So you’re interested in TEFL but don’t have Bachelor’s degree. Where do you look for opportunities? Unfortunately you’ve decided to approach TEFL on hard mode. There are some countries that allow work visas for potential teachers that don’t have a Bachelor’s degree: Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Argentina, Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Spain along with South Korea having specific exception in its rules.
Myanmar, Costa Rica, and Mexico do not require a Bachelor’s Degree. However, finding an employer that is willing to hire you without one is whole other ball game. If you look at job postings from Myanmar for example on Dave’s ESL you’ll find that the employers ubiquitously want teachers with BAs. Mexico and Costa Rica don’t have as many job postings as Myanmar but if you spend some time Google searching for jobs you’ll find a similar pattern. While it is possible to find a job without a BA it will be difficult and it certainly won’t be a premium job.
Spain and South Korea’s exception to the Bachelor’s requirements are for students with either an Associate’s or in their final years of a Bachelor’s program. For job seekers without any post-secondary education or individuals that just started their college education it is best to look elsewhere. Korea’s program for those with an associate’s or in their last years of their Bachelor’s program is called TaLK (Teach and Learn in Korea). Spain has a similar program to TaLK, auxiliar de conversación, and has ample volunteer opportunities that you could look into. While you won’t save much if any money volunteering it could prove to be a valuable experience.
This just leaves us with Laos, Cambodia, Argentina and Nicaragua left to discuss. These countries do not require a degree for their work visa. However, I do not know what employers are looking for in an applicant. I have no idea because I have never seen a job posting for these countries. Perhaps if you went in person you could find something. However, that seems like a risky leap of faith to take. I’d recommend asking someone who has found work in these countries directly.
This whole post must seem rather discouraging to anyone without a degree and dreams of TEFL. And, well, it’s supposed to be. Your best bet to finding TEFL work is to simply get a BA. There is just no way around this blunt truth. Volunteer positions are the most likely to take non-degree holders. However, that will probably end up costing you money.
“But wait!” you cry, “I’ve heard of people getting jobs in China and other countries without a degree?!” That’s because they are working illegally which I will never recommend. If you choose to work illegally you will get screwed. What will you do when your ‘employer’ decides to not pay you? What will you do when you get sick and don’t have health insurance? How will you manage your finances without a bank account? There is simply no way to live securely while working illegally. You can’t do something as simple as have a phone number if you are illegally working in Korea or China for example.
While this piece may be discouraging for some of you I do hope it is informative nonetheless. As always, please send feedback, questions, and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’ve taken a look at Dave’s ESL Café or another TEFL job board you know there are a lot of postings. Many of these job posting don’t exactly look professional either. Most of them look more like a message board titles than anything else. Many of the postings are made by recruiters and not directly by schools. The recruiters are trying to get as much attention as possible, which includes strangely stylizing their jobs postings. They get paid more by placing more people so they aim for quantity rather than quality like a direct hire would prefer. This is why they post many positions in one ad and make it as flashy as possible. However, as I mentioned in a previous post it is worth looking into these postings. Recruiters have access to more jobs and know more people than you or I. networking is important even in TEFL.
However, not all posted positions are worthy of your time. You need to know what to look for in a job so you don’t get screwed. I’ll try to give guidance to help you on your way. I’ll start with more general advice. I have direct experience with Korea and China so I’ll give more direct advice for those respective countries.
When looking at posting the information you should look for first is: who is hiring, the hours, the pay, and benefits. You need to know what kind of organization is hiring. Are they a kindergarten, academy, public school, or University? Each organization will have different students, goals, and work culture. It will also make cutting through all the postings easier. Don’t look at offers from academies if you hate working evenings. Not qualified for teaching university? Don’t look at university jobs then.
Hours, pay, and benefits re all roll together as part of the total compensation package. Hours are the most important part of any teaching position, in my opinion anyway. The average teaching job will have 20-25 hours of contact hours. A job that advertises 30+ hours of teaching should obviously pay more. The opposite is true too. Most jobs will pay for your flight either before or after contract. Finally, most jobs will pay for or give you housing. Some countries don’t however. The less perks you get the higher your base pay should be.
Lastly you should look for anything that would increase your work hours outside your teaching hours. This can include office hours, meetings, running clubs, testing and entrance exams, promotional events and more. Schools are very good at finding extra things for teachers to do outside the classroom. Figure out your effective hourly pay before deciding if a job is good or not. Hourly compensation paints a much more honest picture of the job than just the monthly salary schools generally tell you.
I’ll use my current job, at the time of writing, as an example. I make 12,000 RMB/month (about $1700). I teach 10.5 hours a week. I help English clubs for about 1-2 hours a week on average. I have no office hours but I lesson plan and generally help students for 2-3 hours a week. In total I work about 47 hours. In a whole month. 255 RMB/hour or about $37/hour, turns out I’m paid well despite on paper not making a whole lot. I’m also not including flight payments or housing assistance. I made about $300 gross more in Korea but only worked out to $12/hour. It was not a fun time.
