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Tom’s TEFL – Teaching Abroad Tips

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Last updated: April 2010

  • Whilst there are few lucrative career options in the TEFL world, there are some good opportunities in Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and the Middle East – where ‘Western’ pay packages are open to those with experience.
  • If you find one of the rare legitimate placements in a developing country, you’re only likely to be on a local wage. There are opportunities in Anglophone African countries, China and India – and, if you know Spanish, South America.
  • Although there are lots of projects which promise volunteers can ‘make a difference’ teaching abroad in a charitable context – many are quite dubious, and some can even do more hard than good. In many cases, agencies/gap-year outfits expect you to pay for the privilege of teaching in the developing world. As a rule, if you find you’re receiving a wage, then your work is legitimate, valued and needed. VSO, which employs professional, experienced teachers, in an exception to the rule – but it is largely a voluntary programme.

Worldwide TEFL job-hunting links:

Other paid jobs overseas:

Overseas volunteering:

TEFL in Hong Kong

  • A degree (in any subject) is often a substitute for a TEFL certificate in HK (and Japan), and training will often be provided. However, it is becoming more common for employers to expect a TEFL qualification in addition to a degree. Recommended programmes include the Trinity All Saints certificate offered by English for Asia and the British Council. Neither are particularly cheap, but savings can be made if you enrol on a Trinity course in Thailand.
  • Chatteris Educational Foundation is the first option, I did the 9-month programme back in 2005-6. The wage, around £1000/HK$13,000 a month, is just enough to live on and save some for travel. Chatteris has its problems and it’s ‘charitable’ status is somewhat questionable, but they support and train you. You’ll be placed with another British, Canadian, Australian or American in a primary or secondary school, there’ll be several dozen others who you’ll train with and so you’ll immediately have a big social network – unique to Chatteris. Although they have started a ‘college’ programme, the more traditional primary/secondary school programmes are a better option. With Chatteris, your emphasis will be on oral English with a ‘non-formal’ approach (i.e. games, crafts, ‘fun’ activities), often taking small groups of children out of the class for additional activities. On the downside, staff can be eccentric and balancing the expectations of your school and the demanding central office can be exasperating. However, if you can look beyond their terrible c.1992 website, it makes for a great first year in HK – particularly for fresh graduates – and they will support you in continuing a TEFL career in HK.
  • Summer schools, English drama organisations and language schools are also options in Hong Kong, but all foreign workers – doing paid or voluntary work – require a work visa, so make arrangements with an employer beforehand. Fun Fort are said to be a good placement/language school programme they’re owned by a parent consortium and are good for securing work visas. They remain one of the few reputable options beyond the NET Scheme.
  • For extra money in Hong Kong, you can easily find tutoring work – where you visit a family’s home and help their child with homework/English games. The standard payment is £20-25 an hour. I didn’t find this necessary with Chatteris or the NET programme, and it’s technically illegal to work beyond your work visa stipulations – but many people like to supplement their income.

Hong Kong NET Scheme

  • The government NET (Native English Teacher) programme is more high-brow and demanding but offers a better remuneration package. However, you don’t get the ‘instant social circle’ you would with Chatteris and traditionally, the scheme recruits professional teachers. Though NET is ideal should you decide to remain in HK after doing the Chatteris programme, a TEFL or PGCE qualification is now essential, and it is becoming very competitive.
  • In the primary programme, the basic salary range is HK$22,985 [around £2,000] to HK$40,290 [around £3,375] per month dependant on experience and qualifications. However, every NET who usually resides abroad gets a ‘special allowance’ of just under HK$14,000 [£1229]. It means that, in reality, you’ll actually be on – at the least – HK$36,985 [around £3000] per month. Also, there’s a 15% gratuity on everything you earned awarded at the end of the 2-year contract, though – in theory – one could quit with a month’s notice at any time. Flights, medical insurance and excess baggage are also paid for by the Education Department. These reimbursements end up offsetting the modest tax HK demands each year.
  • Applications are normally accepted until mid-January and are processed for a couple of months, followed by interviews and lots of reference/qualification checking and assessment. By May/June, you’ll have some interview offers, they can be carried out by phone/email. If you are in the territory, you will have an advantage over other applicants in that you can attend interviews in person.
  • If you are accepted on to the scheme, your CV will be sent to a handful of schools with vacancies. You can try contacting the recruitment department to ask for the vacancy list yourself. Questions to ask schools include:
    *How many classes will I teach per week?
    *What hours will I be expected to keep?
    *Do you use textbooks or the PLP-R?
    *Am I expected to teach the textbook, or do I do my own thing?
    *Will I be involved in planning the English program at the school?
    *Who handles disciplining the students?
    *Will I always have a local teacher with me in the classroom?
    *Will I be evaluated regularly?
    *Will I have my own classroom?
    *Will the students come to me, or will I go to them?
    *Is there any funding for supplies? Books? Games?
    *Will I be included in English panel meetings?
    *Will I have any extra-curricular activities?
    *How do I get here from X?
  • The HKEDcity website has details, fax numbers, photos, websites etc.. for all primaries in Hong Kong and you can find a full list at Wikipedia if want to search by location. Check the HK PNETs Forum blacklist before accepting any job offer, as there are some horror stories around!
  • Schools are looking for candidates who demonstrate:
    *knowledge of the NET scheme
    *experience with and knowledge of co-teaching
    *knowledge of Hong Kong curriculum initiatives
    *experience with and knowledge of developing reading and writing skills for varied ability groups including for primary schools early literacy learning
    *experience with and knowledge of managing large and mixed ability classes
    *knowledge of strategies to motivate reluctant learners or those who may be shy, afraid to fail
    *knowledge of phonics teaching and you might integrate phonics into your English teaching
    *experience with and knowledge of developing whole school activities to promote English
    *experience with and knowledge of the use of resources and strategies such as IT, shared reading and big books (including practical examples of the use of these resources)
    *experience with and knowledge of working with students with learning difficulties
    *experience with preparing and delivering PD and the kind of the PD you would like to deliver
    *experience with and knowledge of dealing with resistance to new strategies for teaching and learning in a system where the norm is to use exams and tests to achieve syllabus outcomes.

TEFL in Japan

  • The culture in Japan is arguably more interesting, though it doesn’t have the ex-pat community of HK and has a sturdy language barrier. There are a number of schemes, JET – although bureaucratic and elitist – is the only reputable option. On JET, you will almost certainly be placed in a rural area.

External Japan links:

Recommended Reading:

Many of these tips appear in the latest edition of ‘Teaching English Abroad‘ (and I’m also on the cover!)

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