Last summer I learnt something that I wish I’d known all those years ago when I first started out as a traveling English teacher. Now, because teachers find it practically impossible not to share our knowledge, I’m going to pass this valuable secret on to you right here.
More years ago than I care to mention I’d landed my first official contract, teaching in Andalucía on the golden shores of the Costa de la Luz. For me starting in September it was a low season paradise; devoid of tourists, the beaches were deserted and the townsfolk were happy to have their home back so it was much easier to become a part of their community. My Spanish was improving and they made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile rather than just passing through with my backpack.
It was also nice to put down roots for a while. My new “home” was pretty swanky too – for not many Euros I had secured a long let on a penthouse flat in an otherwise empty block overlooking the beach. The owners wanted me out by June because once holiday season starts they could make as much for one week’s rental as I was paying for a month. Workwise that wasn’t a problem, my school’s academic year ran from September to June and, as a cross-that-bridge-when-I come-to-it kind of guy, I had plenty of time to sort out a solution to my summer housing problem.
I’m not sure where you’re currently teaching but in many parts of the world the academic year is pretty much the same – so you’re probably thinking so far so similar.
Now, 99% of the time crossing bridges as an when you get to them is a pretty good strategy. However, life being life means that occasionally you’ll arrive at a river but the bridge won’t have been built yet. So June arrived and I became homeless and temporarily jobless (the school were going to renew my contract but it wouldn’t start again until September). So the best rope bridge I could string together was a cheap flight home and a summer labouring at an old schoolmate’s landscaping business. I loved it, a pleasant few months spent in the outdoors, literally getting paid to exercise and with no homework to mark nor lesson plans to write I had the long summer evenings to myself.
In fact I loved it so much that I repeated the cycle for several years – summers spent labouring in England followed by long winters in the Med developing myself as a teacher.
This being a leading TEFL industry website you’ll be reassured to know that labouring in England is not the secret I want to share with you.
So let’s fast forward a few years to the end of last spring. I was now working in the tropics where my university’s main holiday is between… yeah, you guessed it… June and August. I had an expensive teacher training course to pay for at Oxford – it’s never cheap to study at Tolkien’s alma mater. And after a bit of research I soon realised that the fastest way to pay off my college fees and airfare home would be to stay on in the UK after my course and earn some pounds rather than pesos.
Ideally, since I don’t think those summers spent laying paving have ever featured on my CV, it’d have to be something to do with my profession (and if possible, due to that in the intervening years my parents had passed away and most of the friends that I used to crash with had settled down and now had children, the location would have to be somewhere with cheap short term accommodation – i.e. definitely not Oxford at the height of the UK summer).
Fortunately my course came with full board and accommodation (that’s part of the reason it was so pricey). In fact we shared our rather nice accommodation and delicious meals with our tutors – then it hit me, although my tutors are teacher-trainers they’re still English teachers. They have a well-paid teaching job and don’t have to worry about food and rent. That’s exactly what I need.
So I turned Google into a verb and started googling like mad and quickly discovered that the UK summer schools’ peak demand coincides with when ELF teachers in many locations around the world are looking for work and somewhere to live until their next contract.
So yes, readers, you’ll wish you’d known about this earlier too. But it’s not too late. Read on, there are hundreds of summer schools in need of awesome teachers just like you.
I applied to 11 schools in total and received 9 invitations to interview. The recruitment window is pretty tight so once I had my first 4 interviews I phoned or emailed the remaining five schools to withdraw from the recruitment process. No matter how busy you are it’s worth extending this professional courtesy as you may want to work for them on a future occasion.
My next problem was that I then received a job offer from each of the four schools that had interviewed me. One, the highest paying and my first choice, eliminated itself without me having to make a decision as the dates on the contract they’d offered me overlapped with my own course at Oxford. I was then down to a choice of three. The hardest one to turn down was a tennis school that frowned on the use of classrooms and wanted me to deliver all sorts of exciting project based lessons and sporting excursions. As tempting as it was I explained to the hiring manager that I’d been offered a little more per hour with a six week contract instead of five weeks, he was disappointed but understood that I had debts to pay. The remaining two offers came with roughly the same pay and conditions. One was a large language business with several venues in the UK, the other a small family business. In the end I went with the family run school as I would actually be working with the people who’d interviewed me and we had gotten on well. The other factor in my choice was location; the family school was within walking distance of one of my favourite cities, whereas the large firm were housed in a very well appointed but isolated boarding school. Being close to a major city had several advantages for me but you will have your own criteria as to where you want to spend your summer.