However, having a baseline pay to work off of is helpful to perusing jobs so I’ll give specifics for Korea and China. In Korea you should get paid a minimum of 2.1 million won/month and have your apartment and flight paid for. Anything less than this means you’re getting screwed. China has a lot more variance. Fair university pay will range from about 9,000 to 12,000 RMB a month with 1 flight paid for and your housing covered. Private academies will cover your flights and housing. The pay will very a lot. If you are brand new I recommend aiming for 15,000 to 18,000 RMB for academy work. With experience and a TEFL certificate (especially a CELTA) you should be able to snag 20,000 RMB+. However, you will work a lot to make that money just like any private academy.
Hopefully this post helps guide you on your jobs search. Please send any questions or suggestions to email@example.com.
In my previous post about jobs and visas I’ve briefly mentioned how TEFL certificates are required by some governments. Here I’ll go over what they are, the different kinds, and how to decide which one is best for you.
In general TEFL, TESOL, and CELTA are all basic Teaching English as a Second Language certificates or credentials. They are considered to be an introductory course to teaching and teaching methodology. Generally the certificates are geared towards teaching adults. They give a basic tutorial on how to teach and lesson plan. While not nearly as comprehensive as an actual teaching license they are still quite helpful for those getting started.
TEFL Certificate refers to any certificate that identifies itself as a TEFL course. There is no overall governing body for TEFL which makes finding a good course difficult. However, some courses claim to be ‘accredited.’ That’s good right, sounds similar to an accredited University? The fly in the ointment is these accrediting bodies are themselves private institutions. While a course accredited by TESL Canada may be of higher quality there is no reason to take their word over another group like Accreditat, a different accrediting body.
Frankly, most schools are not going to care or ask about your TEFL besides asking if you want one. Because of this many prospective teachers find the cheapest course they can on Groupon or another website and use it to fulfill the Visa requirement. There are exceptions to the overall Wild Westness of certificates.
The CELTA and TESOL are the two most widely recognized TEFL certificates and some schools will want, pay more, or be more likely to interview you if you have one. The CELTA, Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, is run by the University of Cambridge. Due to being run by a well-known and respected University and having consistent coursework and rigorous quality control CELTA is well regarded and well known amongst the TEFL community. To lend further credence the British Council recognizes the CELTA as legitimate initial teaching qualification. TESOL or Trinity CertTESOL is much the same as the CELTA. It is run by Trinity College London. For all the reasons CELTA is respected the TESOL is also respected as a legitimate qualification.
These certificates cost money to take. The CELTA and TESOL can cost from $2000 tp $4000 total depending on where you take it, while a ‘Groupon cert’ can cost less than a $100. Which one should you take? If your plan is to teach for only a year or two for fun take a Groupon certificate to fulfill any Visa requirements. If you wish to make a career out of TEFL or really want to work at a higher end school take the CELTA or TESOL. You can always take the cheap cert first and then do the CELTA or TESOL later. I recommend the CELTA or TESOL over a different expensive course due to the name recognition. It will help with future job applications since it is more widely recognized.
When looking for a cheap TEFL certificate make sure that the course marks itself as having 120 hours of work. Many countries require that the certificate be 120 hours or more. Very rarely do the cheap online courses actually require that much effort however. Lastly, if you decide to take an expensive course through your University or other reputable organization make sure it has a practicum included. Another part of what makes the CELTA and TESOL well regarded is the actual in class teaching component. Being able to say your course had a practicum well help your resume and interviews.
Personally, I didn’t take any certificate before teaching in Korea because it wasn’t required for my job or visa. After my contract in Korea I took the CELTA in Thailand so I could pursue a University job in China. The cost was about $2000 for the course and accommodations. Location changes the cost a lot for the CELTA. I recommend looking into many locations if you decide to take the course. I used my return flight at the end of my contract in Korea to get to Thailand for free, take the course, and then travel in Thailand for a month. The course and vacation together were much cheaper than if I took the CELTA in America.
The CELTA has two options part-time or full-time. The part-time option takes three months to complete, while the full-time takes one month. I choose full-time so I could quickly start looking for another job before the next school year started. If you already are working it would be worth looking into the part-time course. The full-time course will take most of your time while taking it. You will go to class Monday to Friday for eight hours a day. Each week will have one homework assignment and you will teach two times each week. That means after class you will need to lesson plan. While busy the work load is manageable, just don’t fall behind.
