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Getting Started In TEFL: Finding Your First TEFL Job
So you've done it! The TEFL course is finished, the certificate is in your hand, and you're ready to get out there and put into practice what you've learnt: It's time to start looking for that first teaching job.
Probably the most common way to find a TEFL job is through one of the many TEFL employment websites. For jobs abroad, the process normally goes something like this:
1 The application
When you find a job which you like the look of, you'll need to send your CV. You should emphasise points which are relevant to the position you are applying for – your TEFL qualification, and any relevant skills and experience, should feature strongly. Too many CVs cram all this into a couple of lines, and then list two pages of technical expertise developed during five years as a Software Engineer. Instead, briefly highlight a couple of skills that you developed in that job that could be relevant to language teaching – maybe you led training workshops which required self-confidence and enthusiasm, or worked on a project abroad for a year which meant adapting to a new culture.
If the school is interested, they will contact you to arrange an interview (possibly by telephone), usually with the School's Director of Studies, or in larger schools, a Recruitment Coordinator.
2 The interview
The interview can last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour or more (possibly influenced by the school's budget for long-distance calls!) You will normally be asked the types of questions you would expect in any job interview, about your qualifications, experience, strengths and weaknesses, and so on. If the job is in a culture significantly different to your own, you may be asked why you are interested in that particular country, and how you would cope with the types of cultural differences you could expect to face.
Some interviewers ask teaching or grammar questions. "How would you introduce the past simple tense to a group of 12 adults?" for example, or "How would you explain the word 'proud'?" These are difficult to prepare for specifically, but this is where your training course will come in!
The interviewer should give you an opportunity to ask any questions you have about the school, the city, the salary and so on. This is a good point to ask if you can talk to/email a current teacher. Teachers working at the school are a good source of what it's really like. What are the working conditions like? The teaching resources? The nightlife? The boss? The accommodation? Do you get paid on time? Is there internet at the school? And so on. Make sure you are clear about things which are important to you. If the school works on Saturdays and you want your weekends free, for example, it's best to find out at this stage!
3 The contract
All going well, the school will offer you a contract. A typical contract is for one year, renewable thereafter. Read this very carefully and don't be afraid to ask if anything is not clear. A reputable employer will appreciate the fact that moving to another country to live and work is a big step (if you are dealing with the Director of Studies, he/she was in the same boat once) and should be forthcoming with help.
There is no set format for a contract, but it should at least be clear about several important points:
- Working days and hours, including the number of contact teaching hours - between 20 and 25 a week is normal.
- Holidays – how many days? Are they fixed?
- Probationary period – if so, how long?
- Start and end dates of the contract
- Salary, overtime and any bonus – when is it paid, and how?
For jobs outside the EU and North America, many schools offer return airfare as part of the deal, often paid on successful completion of the contract. Some offer free accommodation, others provide it but not for free. All should at the very least provide help with finding it. Schools should also sort out paperwork and legalities for you, or tell you exactly what you need to do.
In the EU and North America, things are often very different. You will more likely be expected to sort yourself out in terms of getting there, finding accommodation and sorting out paperwork. A job is often very much just that – a job, without such a network of support.
Other means of recruitment
Many schools, especially in some EU countries, use other means of recruitment, including TEFL recruitment agencies, newspapers and local expat magazines, and just relying on people to contact them directly or walk in off the street in search of work.
Some teachers choose to travel to the country where they want to work first, and look for work when they arrive. There are some pros and cons to this approach. On the plus side, some schools are more likely to hire you if they have met you face to face, and you are already established in a place. But the risk is spending a lot of time and money with no guarantee of finding a job, particularly if you are newly qualified and the majority of schools in that country require several years of experience.
If you choose this route then, get to know the typical requirements of schools first by looking at job adverts, or contact some schools directly before you go.
Things to look out for
The great majority of schools are reputable businesses and, except for the inevitable mishaps and inconveniences (broken photocopiers, cultural misunderstandings!) most contracts go without a hitch. But of course, as in any profession, there are some disreputable schools who seek to take advantage of unsuspecting teachers. So, make sure you research a school as thoroughly as you can. Get as much information from the school, other teachers, TEFL websites and forums that you need to feel comfortable in making a decision.
Here are a few things to look out for with every job that you apply for:
- Are they offering you a job without speaking to you first?
- Are they unprepared to put you in contact with current teachers?
- Are they expecting you to accept a job without seeing a contract?
- Are they asking you to send them money?
All going well, you've survived the interview and accepted your first job in a country where you've dreamed of living since embarking on your TEFL career. So now it's time to get on the plane, meet your new colleagues, and start your new life!
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