The dreaded demo lesson

How to make sure your demo lesson goes as smoothly as possible

So it probably starts with an e-mail.

Thank you very much for your application for the vacant position of English teacher. We have looked over your resume and would like to invite you to our school to give a 30-minute demo lesson on Friday at 2pm. Please ask for Ajarn Somsak at reception.

Many inexperienced teachers fear the demo lesson but it's become an integral part of the application and interview process.

Some employers ask for a demo lesson because they genuinely know what they are looking for in a teacher and can spot a poor teacher a mile off. Some employers request a demo lesson just because everyone else does and it feels like the right thing to do. The employers in the second group haven't got a clue what they are looking for. Most of the time, they just want to make sure the teacher looks good.

Are you a teacher?

The demo lesson is the chance for a teacher to show a potential employer that they are the right person for the job. No one is expecting you to put on the finest performance of your life and leave the room to rapturous applause. But it's certainly the opportunity to show that you know your subject matter and you are comfortable with standing up in front of a group of students and presenting a lesson in which hopefully everyone learns something.

If the participants actually enjoy the lesson, then that's a real bonus. In short, you are there to show everyone that you are an English teacher.

Both sides responsible

But the success of a demo lesson isn't just down to the teacher. Certainly not. The onus is on the school as well to make sure that the demo lesson goes both smoothly and professionally.

The employer needs to provide a suitable environment for the demo lesson, arrange qualified evaluators (at least one person anyway) and organize an appropriate bunch of students or ‘guinea pigs' who are all at reasonably the same level of English ability.

I've done several demo lessons over the course of my teaching career and most of them have been forgettable.

There's nothing more soul-destroying than standing in front of a group of ‘students' who have been plucked out of thin air by the recruitment manager simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and have found themselves 'press-ganged' into the whole charade.

So as the teacher, the respected ‘ajarn', you end up teaching the fierce-looking head of recruitment who hasn't smiled since 1974, the nervous skinny girl from the accounting department who positively hates sitting in on demo lessons, and completing the trio is a bloke who looks like the security guard. Hang on! - it is the security guard.


And of course in terms of English ability, the frowning academic is virtually native-speaker fluent, the number cruncher normally runs and hides the moment a foreigner opens his mouth - and the security guard communicates with a system of grunts that only he truly understands. It is an appalling mismatch of 'judges'.

A few years ago, I was working for a corporate training provider selling presentation skills and e-mail writing seminars. The job involved getting on the phone and making appointments with training managers and then meeting with them to try and sell training courses - never an easy job at the best of times.

However, the difference this time around was that not only would I be the salesperson, but also the instructor actually conducting the courses. OK, I'll admit the opportunity to earn sales commissions as well as a teacher's hourly wage was the only reason I took the job in the first place.

Because I had far too much time on my hands and because I was desperate for sales, I offered companies a two-hour demo lesson - completely free!

"I want to show you how great I am" I boasted. "Give me a training room and a small group of employees and I'll entertain you all with an hour of presentation techniques and an hour on how to improve your e-mail communication - Absolutely free"

A prospect

Surprisingly, very few companies took me up on the offer. Perhaps they thought it was too good to be true. However, one German pharmaceutical company knew a bargain when they saw one and invited me along to their offices for a 1.00pm start.

I got to the office and was met by a flustered-looking training manager. "Khun Philip. I totally forgot you were coming"

It wasn't the best of starts.

"Give me ten minutes to organize the training room" the training manager said "and then I'll make a few calls to find some volunteers"

"I'll give you a hand with arranging the training room" I said cheerfully, for I was eager to get things started.

This was an enormous mistake on my part. It wasn't the company training room at all. Not the training room with the modern furniture, the electronic whiteboard and the jugs of iced water.

Oh no. This was more of a storage-room the size of a small aircraft hangar. When the training manager said "we can have the demo lesson in here" I thought it was part of some evil corporate prank. But she was deadly serious.

