Teaching Abroad: Tips and Techniques

This is my 201st blog post and as a special thank you I thought I would write up a special post detailing tips and techniques for teachers deciding to move abroad for their career aspirations.  A big thank you to all my readers for their support over the years and I hope you like the new look of this website, having decided to move my blog from Blogger to WordPress.  It was a big move and took a number of days to complete but I am glad that the move had very small (if any) hiccups.   Nevertheless, why do English language teachers decide on teaching abroad?

The main reason I decided on teaching was the possibility of working and living abroad, which in itself is a wonderful opportunity.  I initially decided on a career within the armed forces to get me travelling and seeing the world but the reality was very different.  After graduating and numerous failed job interviews, I decided to head to South Korea with family.  I was fortunate to get a job and come across this teaching malarkey when I travelled to South Korea as a typical ‘backpacker‘ teacher.  However, not only did I thrive on teaching and learning more about culture abroad, I was able to undertake a CELTA Course at the British Council in Seoul.  Fast forward a few years and numerous other courses, I thought I would add some help for those teachers that are deciding to travel abroad for a teaching career.

Teaching Abroad

The main reason teachers decide on working and living abroad could include gaining more exposure to different cultures and languages (travelling broadens the mind), for job security or the idea that ‘the grass is greener‘.  Whatever the reasons for teachers deciding on teaching abroad, it does not come without risks.  The risks could vary from economical to social.  However, one risk which is often overlooked is the employer.  When I was teaching in South Korea with my first private language school (called a ‘hagwon’ – 학원 – in Korean), there were numerous questionable and challenging experiences which would help me in the years to come.  Of course I am relating my experience to just South Korea at the moment, but hopefully my ideas and tips for securing teaching employment abroad will assist.

When searching for employment abroad, it is invaluable to do your homework.  There are two things to search: firstly the country you are interested in moving to and secondly the employer.  When searching for information about your country, try to find out the capital of the country, the language spoken as well as the economic stability of the country.  If you visit the consulate website, you will find out a bit more information about the links between your country and your potential country you are moving to.  It is also a good idea to visit the FCO website to find more information about the country and potential risks or dangers.  This information will help you make an informed decision should you wish to move to that particular country.

ESL Café

Okay, so you have looked at the country that you are planning to move to and you want to know a bit more information about teaching opportunities.  Where do you go?  One website you could visit is the Dave’s ESLCafé or Quinn’s World of TEFL.  These are wonderful websites where you can find vacancies for teaching abroad and there are numerous employers seeking teachers to work with their school/university for at least 12 months.  You would be able to find shorter teaching contracts but if your employer is willing to pay for your flight, accommodation and a completion bonus (more normal in South East Asia or the Middle East), then you should be committing to at least 12 months.  The websites mentioned above also have various resources for teaching and living in your preferred country, so do some research and find out a bit more.  It will help in the long run.

The Job Interview

Okay, so you have found a job and you are really excited.  Congratulations.  One thing standing in your way between you moving to the country or not is having to pass the interview.  Obviously, you are not expected to travel to your preferred country, visit the school and have a face-to-face interview.  Having said that, I was asked to visit Madrid, when I expressed an interest in a job a number of years ago, and had to spend a large amount for flights and hotel before even securing any form of employment.  So, one word of advice, do not even bother travelling to a country for just a job interview.  These days, job interviews can be conducted through applications such as Skype.  I have had numerous interviews through Skype and it is very simple.  Like a face-to-face interview, it is important ‘dress for success‘ – put on a nice pair of trousers, a shirt and a tie.  If possible, try to put on a suit.  The interviewer will see that you have made an effort and it will help you.  Another interview you could receive is by telephone.  I have always found telephone interviews quite stressful – you never have the chance to see the person you are speaking to.  Some advice for telephone interviews is to walk and still use body language.  The emotion and energy will be picked up by the interviewer – so do raise your arms or pretend you are in the classroom.  Walk around and keep that energy.

For some teachers, preparing for the interview is stressful enough – do I have the right suit, have I shaved, do I know about the organisation, etc. One thing that is sometimes overlooked is predicting interview questions, so write down some possible answers for the following questions:

  • How did you get in to teaching?
  • Why do you enjoy English language teaching?
  • What do you hope to achieve in 5 years time?
  • What is it like being taught by you?
  • Can you tell me what the difference is between “grammar point x” and “grammar point y“? (Check a grammar book if you are unsure of any areas of language when comparing them)
  • How would your students describe you?
  • Why do you want to work with us?

If you are able to jot down some ideas or answers for the aforementioned questions, it will help get all your ideas on paper and make you more confident during the interview.  Also try to ask questions about the school, country or culture of your preferred place.  It will help you make an informed decision when choosing a suitable place to move to and work.

After the interview, try to ask the school whether you are able to chat or email a teacher.  Write down some questions that you would like a teacher to answer – the day-to-day runnings of the school, work/life balance, etc – so you are able to get a real take on the environment you are hoping to relocate towards.  It is good practice and trustworthy schools or employers would be more than happy to support your transition to a new environment and make their teachers accessible.  I have always requested schools to let me contact one of their senior teachers by email so that they can answer questions that I may have about the general school or country.

Teaching Organisations

As mentioned previously, do not attempt to visit a country for an interview if the school is unwilling to pay for your flight details, etc.  It is also important to consider a few more aspects.  These days around the world, try to get all promises and agreements written down in the contract.  Find out about holiday entitlement – schools in South East Asia have a tendency to offer little paid holiday (10 days normally in South Korea), so try to negotiate for further holiday.  Employers around the world have a legal obligation to pay towards pension and health insurance, so try to get more information about this from either the teaching representative (which you should have contacted) or via the internet.  The ESLCafé has a lot of information about legally entitled benefits for teachers, so again doing your research will definitely help.  Unfortunately, there are still a number of questionable teaching organisations around the world and hopefully a Google Search or the contacting of a current or previous teacher will give you the low down of what the employer is really like.  The more respectable organisations around the world, are also the more competitive and you should really try to network when attempting to secure employment for these organisations.

Nevertheless, I believe that securing employment with a respectable organisation is just as much about luck as well as preparation.  So sometimes it is best to go with your instinct and jump in with two feet in this profession.  You will find your place and hopefully find people who would help you develop in the country.

What advice would you have for teachers that are moving abroad?  Where do you hope to work in the future?  Do you have any stories of nightmare jobs?  As ever, share your experiences.

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