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TEFL: an introduction – Part Three

[Continued from Part Two]

What are the schools/pay/conditions like?

Schools vary a great deal. In all likelihood you’ll be teaching at a private school which works outside the public school system, often supplementing its shortcomings.

Their set up varies from country to country and city to city. In richer and more developed countries you are likely to find school chains which are often large affairs – sometimes up to 1,000 students or more – with tens of English teachers and several different campuses. In less developed countries and smaller towns, schools tend to be much smaller, sometimes just a single teacher in a single classroom with perhaps 20 students in all.

It’s hard to say, but the average school is perhaps 200 students, two or three classrooms, basic facilities and three or four teachers in all (mostly locals; often schools will have just one English native speaker teacher).

The majority of students will be from 10–17 years old, though many schools also run English classes for younger children and Business English. And in case you are wondering, the students tend to be quite well behaved and there also tends to be much more respect for a teacher both inside and outside the school.

A typical working week would involve something like 20 classroom hours. You may well work slightly odd hours though: 9 to 12 in the morning and then again in the afternoon from 4 till 8. Split shifts like this are not uncommon in private schools.

Generally you’ll sign a contract for the school year. The pay is generally quite good by local standards. An entry-level job will give you enough to live on, pay for bedsit-type accommodation (which is often organised by the school), give you a couple of nights out per week and enough for a holiday at the end of your contract.

The school will often organise basic health cover if the country you are in does not have a reciprocal agreement with your home country. Often your return flight will be reimbursed at the end of your contract.

Finding Work

There are three generally accepted ways of finding work.

  • Through an online advertisement. Many schools advertise their job online and a simple search will bring up suitable jobs. Spend time to look through them all and get the feel of what is out there and general pay and conditions. Be aware that there are scams about, so if a job looks too good to be true then it probably is!
  • Using an agent. Sometimes you can see advertisements online for agents. These will help place you in a school and help with sorting out paperwork. There is one golden rule here: never pay an agent. They are given a commission by the school to find a teacher and so if they ask you for money to find you work, walk away immediately! Another point to bear in mind is that the agent works for the school and not for you, so they may not be too scrupulous when it comes to placing teachers in not-so-perfect schools. This being said, it’s often a good way to find a first job in a country until you find your feet and it also means there’s someone there you can turn to for help should the need arise.
  • Pounding the Streets. This isn’t to be dismissed immediately and a lot of teachers do this. If you know where you want to go but can’t find work there beforehand then you can take a flight over, rent a cheap room and see if you can find work on your own using the Yellow Pages or local newspapers as your starting point. It’s best to go at the beginning of term (usually around September/October) and be sure to have enough money to get you home if things go completely wrong.

And then?

And then it’s time to buy a phrase book, pack your bag and go!

English teaching has taken people to all corners of the earth to live and work. It doesn’t matter if you are straight out of college or looking for a mid-life career change. English teaching can give you the opportunity to get out there, make a difference… and enjoy yourself!

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