The training manager and I then spent the next half hour pushing desks, stacking tables and rearranging heavy box files. I was knackered. The sweat started to seep through the jacket of my navy blue suit. That's how hot and uncomfortable I was.

The training manager then made frantic attempts to rustle up a few volunteers and half an hour later, three women from the admin department shuffled into the room with all the enthusiasm of a turkey on Christmas Eve.

I can't remember how well or how badly the demo lesson went. Who cares? The only lesson learnt was if the Bangkok office of a multinational German company can't get things right and organize a demo lesson properly, what hope is there for a Thai government school in Lopburi?

Seriously though, if you are invited to a school to do a demo lesson, what questions should you be asking in advance?

Here are a few to start you off - along with the reasons why you should be asking them.

For me, the following questions are essential and I ain't doing no demo lesson until I know what to expect when I roll up at the school in my best navy blue whistle. 

How long do you want the demo lesson to be?

Thirty minutes? Fine. Then I will prepare a 45-minute lesson to be on the safe side (but I won't tell you that).

And after thirty minutes, I shall look at my watch, nod my head in the direction of the most senior-looking person in the room and thank everyone for coming.

Time is money. Thirty minutes is what you asked for and thirty minutes is what you are going to get.

How many ‘evaluators' will be present?

Hopefully as you are standing up in front of the group, someone will be scribbling down notes and writing "this is possibly the greatest teacher that ever walked the earth'

Firstly, will that 'evaluator' be part of the student group or will there be one solitary evaluator sitting in a corner of the room, shaking her head, muttering incoherently to herself and compiling her weekend shopping list.

Heaven forbid, will there be an evaluation panel?  four individuals with faces that could turn milk sour, sitting behind a long table and passing notes to each other and wondering if this demo lesson is ever going to end.

Either way, you need to know what the arrangement is.

Will the final ‘decision-maker' be present?

Imagine giving the performance of your life only to be told by the panel that they need to report the results of the demo lesson to someone else in order to make a hiring decision? - and that 'someone else' wasn't even in the room.

I mean how annoying is that?

How many ‘students' will be present or rather what is the size of the group I'm expected to teach?

You might have 50 students in your demo class. You might have two. You need to know your group size because the whole classroom dynamic changes accordingly.

Certain subject matter will work better with larger groups and vice versa.

Size matters!

What level will the students be?

In my opinion possibly the most important question. You don't want the students to gaze at you with a mixture of bewilderment and fear at the first lower-intermediate sentence. Because if that happens, you've nowhere left to go.

You may as well put the board marker in your pocket, locate the nearest fire exit and leg it.

What kind of lesson should I prepare?

Many employers will answer this question with the annoyingly vague "up to you". Sorry but that just won't cut it.

Give me some parameters here. What structures are the students already familiar with? What age group are they? What are their interests? What could be deemed as an ‘appropriate' topic?

Let's face it - it always makes sense to teach something you really enjoy teaching. I never ever did a demo lesson based around direct and indirect pronouns. I bloody hate teaching direct and indirect pronouns.

How many demos will I be expected to give before a decision is made?

Listen, I don't mind giving you one demo lesson but I think that's enough for you to be able to make a fair evaluation of my ability.

To get to your school, I got on the wrong bus and almost ended up in another province. I then had to take two motorcycle taxis and a canal boat. I'm not going through all that again. No, really I'm not.

By having a potential employer answer all of the above questions, you've bought yourself some insurance.

If things don't go to plan; if the group turns out to be far more advanced than you anticipated, then it's not your fault.

You can only prepare based on the information you've been given. And if that information turns out to be misleading, then have a good moan about it and I will support you 100%.



