Mark Beales

The TEFL job interview and what makes a good teacher?

Getting past the interview stage and deciding what roles to play in the classroom.

Interviews for ESL jobs work in a similar way to any other interview. Observe the obvious – be punctual, be presentable and be pleasant.  

Remember that this is your chance to sell yourself and explain just how badly the school needs someone like you. Stick to the essentials; the school probably doesn’t want to hear about you landed in their nation after your ex-wife walked out and you lost your job, which is the dead-end alley some interviews tend to stumble down.

Classic, if slightly staid, interview questions include:

 ‘Tell me about your greatest strengths and weaknesses as a teacher’.

‘How would you handle class discipline?’

‘You have a 50 minute class on the Present Continuous Tense, how would you plan it?’

‘What did you think of your TEFL course?’

Preparation is key

Towards the end of the interview, you’ll probably be asked if you have any questions. Prepare a few in advance, even if you know everything you need to. The interview is as much for you to decide if you want to work at this school as it is for the school to see if it wants you, so you should naturally have some queries. 

Ask about the classroom facilities, find out about extra-curricular activities, and see what course books they use. Do not ask about pay, perks or holidays at this point as it gives the wrong impression. 

The interview is also the time where you can get to size up your potential employer. Think about what you expect from your school (air-conditioning, projectors and a range of resources are a good place to start). If you don’t like what you see, then don’t take it. 

The clues are there

Sometimes, the interviewer can be a good clue about the state of the school. In one interview I helped conduct, the other guy had a nasty habit of interjecting with comments when he really didn’t need to. He once decided to ask a nervous-looking, middle-aged applicant about his personal background.

‘Well, I was married for 10 years, got divorced, and fancied a move abroad. I came on holiday here last year and met a nice young lady so decided to move out. I just got here on Tuesday,’ the applicant said 

‘Ahh, fresh meat,’ the interviewer smirked. 

We didn’t hear from the guy again. Not all interviewers are as obnoxious as this one, but it does show the importance of making a good first impression and remembering which details to leave out. One final point, have a basic demo lesson up your sleeve, just in case.

If you are offered the job then congratulations, you’re about to enter the wonderful world of ESL. The next step is to get used to your new school and most importantly, your new colleagues.

What makes a good teacher?

Think back to your favourite teacher at school. What was it that made him or her stand out? Chances are if you ask 10 people this, they’d come up with broadly similar qualities.

Have a look at these attributes and decide which you’d put near the top of your list, and which are less important.

  • Kind  and patient
  • Fun
  • Good at motivating students
  • Has a good knowledge of the subject
  • Knows how to get the best out of every student
  • Explains things clearly    

The first three items above deal with personality, while the last three are more about professional skills. There isn’t one finite answer for how to create the perfect teacher, but if there were, it would probably include most of the above.

As well as being a teacher, that is, standing up and explaining stuff, you will also take on several other roles in your classroom, depending on what you want students to do.

These extra roles could be:

The boss – a traditional role where you tell students what they are going to do. For this, the teacher needs a strong personality and the ability to deliver clear, concise, instructions.

The facilitator – setting things up then taking a back seat and letting students get on with a task. It can be tempting to jump straight in when there’s a problem but often it’s better to let students work things out.

The guide – teachers often need to give examples before letting students practice something. You may be the only English voice they hear all day, so be clear and correct.

The judge – once students have completed a task, they’ll want to know how they’ve done. It’s best to offer feedback at the end of a task, especially if that task involves speaking. Always find something positive to say, even if it was a disaster. Covering a book with red ink as you correct work can be disheartening, so you don’t need to always point out every mistake. Better to focus on the same mistake that’s made several times. Some teachers don’t even use red ink as they feel it’s too aggressive. As long as the colour is different from that of the student’s work, it doesn’t really matter what you use.

The helper – students will get stuck. When this happens, the teacher’s role is to step in and prod the student in the right direction, without completely taking over. You can lead a student towards the answer, but always try and make sure they are the ones that actually say it.

- Above blog adapted from 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)


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You forgot...knowing your worth, having a pair of balls and turning down wages that have been the same since 2005.

It's not that great, there.

By Palptine, BattleShip (11th October 2020)

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