I found lesson planning to take the most time ( CELTA lesson planning forms attached below). The CELTA has very prescriptive requirements with what they want in a lesson and to pass you have to follow your tutor’s directions exactly. The lesson planning worksheet is lengthy, especially if you include material preparation the day of your teaching. The assignments are the same. However, as long as you listen to your tutor’s instructions you will pass. 95% of all students pass the CELTA. Just try not to stress out to much about it. My very first lesson was garbage. I had to teach grammar and made blatantly obvious errors. However, I owned up to it and kept the lesson going. Afterwards, I fixed my mistakes and didn’t make them again. I listened to my tutor, improved, and I did pass after a long month.
Hopefully this post has helped inform about TEFL certificates and whether you should get one, until next time.
Part One: Jobs and Countries
So you find the idea of TEFL at least a little appealing. You feel teaching abroad would be enjoyable for you. To get started you first need to decide where you want to work. If there is a language you wish to learn that will make the decision easier. For people who have less of clear idea here are the top six countries for number of TEFL jobs, approximately.
Jobs are plentiful in Thailand but the pay is lower than other countries. However, Thailand has the lowest cost of living. Taiwan pays a little less than South Korea with comparable living expenses. There are a lot less jobs in Taiwan. It’s significantly easier to get a job there in person rather than arranging something beforehand.
Japan is probably most people’s first choice when considering locations. Japanese culture and food luring people into the country keeps wages comparable to Korea and Taiwan while having a higher cost of living especially in Tokyo. Also, like Taiwan it’s easier to get a job in person. Most jobs in Japan hiring from abroad are 1 of 3 large private academy chains. JET is Japan’s government program which comes highly recommended by everyone I’ve talked too. If you are interested in Japan I recommend looking into JET. It has a long application and they receive many applicants so look at it early.
Spain gets special mention along with Japan due to it being part of the EU. Getting a job in the EU is a difficult proposition if you don’t have an EU passport. The EU encourages hiring within the EU so it makes most countries not even consider foreigners. Considering the high level of English in most EU countries it should come as no surprise really. However, Spain has a high demand for teachers. If you desire to teach in the EU Spain is a good place to start looking. You won’t save much money but from all accounts you’ll have a grand time. Countries besides Spain have government programs for teaching positions. There are many so look into whatever country interests you directly.
As said previously the main requirements for a beginner’s position in TEFL are a Bachelor’s in anything, TEFL certificate or previous work experience, and a passport from an English speaking country. I’ve personally gotten Visa’s for South Korea and China so I’ll cover those two in depth the other countries I’ll teach on in broader terms.
South Korea requires passport from one of the seven countries designated by the immigration office (USA, UK, Canada, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, or New Zealand). Secondly the applicant needs a bachelor's degree from an accredited university what where the medium of instruction is English, also located in one of the 7 countries mentioned. The length of the program doesn’t matter only that it qualifies as Bachelor’s. The last piece of submitted information is a clean criminal background check (Americans can submit a FBI background check). EPIK (government-run program in public schools) requires a TEFL certificate too. After arriving you'll have to pass a health exam, where they screen for drugs and communicable diseases. Canadians who are excited about the recent law change, be advised, Korea takes a very hard stance against drug use. An exception to the Bachelor’s requirement is the TaLK program which requires a two year degree or be in year 3 or 4 of a Bachelor’s program.
China’s requirements are the same as Korea’s with one exception. All of China requires either a TEFL certificate or two years previous work experience. Your potential employer will want essentially a reference letter from your previous employment confirming how long you have previously taught.
All your paperwork will need to be notarized and apostillied. Personally I’ve always used FBI channelers to get my background check and have all my paperwork completed. While it costs about $200 it cut the processing time from 4-6 months down to 2 months and made it so I had to do much less work myself. I highly recommend looking into a channeler near you.
Part 2: Jobs and Contracts
With so many jobs postings and so little information about the various schools caution becomes necessary when looking into jobs. I’ll do my best to give tips and tricks to keep in mind while looking.
The most important part of job searching comes near the end. When given a contract: Read. It. All. It never ceases to surprise me how many people complain about their job when they are simply doing what is in their contract. Don’t want to have 30 contact hours in a week? Don’t sign a contract that says you’ll teach for 30 contact hours. Easy. By reading the contract and asking about any questions or concerns you have you’ll save yourself a lot of grief in the future. Again, ask any questions you have. You’ll be at this job for at least year. Make sure you know everything and can be confident you’ll be satisfied with your work environment. (For reference, 20-25 contact hours are normal for a regular school teacher).
Oddly enough I recommend ignoring reviews or a lack of reviews when looking at schools. There are 1000s of school and not all of them have a website let alone an English website. Also, many schools and academies are chains. How one school in a chain is reviewed has little to do with a different location. Add on people’s disposition to only review when pissed and with how often manager leave it makes reviews next to useless. Instead of reviews directly ask the school for a previous teacher’s email; if the school refuses to provide any contact information run away. An actual, recent, teacher will give the most honest and accurate information you are going to get.