At Burapha Uni for The Language Centre, I had to give a 45 minute long demo which was my very first ever teaching experience as I had none. I prepared with two days notice and was extremely nervous in front of around twenty adult learners - some of which were Teachers…..The outcome was successful and the adults were pleased and felt comfortable with me which made the lesson easy to get through and I was offered part-time work from Burapha's English Lingo Centre but I had to find work outside of Burapha sadly. I had returned to Burapha in 2010 which was great but I was unable to see Tik, the most beautiful friend I left behind - my greatest regret as I still hold feeling for this stunning beautiful Suai Suai Mak Mak Loi lady - she was the photographer at Burapha University and I still somehow have love for her after all these years….I wish I could go back and meet her again and say sorry!!!!! I'm truly sorry my friend. I left Thailand because I knew we would love and I had to go home in case my Mum passed away as I have so much guilt mistreating my Mum when I was younger.

By Ry, New Zealand (1 year ago)

I suggest you turn things round. Rather than be passive, afraid and even frustrated (as many of the bloggers seem to be), be pro-active: In the case of the guy who has taught his demo in a hangar, turn it down and immediately, walk straight out again and say this is not good enough, but be polite. I'm sorry I won't teach in here. I don't think your organization is professional enough. As for the judges, their qualification, their methods of evaluation. You have be able who is good enough to evaluate you and who isn't, and this comes with experience. If they are not good enough, turn it down politely. Out from 100 schools in Thailand you will find one that is probably good enough for you to teach, I mean in every aspect. Set your standards high and you won't be frustrated.

By Rolf, Bangkok (1 year ago)

Aaron said: "This probably just makes me sound snobbish and/or like a grumpy old man!" because he looks down on the process of demo lessons, because he's got "qualifications and experience out the yin-yang !"

This is the same as an actor refusing to audition for a play because he's done a few adverts on the telly!

That's fair enough, but I've been around teachers for three decades in three continents and in that time I have learned that there's room for interpretation between how good a teacher thinks he is and how good he actually is. Further more, there is even less of a correlation to be made between teaching qualifications and teaching ability.

But in the end it doesn't matter. Governments globally (there are a few exceptions that include Finland) have thrown in the towel with education and just left it to the free market economy to sort out.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (2 years ago)

Somehow I've managed to dodge demo lessons for the most part. I've worked here at three full-time jobs, and one part-time gig, and only once did I have to do a demo lesson.

I think as I get more experienced in this field I tend to look down on the whole concept of doing a demo lesson. I've got qualifications and experience out the yin-yang that I feel as if a discussion on my educational philosophy and how I would sequence a typical unit of instruction or even a days lesson would be more than sufficient.

This probably just makes me sound snobbish and/or like a grumpy old man!

By Aaron, Bangkok, Thailand (2 years ago)

If you REALLY want to nail that demo... Show up to it in a clown suit, singing songs and juggling bowling pins while ridding a unicycle. Demo NAILED!!!

By Niko, BKK (2 years ago)

My favorite response so far is from AL. He flat out refuses to allow any school to evaluate his ability and performance as an English instructor... because he thinks it's 'silliy!'

Some points...

Demo lessons are a crucial and invaluable way of filtering out the rubbish. Too many employers have seen the 'stars' who look good on a CV but who then crash and burn when asked to perform. Education in Thailand (at every level) is part of the entertainment industry.

But not all schools and businesses will have thought of asking a prospective employee to perform a demo lesson. So why not offer to do one when you apply for the job? This will go a long way to letting the employer know that you are a serious candidate for the job.

Asking you to do a demo lesson suggests that the school has a pool of talent from which they can choose from, so be prepared to 'demo' like it's a kind of pageant. Straighten that tie, wear a smile and shed a tear for world peace!

Oh, it's not unheard of for employers to ask unwanted applicants to do a demo lesson as a way of politely turning them down! Sure beats the common sense approach of saying "I'm sorry, the vacancy has been filled."

One important aspect of the demo lesson is that it's NOT all about you. Involve your audience in your presentation. If you make them a part of your class they will probably warm up to you a lot more.

Lastly... If you are preparing to do a demo lesson, don't get caught up in the academic content of your performance. A major part of your evaluation will be your personality and how much your audience simply likes you.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (2 years ago)

The demo lesson isn't to see if you can teach - they themselves can't teach - it's to see what you look like and how you are with the students. It's no skin off their nose if you refuse to do one, that's just a reflection of how you make life difficult for yourself.

