To get the best start possible in your TEFL career it helps to work at a school or academy that fits your lifestyle and provides the professional support you require. These basic questions will help you identify if you and a school are right for one another.
When securing a job in TEFL, especially you first job, the market of employers can feel a little like the wild west and new teachers may not be aware how to differentiate a better employer from another. The purpose of this blog is to introduce some key factors that will differentiate employers and are helpful for you to think of when looking for a role.
With the assistance of the internet tracking down a school is easy, but you will still have to be forthright in getting onto a school’s radar and getting yourself an interview.
One popular website for finding a role and gauging potential salaries and working conditions is via a website such as TEFL.com. You can set up and account and apply directly through TEFL.com or look up the schools who are advertising and then send an application directly. Some of the larger international companies such as International House have their own jobs boards and these are a good place to look. In addition, jobs fairs such as Spain Wise are a great opportunity to meet various employers.
The other methods are via LinkedIn, local employment websites and research via Google.
If practical, a good idea is to plan a trip to the destination a month to six weeks before the end of the summer term. Send an email in advance advising of your intentions and meet potential employers. If you are really pragmatic meet some English teachers who are already in town and see if there are any tips on good places to work - or employers to steer clear of..
If you can’t secure a job in advance arrive about 3 weeks before the start of the new academic year, send emails and speak to academies. There are always opportunities at the last minute.
When you have found a school and have secured an interview, here are six questions you should ask.
What are the hours you will be teaching?
The hours you teach can make a significant difference to the flow of your day. The best situation often is to have all your teaching hours blocked and at the same location. This set up can minimise travel time and excessively long days. (This will happen if you teach some classes in the main school, some on company premises, some in classrooms in local state schools, etc). Having classes in different locations across the city can add significant travel time to you day, and if this is the set up you should inquire about financial compensation, such as an improved hourly rate or travel time expenses.
You might also have to teach classes early in the morning (before school and work) and into the evenings. This may suit you if you would like afternoons off to do your own thing, or you may find it breaks up your day. Always ask!
One additional factor to discuss is working on a Saturday. Saturday hours are ideal for certain teachers but not for others. Some schools will have a heavy schedule on a Friday and Saturday and give staff time off on a Sunday and Monday. It comes down to personal preference, but in some countries socialising through Friday and Saturday is a big part of the culture and having a Monday free could be a more isolating experience. Be prepared in advance, and try to choose which suits you best.
Which coursebook does the school use?
Good resources can make a teacher’s life much more straightforward. A well selected coursebook by one of the reputable publishers provides a well-designed course and a teacher’s book gives extra resources and guidance on delivery. In addition, schools may have a library of other course books with extra material to helps teachers.
Some schools will have their own bank of resources and expect teachers to also develop their own lessons and resources. This approach can enable the most creative and engaging lessons, especially when the school already has a good quality and quantity of resources. Sometimes teachers may find that they are preparing more with this approach - which can be a good thing, but it can also be more time consuming.
What levels and ages will you be teaching?
Teachers tend to have their favourite ages and levels. Some teachers prefer young learners and handle the classes like a breeze whilst others prefer adults. This is a combination of preference and experience. Younger learners (6 and under) can demand a more specialist set of skills and that is why there are specialist young learner teacher training courses. Employers should make it clear in a job advert if teachers will be expected to teach younger learners, teenagers and adults.
With adults each level has their own unique features; lower levels will take more patience but are often very rewarding classes to teach. The more advanced classes will be easier to manage but will have much more challenging language to explain.
Will you get to teach exam classes – and which exams?
The school will likely do exam preparation following the Cambridge or Oxford regimes. Exams provide important focus for classes but take some extra preparation and experience for teachers. Commonly teachers will start preparing students for A2 and B1 exams, then B2, and after a few years’ experience the advanced C1 and C2 exams.
Does the school have teacher observations and training?
Observing teachers giving their classes, and providing teacher training is a great benefit to all teachers - both new and experienced. You should look for a school which does this.
Being observed by your manager or a more experienced teacher can be nerve racking, but helping you improve is always the objective. Feedback should be helpful and constructive so teachers know what they are doing well in addition to learning where to improve. It also provides evidence that the school takes staff development seriously. Opportunities for a newer teacher to observe a more experienced teacher is an experience that will always benefit both parties - this is called "Peer Observation".
Teacher training sessions where teachers share tips, class ideas and so on are also a good opportunity for younger teachers to develop and obtain new classroom ideas.
In the long run teachers may also have an interest in taking a DELTA qualification to develop and distinguish themselves as a TEFL teacher. Often academies will provide financial support for this course and is evidence of a school that will help to support its teachers.
What’s the pay like?
When it comes to pay it helps to do some research before speaking to employers as to what typical pay for TEFL teachers is both nationally and locally. Check you know what your net pay will be (the amount you will receive in your pocket after tax and other mandatory deductions) and if you are working full-time (24 hours a week) and compare this to rents and the cost of living.
One other important factor to consider is that all pay must be declared and taxed. Teachers should be wary of cash payments as in the long run it may reduce the amount you can claim for state support of unemployment and pensions, and if you are in a foreign country it may jeopardise your visa status.