Finding the perfect ESL job

A high-turnover industry such as TEFL means teacher-company loyalty is low and the reverse is also true. Below are a few tips and a number of questions which, if answered by you, will help to avoid the nightmare jobs and ensure you land that dream position and the experience of a lifetime. At the bottom of the page you will also find a list of publications and websites I found particularly useful when looking for my first teaching position.

After finishing the CELTA I felt a huge relief. The course itself is like doing a 9-5 job but having about 4 or 5 hours of extra work which needs to be done every evening, so for a start, it was good not to have that workload knocking on the back of my mind all the time. It was also very satisfying, I had gone into the course with a blank page with regards to the knowledge needed to be an EFL teacher and having never taught a class in my life, I was proud to have made it through the course with my teaching and essays at a standard deserving a pass mark. I was also looking forward to the next few weeks with great excitement, after finishing the CELTA you have at your disposal a piece of paper which allows you choose almost any country in the world, get a good job there, secure a working VISA and become emerged in that society and culture for an extended period of time. So, this is the fun part. Where to go? When to go? How long to go for? All questions which require serious thought, the options are limitless.

You can find work volunteering without necessarily having qualifications in some countries or you can pay a company such as i-to-i to find you a teaching position and provide a little training before hand. If, like me you have chosen to take either the CELTA or the TESOL, then you will be looking for paid work. As a first time teacher you can expect to earn enough to live, to socialise and to do some travelling on your days off. If you want to save money, you need to find a job where the cost of living is exceptionally low, or where your accommodation and/or food is provided free of charge.

As the importance and value of the English language continues to escalate, so does the volume and availability of paid EFL teaching positions throughout the world. Fresh faced from the course and keen to use your newly acquired skills, it is tempting to get out a map, close your eyes, drop a cocktail stick and apply for every available position in the country it lands on. However, not all jobs are your dream position in a far off land; in fact, many include long hours with very little reward. I have also heard stories of teachers who have worked for months without receiving payment, and of teachers who have worked for a while before being picked up by an immigration official who informs them they have been working with a fake permit, fines them heavily, and sends them packing off home again. TEFL has a rapid turnover rate, teachers come and go very quickly, that is why it is important to carefully consider your options before signing on the dotted line for a five year contract in Zanzibar.

  1. Consider all of your options carefully
    There are literally hundreds of TEFL positions available each day, I've listed the best places to look at the bottom of this page. As I've mentioned, it's difficult to be sure about a job simply by reading about it over the internet. Cut down the chances of applying to a shifty language centre by ensuring the job you go for comes with lots of information. Make sure your language centre deals with all the legal aspects of working abroad (VISAs etc) that they (at least) help new teachers to find reasonably priced accommodation and find out if they offer some kind of health insurance during your time working with them. Bigger schools are often a better place to work for your first EFL position rather than smaller rural schools, you'll have lots of resources and materials at your disposal and experienced working colleagues to pester with questions.

  2. General research on the country you're going to
    Once you've decided on your country of choice, find out as much as you can about that country; the state and current trends of education (particularly of EFL teaching), the political situation, the cost and standard of living, the weather, how easy it is for foreign nationals to work there legally, the number of language schools etc. Information on the internet is usually quite good for this, just be sure the web-page is up-to-date and read as much as possible without relying on one particular page.

  3. Research on the actual place of work
    When flying off into the sunset, you need to be sure that you have an authentic teaching position waiting for you when you get there. Firstly, check how long the language centre has been running for, and run several searches on google as well as EFL websites such as www.tefl.net, www.englishclub.com, www.eslcafe.com and www.eslworld.com. Type in the name of your prospective employer and the language centre, this may bring up some comments on teacher forums which will have been made by people who are either currently working there or who have recently finished a contract, this will be a valuable guide as to the authenticity of the place.

    It's a good idea to insist on actually speaking to someone over the phone rather than just relying on e-mail. Before agreeing to a contract, speak to one or two people who are in the position you'll be in. E.g. If you're going to India, get the e-mail address or phone number of a teacher at the language centre you're going to work for, ask them lots of questions. Is the salary always paid on time? Is the accommodation decent? What is it like being a foreign woman/man working in India? Does the school provide internet access? How is the nightlife? Are there any sports facilities? Is there chance to eat Western food? How many days paid holiday/sick do you get? Are your flights reimbursed? Anything you personally feel is important to know. As a teacher I am always happy to reply to e-mails such as this and have done so in the past year.

  4. Decide on the type of teacher you want to be
    Many people sign up for a year without even considering the type of teacher they are going to be, blinded by the exciting prospect of living in a wonderful new country. These people rely on the luck of the draw as to whether or not they last for the duration of the contract, it is better to do a little thinking before hand. Do you think you would prefer to teach adults or children? Multilingual or monolingual groups? Would you like to teach intensive 1-1, or full classes? What is your ideal number of students for a class? Would you like to teach business classes? Would you like to work regular hours or are you more suited to more sporadic teaching hours? All of this is information which should be available from your prospective employer.

Dan

Websites

Print publications (UK)

  • The Guardian Education Supplement (Tuesday)
  • The Times Education Supplement

Index | See also: The end of the CELTA: What now?