By Ajarn Dara, Chonburi (2 years ago)

I was reading this article on my i-pad, the only Farang on a pretty full bus. How embarasing! As true as it is, I laughed so much all the Thai passengers must now be sure all westerners are mad! Thankyou so much, where can I get some more ?

By Gary Philpot, Udon Thani (2 years ago)

Never done a demo lesson in 10years, But I always ask at an interview to go meet the students, and when we enter the classrooms, I start an talking to the students telling them who I am and asking them questions. This breaks the ice and have a 5/10 minute warm up. It has never failed to get the student buzzing. and it gives me the chance to get the 'feel' of the school. Then I feel I can make my mind up ...Do I want this job, has the students buzz given me the chance to ask for some of my terms to work there. I would never plan a lesson on any subject, be just like the rock singer just dive off the stage into the crowd and if they are interested the 'students' will catch you.

By Peter B, Saraburi (2 years ago)

No way would I ever do a 'demo' lesson. It's dreaded only if teachers allow it to be so. My answer to this request is either 'NO' or ignore them and consider an employer who trusts me enough to trial the job for three months.

Either my experience and references do the job of convincing to hire of they don't. That's the choice. I would never give in to this demand for a 'demo' lesson as I would not want to seem desperate in front of employers whom I don't know. It's a two way street I am checking them out at the same time they are making up their minds about me.

This is just a way of getting a free lessons out of a teacher. The Fool is anyone who is silliy enough to buy into this. With so many cowboys about in the ESL how does one know what the hirer's selection criteria is anyway?

By AL, N/A (2 years ago)

Question. If you cannot get satisfactory answers to the questions you presented in this post, do you turn down the demo and the job? This is what I'd guess you do, but worth asking.

By TaGranados, United States (2 years ago)

Totally agree with the article.

My first demo was at an English Academy, where i was told to present a demo for 20-30mins for intermediate level. Among the evaluators, i saw the receptionist, admin and two supposedly english teachers who definitely were not and if they were then the school should definitely have some dress code for the faculty members. (All of them were asian)

Anyway, i checked the time and started off with the demo. Having prior three years of teaching, the demo was going quiet well ON MY PART. however, the evaluators, who represented the "students" were blank and totally not responding, Hell! they were hardly even blinking! It was annoying as well as hilarious.

In the end, i felt so lame, that i told them that even if they select me, i would not want to work in this school and left.

It was good that i made that decision as after a week i got a job in a very good school which gave me one week training followed by 10mins demo.

And so, dont worry, demos are not a big thing. its not that your teaching skills can be evaluated in few minutes.


By Anjeela Bhutia, Thailand (3 years ago)

interesting article. i wanna work as an ESL teacher in thailand and im taking notes of what you have just wrote here. . i have tried sending email application like three or five maybe last week. crossing my fingers if i'd be called as i am still in the Philippines

By joey, philippines (5 years ago)

After quite a few nerve racking demo lessons where the Thai students and teachers just stared at me, i decided to put the ball well and truly in their court. Now i insist on determining the level of English, Students to be the same level or classes to the ones i will teach, and the evaluator to be an English Teacher!

By Peter, Bangkok (5 years ago)

In over 8 years in Thailand, I've had some interesting demos to do. One, at a uni in Bkk, asked me at the last minute to prepare a reading test with reference, factual, inferential questions, etc. But I wasn't given any kind of reading passage to base my test on. Hmmm. Another time, a farang non-native speaker sent me a detailed email about what to do in my demo at his vo-tech's interview of me: greetings, ice-breakers, days of the week, numbers, questions, negatives, etc. Oh, and the SKILLS I was to focus on? Speaking and writing (in isolation?). My guess is this fellow "English-teaching professional" earned his degree at Khaosan University.

By Jean Piaget, (5 years ago)

Demo or Demon?