Compare different jobs. The only way to know if a job is screwing you is if you are knowledgeable about the job market. If you think you are getting a shitty compensation package look at what other comparable jobs are offering and keep location in mind. A smaller city may offer 14,000 RMB and that’ll be easy to live on. However, 14,000 isn’t the going rate in a city like Beijing or Shanghai. The more information you have about the job market the more protected you will be.
Finally, lots of people hate recruiters. Recruiters can be useful with a caveat. Recruiters get paid when you show up to the job. They don’t care if you stay or if you are happy. A good recruiter will listen to what kind of job you want because they want you to sign a contract. This means a recruiter should dilver to you even more potential jobs you may like or love. Use a recruiter to get access to more jobs not as a vetting service. You still need to review everything yourself. If a recruiter doesn’t listen to your job specifications without giving good reason drop them. There are ‘full service’ recruiters that help with the visa process. Good ones will have a large online presence with lots of reviews. Some recruiters offer a package deal of a TEFL and then placement services for a ‘small’ fee. Skip these ones. Any recruiter charging you for the privilege isn’t worth your time. More details on TEFL certificates will come in a different post.
Good luck on the job search. Just remember to read the damn contract.
Trying to explain what exactly my profession is and what job exactly suddenly me the impetus to leave the USA is hard to explain in 3 words or less. Responding with “TEFL” just gets me a confused expression. “Teaching English” is close enough and people understand it so I usually go with that. However, “Teaching English” doesn’t explain everything. Here I’ll go into detail about what “TEFL” is and how it differs from being an English teacher at home.
The acronym TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. The jobs defining characteristic, other than usually being in a foreign county, is the instructor not being a licensed teacher. The requirements most countries have for a teaching English visa are a Bachelor’s degree, a TEFL certificate or previous experience, and having a passport from an approved country. The specifics vary country to country but those are the common requirements. Notably and importantly a teaching license is not required.
While TEFL is an area you can get licensed in to teach as a regular school teacher colloquially TEFL refers to an English teaching job outside of your home country through a government program or at a private academy. The stereotypical TEFLers are recent college graduates that use English teaching at a kindergarten as a way to travel and save some money for a year or two.
However, in spite of the stereotype TEFL jobs run the gamut from kindergarten instructors with barely any credentials or oversight to managing directors and high end Universities that require a Ph.D or private tutors that accept only students they like. However, most jobs in TEFL are teaching jobs with students in primary, middle, or high school.
In most Asian countries students need to pass series of exams in order to get into good Universities and gain an opportunity to pursue the career they want. English is one of the big subject areas in these tests. Along with that English is seen as a desirable skill due to the necessity of speaking the language if the student wants to go into medicine, science, business, etc. Because of this cultural and educational focus Asia has the most jobs for TEFL and creates a focus on younger students. If a student starts learning at the age of 5 they will be better prepared when they are eighteen because of continuous 13 years of study.
This need to learn English and parents desire to see their kids succeed makes an opportunity for foreign instructors. Asian education systems place a heavy emphasis on grammar and written work. Oral speaking and creativity fall by the way side because of this setup. Schools and private academies hire NETs, native English teachers, in order to give students a speaking model and an opportunity to practice actually speaking the language which happens woefully infrequently otherwise.
Despite the high demand for NETs, countries, schools, and visas make it abundantly clear that someone teaching TEFL is not a licensed teacher for good or ill. The various countries have special visas for people coming to teach English, Korea’s E-2 for example. The official job title in most countries is “English Instructor.” Because of this lack of specialized qualification and many TEFLers being recent graduates TEFL teachers often get looked down on for “not being real teachers” sometimes by people back home and sometimes by people in the country they are living. Compounding this is the tendency for private academies to use foreign, white, westerners as a marketing gimmick and letting the teaching fall behind. However, if you’re in a classroom with students it doesn’t matter what people say, you are teaching students all the same.
So why go through all this trouble to teach? The most common reason is getting to travel and live abroad. Honestly, the requirements for the Visa are low and easily obtainable as any college grad from a primarily English speaking country qualifies. Recent college grads looking for a gap year or two are the most common workers in the TEFL industry. Due to the need to lure people from home typically the pay received for teaching is at or above what a native teacher would make. Combine this with lower cost of living and teaching abroad becomes a reasonable way to travel and save money.
Getting to live abroad for a year, travel to new places, and save money are all part of the allure of picking yourself up and leaving. While it’s not all sunshine and roses most people manage to accomplish their goals. I've done many things I never would have done if I had stayed in the United States.
In the next article I’ll cover pros and cons of TEFL as a job along with more details of the requirements to get a work Visa in various countries.
My first ever students
Daejeon, South Korea