Teach English

So you wanna be an English teacher? Congratulations on making it this far.

But first things first - consider the following:

It's no picnic. 
You might speak English, but you'll need qualifications, resources and know-how to teach effectively.

Teaching English is a job. 
There are some career advancement opportunities, but don't expect to move into high earning management positions any time soon.

Travel is a benefit, not a right. 
Living abroad can be rewarding, but if you have a full time job teaching, you won't be on a long vacation, you'll be working.

Still interested? Then read on to find out how to get a TEFL certification, how to select your dream location and job, and how to teach English.


How to get certified:

It's possible to teach in some jobs without a 'Teaching English as a Foreign Language' (TEFL) certificate. However, most respectable employers now demand a recognised qualification along with your university degree to work.

What are my options?

  1. CELTA - 1 month course of 120 hours, with in class experience, accredited by Cambridge.
  2. CerTESOL - 1 month course of 120 hours, with in class experience, accredited by Trinity.
  3. TEFL - Courses accredited by smaller institutions but still accepted by many employers.

This article explains the differences in more detail.

I personally recommend the CELTA course. I found the training to be excellent and I believe it to be the most respected certificate out there. It's also possible to spread the classes out over a year to continue working whilst you get certified. The courses usually cost around $1000-$1500 and can be taken in your destination of choice, helping you to find employment afterward.

Can I get certified online?
Yes. There are many courses offered online that offer adequate instruction and tuition in language teaching. These tend to be much cheaper alternatives to the on-site courses but bear in mind that many employers don't accept online certification. In addition, the most important part of your training is teaching live practice classes, which you can't do effectively via a computer.

Do I have to know the language inside out?
Don't worry. Whilst it's a good idea to bone up on English grammar from a book, you don't need to know the difference between the future perfect and the zero conditional tenses just yet. You're in the same boat as the students and you can learn as you go. All TEFL courses will instruct you on how to effectively, how to teach grammar and language skills, classroom management, lesson planning and more.


How to select a location:

So you're certified. Now comes the fun part. Opening the atlas and booking a flight. There are of course many English teaching jobs in your own country. However, as you've come to the site 'Tall Travels' I'll assume that you are looking to move abroad to sample the expat lifestyle.

Personal or financial happiness?
Where you will live is the most important choice you will make. Remember, your job is important, but it only makes up one part of your life. Your family and social life, and your enjoyment of the culture and travel in your new destination are important too.

Avoid idly browsing teaching jobs looking first at the salary then at everything else. If a job offers a higher wage for the same calibre of candidate, there's a reason - it's probably not an attractive job!

What's important to you?
The Catch 22 of TEFL is that the more attractive the place, the more competition for jobs you'll find there. This means it's difficult to get a great teaching job in the most popular travel and expat destinations.

Think long and hard about what is most important, and what you can compromise on:
  • Travel time or proximity to family
  • Cost of living
  • Local amenities
  • Local culture
  • Travel opportunities
  • City, town or countryside lifestyle?
  • Types of employment available
  • Opportunities to socialise or integrate with locals
  • The expat community


How to find a job:

Now you know where you are headed, there's many more important questions to ask yourself.

Who will I teach?
Teaching to children, teens or adults is obviously very different. Try to match your personal style to the types of learners you might encounter at work. English will be an obligatory subject for some and an elective for others. Think about if you want to teach learners of a foreign language (for use abroad), or of a second language (for use at home).

Most importantly you will have to help your students attain their goals in language learning. If you teach businessmen, they will want to apply the language to emails with suppliers in China or Europe. If you teach children, they might use it to watch movies in English. And if you teach university students, they might use it to read academic articles in English.

Remember, people need to use English for more than to find out "Where the train station is".

Where can I work?
The factors that require thought include the hours, the benefits, the possible problems, the visa requirements, and of course the salary:

  • Academies / Institutes - Many countries have a growing number of institutes. Learners will normally be motivated and are likely to be younger too (e.g. after school clubs). Academies can offer good socialising opportunities and flexible work patterns. Beware of owners or bosses with bad reputations for conservative policies or messing employees around.
  • Corporate classes - Many employers have contracts with companies for native speaking teachers to give classes. This can involve a lot more travel and some unmotivated students but can be lucrative work, especially as you might find private clients.
  • Schools / Universities - These jobs tend to be the most prized as you are more likely to receive good benefits (an office, pension, health insurance, bonuses). However competition for the positions is high and you may need to be more experienced or qualified. Check out my Adventures from the Classroom series to see what I encounter on a daily basis at the university where I work.