If the CV, and several telephone calls and at least a couple of face to face meetings is not enough, then neither will a demo.

Even with asking the correct questions and getting some form of understandable replies. You will need know no more than the set up when you arrive... if poorly organised then so is the school and well avoided.

Okay I done the odd one, and 95% are a waste of time and money.

So for the past 3 years my reply if asked is.... Yes of course, my fee for my time is ...X and my travel allowance is...Y.

I'm busy, I have a home and a car to pay for and as the saying go's... NO Money... NO Honey!

Polite No thanks works as well

By Ian BKK, Bangkok (5 years ago)

The dreaded demo lesson? Mmmmm. Question: What are schools looking for, teachers with excellent interview techniques, or teachers with excellent classroom techniques? I say this because, and I'm sure there are others like me, I'm not the best at job interviews. Lack a bit of confidence maybe. Put me in a classroom and I'm probably at my most confident.
If schools are serious about recruiting teachers, applicants should be thrown into a classroom (with students) and teach. This is what happened to me with my first teaching position (7yrs ago). Around 40 students and 10 Thai teachers. I was told to teach anything I want to for around 15-20 min. 35 min. later they said ok that's enough, took me to the office and offered me the position.
The proof's in the puddin'. Good at interviews maybe not so good at teaching. Not so good at interviews maybe good at teaching. How will they have any idea without seeing you ply your trade?

By Graham, Thailand (5 years ago)

Interesting comments , i guess being able to comunicate with school staff and students in their native language is a huge advantage , regards , Simon,

By mr simon george smith, bangkok , thailand (5 years ago)

'Because I had far too much time on my hands and because I was desperate for some sales, I offered companies a two-hour demo lesson - completely free.' Desperate indeed! It's one thing to offer, but companies and schools that normally require teachers to give two-hour demo lessons for free are asking way too much! I've had situations where the potential employer was being paid by the client for this time and yet they want me to teach it for free?!

By Lisa, (5 years ago)

" . . bought yourself insurance. . " hehehaha , no such thing as insurance in the TEFL industry , .I've learned not to ask any questions , simply because chances of getting accurate answers are just about zero , So you get some answers and prepare your demo lessons accordingly . . . and go into the demo with preconceptions , . for me thats a no way Joze . .

By Kieran, Bangkok (5 years ago)

This story sounds familiar. I have now given two separate demos. Both had a large class in which I was told I would be teaching different subjects but when I arrived at the school I was told the position was for just English. I gave the demo but the decision maker was not there. I was told by the Filipino English program leader that she would recommend me for the job. The director never showed while I was there. I never received a follow up phone call or e-mail in regards to the position.
The second position required a lesson to 35 first graders teaching city places. I had plenty of material and had to stop before I had presented everything. The kids were low so even something interesting like this was hard. During the lesson I looked around and not another adult was in the room. I was left alone with these 1st graders. I had an interview afterwards with the director but even though I asked about the position later, I never received an answer. I took a bus nine hours one way for that one. No more.

By David Deshler, Bangkok (5 years ago)

I have only ever given one demo lesson for a job, for a very prominent "prestigious" Bangkok place beginning with "P". Being fresh off a TEFL, I didn't know what to expect, but it was with a new and now continued cyncism that I found myself having my time wasted because they weren't ready when I got there (on time). I gave my lesson to just one student, who was an employee off the front desk or something. Obviously, this limited the scope of my conversational lesson...

The lesson ended and the owner said that I had looked "nervous". Actually, I have since read about her in someone else's forum post, where he was rejected because, in his words, he was not "alpha" enough for her, which I can believe- it did seem they were after a Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho" type, in terms of looks, confidence and qualifications, and possibly personaility...

By BKK Jay, (5 years ago)

I had a demo lesson 2 years ish ago. 2nd year college students, and I asked one kid, what's your name, his reply in Thai was " I don't understand " and laughing like a fool.. Then I went back to China

By Kanadian, Meizhou, China (5 years ago)

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