By far the most common way to find work is via the internet. Google ‘ESL’ plus the name of your chosen country and a bevy of sites should pop up, each with plenty of advertisements for vacancies.
Read the adverts carefully and only apply if you are suitable. If the job wants native speakers only then that’s code for no Filipinos, if they ask for someone under 50 they mean it, and if they want a one-eyed New Yorker with a limp, then get over it, there are plenty more jobs around.
Make sure you have a CV that is well-written, covers the essentials and is grammatically accurate (you’d be amazed how many English teachers can’t master this last part). If you’re starting out, find out when schools in your country start their new academic year and aim to apply then. If you go job-hunting just after a term has already started, your chances dip dramatically.
Of course, if you have your heart set on a particular school, then mail them directly. Don’t turn up unannounced as such a show of spontaneity won’t be appreciated.
Job ads can be extremely direct
It’s worth being aware that some schools are pretty fussy about what they are looking for. Glance at any jobs section of a newspaper and you’ll notice that such pedantry is common. Some only want females, some only want females under 30, and some want females under 30 who are ‘attractive’. The kind of adverts that would see you sued back home are regular features in some parts.
Employers have the upper hand and aren’t afraid to say what they want: we know of one school that even bans men with facial hair. They once employed a Sikh chap, assuming they could ask him nicely if he could go for a haircut and shave, before discovering that wasn’t really an option from someone of that faith.
Skin colour is, unfortunately, also an issue. Asian countries have a pecking order when it comes to pigmentation. It’s not much of a defence but it does seem to be based more around actual skin colour rather than ethnic groups. Some nations simply see dark skin as less attractive than white skin, and aren’t shy about saying so.
One reason is the power of marketing. In Thailand, television presenters have vanilla-white tones while comedy shows regularly ‘black-up’ actors, and then proceed to poke fun at them. During the advertising breaks you can hear about how by simply applying some whitening lotion to your face you’ll find true love and eternal joy. A company for a skin-whitening lotion once placed an advert saying ‘reserved for whites only’ on the Bangkok sky train before more worldly-wise folk pointed out its apartheid connotations and demanded its removal.
Perhaps the best example of how Thai sensitivities differ from those in the West can be found on a tube of toothpaste. A toothpaste company once inexplicably decided to call its product ‘Darkie’. Given that this is the one product where whiteness actually is a key component, it did seem a tad incongruous. As if ‘Darkie’ weren’t bad enough, the toothpaste’s logo was the face of a black and white minstrel. Only in the past few years has the concept of race relations entered the local psyche, and now it’s been renamed ‘Darlie’ – though the minstrel logo remains.
Another theory for the preference for white skin is that black skin is associated with upcountry farmers who have to toil out in the fields every day. Far more preferable to be educated and rich, and get to work in air-conditioned offices where you can avoid going dark.
The thinking is clearly misguided, but there usually isn’t much malice involved; some places just haven’t got round to focusing on race relations. None of which helps much if you aren’t Caucasian and looking for work.
Some schools are pickier than others; a few I heard of turned away black candidates at the gate – not letting them even enter the premises. Such extreme responses are rare, and a native speaking teacher with a degree and TEFL will eventually still find work, whatever their race.
- Above blog adapted from 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)
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