Be sure to do your research on any employer you apply to. You can avoid costly mistakes and problems with a few hours spent on TEFL forums and websites.

Can I work for myself?
Certainly. There is a huge demand for private English classes, you just have to go out and find it. You'll receive the best pay for private classes as you are cutting out the middle man, but it's not a piece of cake:

  • You have to find your clients. Go to language exchange events and social gatherings at the trendy young hangouts to meet locals. Many people still find teachers through word-of-mouth recommendation, so handing out those business card is crucial. This article can help you find more clients.
  • You have to make ends meet. Many clients will want the same hours, so you have to carefully build a schedule to generate enough income.
  • Students aren't reliable. They will cancel at a moment's notice, so be sure to have a clear policy on cancellations or class changes with them.
  • Tailor your classes to them. Remember, you work for your clients, so you must teach them effectively for their aims, and help them enjoy your classes.
  • It's technically illegal. Cash in hand work is great for your finances but you can run into problems through not participating in the tax system (e.g. denial of public health or other legal rights).

There are other opportunities to go freelance too like voice recording, Skype classes, material creation and maintaining a website or blog. This article talks in more detail about freelancing. 

Where do I look for jobs?

There are many ESL job sites online. Some of them like tefl.com offer information on the destination country, so you can research jobs and locations in the same time place.

A good idea is to sign up for email alerts for your chosen countries or job types. Make sure you spend time making your CV look attractive on each job site. Even if you are a newly qualified teacher, you can talk about your TEFL course, and any relevant experience or extra curricular accomplishments.

This piece talks in more detail about how to find a job in Asia, and this excellent teaching site gives a run down on the best TEFL jobs boards.

Be wary of recruitment agents and charitable organisations who try to take advantage of TEFL 'newbies'. Many people go into English teaching as a career break or gap year project. Don't ever be fooled that you should pay to work, or that anyone can guarantee you a lucrative job after a 'transaction fee'.


How to teach English:

So you've got a job, now you just have to put what you know into practice in the classroom.

What if I'm nervous in front of class?
That's natural, but you'll get over it after just a few classes. The students can be timid too, so you have to be positive and encouraging to get the best out of them. Don't be afraid to act the clown, you'll need to have a good rapport with students to teach effectively.

How can I avoid being a boring 'stick in the mud' teacher?
Treat your students as people. They have interests, hopes and dreams too. Get them involved by asking their opinion and tailoring classes to their interests and don't just preach to them. If they are actively involved in their learning, you'll get along just fine. Think about your learning experiences, which teachers did you like and why?

Me with my Mexican university students

How do I deal with difficult language questions?
Be well prepared. After a while you'll know exactly what the students will ask about a specific language point or exercise. If you ask them to repeat their question after class, you can avoid some unecessary interruptions too. Also, learn to act and describe words. If a student asks what 'apple' means, don't just say "well . . . you know . . . an apple". An apple is a piece of fruit the size of a tennis ball, it grows on a tree and is red or green. The thesaurus will soon become your best friend.

Where can I find materials for class?
Your employer will probably provide materials such as dictionaries and books. You can find many free resources online. The British Council offers great resources as well as advice for teachers and learners.

You can always use current news articles, YouTube videos, songs and forum opinions too. You don't always have to stick to a textbook. Use realistic techniques for your students. Not everyone has two hours to dedicate per day, so help students sign up to news in English via email, download cellphone vocab apps or find useful Twitter feeds. An excellent post about effective language learning by Tim Ferriss can be found here.

What if I can't adapt to living abroad, or I'm having problems?
It will be difficult to move abroad, but have faith that you are strong enough to do it. If you have come this far, take the leap, you won't regret it. Try to be open minded about your destination. Give yourself time to adapt and get out there and communicate with others. Don't shut yourself away and go into your shell. This will only make homesickness worse.

Feel free to get in touch with me via my about Tall Travels page, if you have any questions about teaching.


The TEFL toolkit:

Before jumping in:
Before you go
Best places to live abroad
Cost of living comparisons
Best places to teach EFL

Being a teacher:
What it's like to teach abroad
Real teachers' stories
Tall Travels - Adventures from the classroom
The best EFL blogs
One Stop English teacher diaries

TEFL information:
Dave's ESL Café

Guide to TEFL
International TEFL Academy

Class resources:
Simple grammar explanations
Grammar practice
Short reading exercises
English videos
Youtube video and audio downloader
Listening exercises
Song lessons
British Council lesson plans
Comprehensive EFL material site (subscription)
Games and Activities