I’ve answered a few emails recently from potential teachers asking for advice on how to get into TEFL teaching, or teaching abroad in general, so it’s time I shared some of my thoughts. I started teaching English as a foreign language, as many teachers do, because I enjoyed travelling. It’s a great way to explore new places – and I ended up in some rather unusual places with my teaching. But that wasn’t always a good thing! So, what’s the right way to do it?
If a job’s worth doing, do it well…
The most important thing I recommend is doing a proper, respectable teacher training course. This makes the job a lot easier, more enjoyable, and rewarding, and it also gives you access to better opportunities.
There are a lot of shortcuts to teaching English – including cheap, short courses and online certificates which might technically get you qualified but won’t actually equip you for the job. I managed to get a teaching job in a school without any qualifications – and it was me that suffered most from that. I ended up in a very unsavoury job, and I wasn’t able to give my students the help I should have.
A proper TEFL course (or whichever acronym applies, TESOL, etc.) should take at least a few weeks to complete and ideally include face to face study and teaching opportunities. It can be hard, and expensive, but it’ll give you more confidence with the actual job (and with getting a better job!). My course took five weeks was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done – but without it I would not have been comfortably teaching long enough to build this website or write books.
Why’s it so important? There are things in teaching that may seem obvious when an experienced teacher tells them to you, but would take years to discover on your own. For example, mastering Concept Checking Questions, or basic classroom management, can be learnt quickly, if you have the right person to learn from. An interesting one for me was when my trainer warned me not to echo a student when they gave an answer – it can be unclear if you are correcting their pronunciation or just agreeing that it’s the right answer. I needed to have that pointed out to me.
A good course will also help you get started looking for work, both in giving you ideas of where to go and providing essential advice. Any respectable teacher training school should be up-do-date with job searches and opportunities.
Getting started teaching abroad
When you are ready to move country and start work, be aware there are very good and very bad teaching jobs out there. You probably already have an idea of what countries you would like to live in, fitting your personal tastes – but also consider that the particular cities and schools you choose will also have a big impact on your experience.
Fortunately, teaching abroad jobs often come as a package, with travel, accommodation and visa considerations all forming part of the job offer. This makes the school itself the most important consideration you make.
Choosing a suitable school for you can make all the difference between a dream job and a nightmare. The first big question will be what qualifications / experience does a school require? Schools with low requirements are likely to have low standards, and consequently treat people poorly (with problems including slow visa processing, poor accommodation and difficulties getting paid). This is an important reason to do proper training – my first teaching job required no qualifications, and it was a nightmare.
Another issue to look out for is when schools offer split shifts – sometimes they expect teachers to work in multiple locations at quite different times of day, which can make life difficult to manage. Be aware of exactly what working hours are being asked of you, which can also be applied to understanding term times and holidays.
Also, of course, research the people offering the job, to see if anyone’s posting horror stories about the organisations in charge. Do form your own opinions, though, as there are also unreasonable teachers railing against otherwise respectable schools.
What type of teaching do you want to do?
Finally, I ought to offer a brief note on different types of teaching, as you might be aware that I primarily tutor privately. There are plenty of different types of teaching: consider if you would prefer to work with adults or children, in a school or privately, and at what level. All these factors have different benefits, which will depend on your personal tastes. Personally, I prefer teaching one-to-one with adults because I can get into a detailed analysis of an individual’s understanding. However, teaching children can be more creative and fun – and teaching in groups provides opportunities for group activties.
When you consider what sort of environment you will be most comfortable in, in all the above areas, you’ll find it easier to map a path to getting there. And there are plenty of options out there!
I hope this helps – it is a little general and I’ve not provided links to particular sites that can help further, as I’m out of touch in that regard, but a quick online search should give you lots of ideas. As always, I’m happy to answer any extra questions you might have – feel free to post in the comments or send me an email!