TEFL certificate and 2 years of job experience; but it seems like more teachers than not only have 1 or 2 of those requirements. Don’t be afraid to submit applicants and contact recruiters without all the requirements. It’s harder to get a job but it is most definitely possible.
5. Do I have to like kids?
No. There are many positions available for English teachers and they do not all involve children. Most 1st year teaching positions will be focused on teaching children, but there are other opportunities.
Here are some English jobs that don’t involve children:
– Business English (for companies and international corporations)
– Private tutoring (pick your own students)
– Teaching English for a University (usually requires advanced certifications and experience)
6. Do you make your own lesson plans / curriculum?
You will definitely play a large role in creating your lessons and lesson plans. Schools will normally provide a rough plan of what they want you to cover in a 1-2 week period. There will be plenty of room to evolve and tweak your classes according to your own creativity and motivation.
A good school will provide all the materials and curriculum necessary; but they will not write your lesson plan for you. Get creative with your plans and don’t be afraid to try new things … that is how you improve and become a better teacher. Powerpoint and Microsoft Word are the 2 major programs that you will use (if you don’t know them, they are easy programs to learn).
7. Can I TEFL with my significant other?
It is more difficult, but of course it is possible. Many recruiters will ask if you are job searching with a significant other. There is a large advantage for schools to hire couples because they gain 2 teachers at once. If they need a lot of teachers that is a great find. However, the disadvantage is that you will both need certificates, visas, degrees, etc. There is also the slight hurdle of agreeing what country on the planet to teach in, but that will be a fun decision for both of you to figure out!
8. How many hours a week can I expect to teach? Part Time vs. Full Time?
You will play a large role in picking your hours when you apply for specific jobs. TEFL provides the opportunity to teach only a few hours a week all the way up to a full time job. For an average TEFL contract you can expect to teach 16-24 (45 min) classes per week.
Private tutoring may be less hours and more sporadic, while working for a language institution may require evening hours and weekends, as they cater to people learning after school and work. There are also summer camps ranging from a couple days to 3+ weeks, 9-5 style jobs, weekend positions and everything in between.
9. What kind of support, feedback, and assistance will I receive as a first-year teacher?
The type of contract that you accept will determine the answer to this question. A reputable school will provide training, supplies, computers, and curriculum for you to create lesson plans. Your school should give you classroom supplies, a computer, a functional classroom, and should provide someone to watch your classes (periodically) and give you feedback. When you are interviewing and accepting contracts this would be a great question to ask your specific school or hiring agency.
10. What should I know about signing my first TEFL contract?
There are many different companies and schools that may be interested in you. Keep in mind that they are not all good. When you sign your first contract there are some things that you should be very curious about.
The best way to get honest information about the company/school you are interviewing with is to ask for contact information from previous and current teachers. A reputable school will have this information and if they treat their teachers well they won’t be afraid to give that information out. If you can get the previous (or current) teachers’ contact info, send them an email and ask them the following questions (this will give you a very good idea what kind of contract you are expecting):
– How many classes do you teach a week? How many hours?
– What is it like living in the city you are in? (Is it rural or urban? Is there a train station or bus station close by?)
– What kind of things should I bring with me that I may not be able to get when I am in country?
– What are the locals like? What kind of language barriers are there?
– How cheap/expensive is it to live in this city?
The last note on contracts is …. read them! Look carefully at the compensation, bonuses, and hours expected. Do they provide accommodation? Do they reimburse you for flights and/or medical insurance? These are important things that will affect you when you are in country.
11. How much money should I expect?
Your school and/or hiring agency will be business-minded. Your salary will be based on your experience, qualifications, and perhaps most importantly the cost of living. Plug your salary into google and figure out what you will need in order to live comfortably. Make sure that if you have enough money to pay bills back home and still live to the standard you want to live. Most places you decide to go will be cheap in comparison to back home, but you still need to make some money.
As a very basic standard I would say $1,000 USD/month is acceptable across Asia (you will need more in big cities) and $2,000 USD/month in places that are more developed like Europe. These are very vague figures though and you will need to determine what you are willing to work for based on personal financial obligations, cost of living, and quality of life.
Every country pays a different amount of money for first year teacher. Salaries will vary based on whether the school provides accommodation, food, bonuses, etc. Don’t expect a ton of money; but you should be able to live very comfortably in your host country and with some financial planning you may be able to save a little bit. If you cannot live comfortably and you can’t save any money don’t accept the contract.
12. Is age a factor?
Traditionally TEFL has appealed to younger people who have just finished college, don’t know what to do with their lives, and want to travel for a bit. In the past 5-10 years though, there has been a shift in the demographic. Age no longer matters as much as it used to. I would say most schools still seek out the younger teachers, but many value the life experiences and stability that the older crowd can bring to their schools.
Many schools want applicants to have real life work experience in addition to a degree. This would imply that they look for applicants who are at least 23-24 years old. There are lots of schools that hire 22 year olds as well though, so don’t let age deter you. If you are 40+ years old, some schools may not consider you as well. Don’t get frustrated because others will.
Long story short … age is a factor; but if one school rules you out for being too young or too old there are 3 others that will hire you. Keep interviewing and searching! It’s a teachers market and in many cases the school may need you more than you need them.
13. How do I find a job?
There are tons of job boards in the TEFL world. Here are some ideas to get you started:
– TEFL Recruiters: The best way! Find a recruiter (ie. Footprints Recruiting) and have them line up interviews for you. Recruiters are free to you, have a mutual interest in you finding a good job, and help explain the interview process.
– Online Companies: When you get your online certificate the company that you use will probably have a job board.
– Blogs and ESL websites: A great place to find jobs (Daves ESL café has some great job postings and a ton of information on TEFL in general).
– Craigslist: Keep in mind that companies and schools who post jobs on craigslist might be trying to save money on finding teachers. This doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t good; but if they can’t afford to find you through traditional means then what does that say about them?
14. Do I need to know the local language?
No. You will be teaching at an international school or institution. There will be other teachers, administrators, and employees who speak English because they are interested in teaching English. That doesn’t necessarily mean English will be spoken commonly in the city you are in (or at all for that matter); but it is almost never a requirement to know the local language.
15. Will I need to get a visa for the country I am working in? How?
Yes! You need a visa and you should be very hesitant to work without one. This is the single greatest indicator of a company or school’s credibility. If a school is legitimate and professional they will have no problems applying for your paperwork and paying for you to get a visa. I would highly discourage working in a country illegally or without the proper visas. It is possible and many people do it, but if a school isn’t willing to get your the proper visa then they aren’t worth working for. Last point on this topic: get the visa BEFORE YOU GO! Don’t accept a job from a company who says they will get you the visa once you are in the country… it’s most likely a scam of some sort.
Visas vary all over the world. If you are not European it may be difficult to get the visa to work within the EU. They have plenty of applicants to pick from already so most jobs in Spain, Italy, France, etc. seem hesitant to pay for outsiders to gain a visa. As always there are ways around it, but it is tricky and too elaborate to go into in this section.