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Teaching English Overseas

How to Be a Successful Teacher

Chinese Students

Teaching overseas can be exciting and rewarding. Problems like no texts and no library can be overcome. What you need are the secret weapons of the TESOL teacher: good preparation, effective organization, flexibility, a sense of humor.


First, get TESOL qualifications. An Internet search will yield hundreds of options available for TESOL study—from an MA in TESOL to a 4-week intensive TEFL course. Courses are available online, through distance learning, residential overseas programs, or traditional means of study in your country. Which should you choose?

If you already have teaching qualifications and/or a degree, in some places you won’t need TESOL qualifications to find employment. (The joke in China is you just need to be breathing to get a job teaching English.) However, it’s in your own best interests, and your students’, to study and practice TESOL before launching your new career. Choose a course based on a minimum 100 hours training and at least six hours supervised practice teaching.

Before committing to any course, find out how it’s regarded both by TESOL practitioners and potential employers. Research now can save you problems later. Go to some online ESL employment sites to check what qualifications employers require. See if there is any advice by teachers about good or bad courses. Talk with former students in the course.

After you’ve completed your qualifications and are ready to find a job, don’t rush into a job commitment. Visit Internet sites like Dave’s ESL Café to discover the idiosyncrasies of different countries and institutions.

Are you best at teaching adults or are you confident about teaching students of all ages? Do you want to work for a private language school, with the probability of working nights and weekends? Perhaps working more traditional hours, even with a lower salary, is more important for you. Do you want a salary at all? There are organizations that will find you a volunteering position teaching English overseas. Some will provide accommodation and food but you may have to pay the airfare.


Once you’ve thought over the possibilities, make sure your resume is current and line up some references. A valid email address and telephone number are necessary so potential employers can contact you. To avoid confusion, leave a summary of the positions you applied for by the phone with a pen for note-jotting.

Don’t stop researching just because you’ve sent out a heap of job applications.

Keep visiting the ESL sites, browsing current jobs, reading, and making posts. Ask questions about your potential employers and try to establish a network with other teachers, particularly those who live where you would like to go. Read as much as you can about places you want to visit and the people you will meet.

Accommodations: Free of charge or how much? Will you have to share? Are utilities extra? Is there access to the Internet? Are linen/furniture/drinking water/kitchen utensils/cooking and washing facilities included?

Teaching: What are your hours? What is the normal salary and overtime rate? What are your duties? What resources does the school have? Is there a set curriculum or will you have to create your own? How many pupils are in each class? What educational equipment will be available? What free days will you have?

You’ll probably have many more questions, gleaned from your preparation. Make sure you have the email address of an employee at the school whose job is to answer your questions. Ask for the email address of a TESOL teacher already working there who can answer different questions, such as ones about living and working conditions. Do an Internet search on the school and town. Invest your time and energy now to avoid possible problems later.


Good preparation and organization can manage about 90 percent of the details of your job. Flexibility is needed for the remaining 10 percent. There will be surprises.

Being flexible means you continue until you find a compromise or solution. Perhaps you contact your network, asking for ideas. Make an appointment to see your principal with a bilingual staff member. Ask colleagues about a local solution to your problem. If all else fails, extricate yourself from an impossible situation gracefully.

Sense of Humor

A well-developed sense of humor is your suit of armor. If you can laugh with your students over the inconsistencies of the English language, you’ll be one step closer to understanding them. If you can laugh at yourself while eating deep-fried crickets on sticks, you have what it takes.

Useful Links

The Teaching English section has a host of information to support you.

ESL Café is well worth several hours of your time:

Jokes in English for the ESL classroom:

Related Topics
Teaching English Abroad: What to Expect, How to Prepare
10 Tips for Teaching English as a Foreign Language
A Primer for North Americans on Teaching English as a Foreign Language
Teaching English Abroad: How To Create a Great Web Resume
The TEFL Job Interview: The Ten Most Important Questions to Ask

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