The schools I applied to paid between £400 to £550 per week and came with the added benefit of accommodation and most meals. There are also increments for being TEFLQ (i.e. DELTA, MA TESOL etc.) rather just having a CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL, plus returners often get a weekly bonus for loyalty. The highest salary I saw last year for a teaching role without Director of Studies responsibilities was £625 per week!
As well as pay rate, conditions vary between schools in terms of the number of hours required of you. Most schools that provide accommodation expect you to take part in at least one or two excursions or sporting activities per week on top of your teaching, lesson prep and admin (marking, portfolios of evidence and writing end of course reports for the students’ parents) – so you definitely earn your money.
In addition to the financial, another bonus is the camaraderie. All that hard work and responsibility instils a real esprit du corps and I quickly formed strong friendships with my new colleagues. I’m still in touch with several of them to this day and now we’re planning which schools to apply for so we can work together again this summer.
£650 a week and friends for life! Where do I sign up?
Well it’s not quite as straight forward as I made out above. In fact this is TEFL’s worst best kept secret.
There are hundreds of jobs, far too many to apply to. But there are also thousands of teachers (just as awesome as you) in search of work. The frantically tight recruitment window I mentioned above only adds to the sense of competition. So you need the targeted rather than scatter gun approach to job hunting.
Here’s my top tips for securing the summer job that’s right for you.
- Location: You can’t apply to every job going so set yourself up with some selection criteria. Do you need a residential school or can you save money by living with family or friends off site. If the world’s you’re oyster what type of setting suits you best? – maybe you’ve been working in a big polluted city so a boarding school set in beautiful grounds would make a refreshing change or perhaps you miss civilisation and a city school would suit you better (the transport links here can also save you money and time if you want to visit anywhere on weekends off)
- School Ethos: What type of environment do you want to work in? Are you a Scott Thornbury teaching unplugged/tennis school kind of guy or would you like to get your foot in the door with a big corporate provider which might lead to a permanent job with them elsewhere in the world? Or perhaps your career is already sorted and a nice friendly family run school for the summer is more up your street.
- Find out who’s hiring: The quickest way to do so is to consult a reputable jobs listing website like this one. You can then filter by location and match the jobs that meet your criteria above.
- Do some further research: This comes in handy for the next tip. But for now it means visiting the school’s website to get a feel for if it’s the sort of place you’d like to work at. In an era of fake news, appearances can be deceiving so if the school looks good check out what students and former members of staff say about it on the independent review websites. No horror stories? Great, then go ahead and add it to your shortlist.
- Find a way to make your application stand out: As I said there are thousands of applicants vying for a job at one of your shortlisted schools. So whether it’s a CV, covering letter or online form, in as least words as possible you have to explain why you are applying for this particular position at this particular school. Quote some of the facts you found in your earlier research – this knowledge of their school will make you stand out especially if you can explain why those particular facts are important to you as a teacher.
- A job application is your chance to start a conversation: Find an angle (unique to you) that will make them want to give you an interview so they can continue that conversation. “I am applying for this job because I need a minimum of £500 /wk plus accommodation” obviously won’t work, but employers are not naïve they know we’re not volunteers. So in my case I started by telling them that I needed money for a pronunciation course at Oxford with Adrian Underhill. That started a lot of conversations. But more than that in less than a dozen words prospective employers learned that I was honest (I need money), I’m a professional (for a course at Oxford), and I’m a teacher that takes responsibility for and values my own learning (with Adrian Underhill). Think of something you have done or are planning to do that makes you unique, something that will make a prospective employer want to find out more about you.
- Ignore the job application deadline: Don’t use the application deadline as a job submission scheduling tool. Get into the habit of completing and submitting your applications well before the advertised deadline. If you send off an application on, or anywhere near to, the “applications close” date you are already too late – many employers get so inundated with applications that they eventually stop opening emails with new applications. Annoyingly many are so overwhelmed with shortlisting and interviews that they don’t have time to remove their job adverts even when the position has already been filled. No matter how good your CV, if the job no longer exists you’ve got zero chance of getting it. If you see a job you want apply for it right now!
Well, happy job hunting and have a great summer!
About the author: Donal Fogarty is a specialist teacher of adults. He teaches English for Academic Purposes at a university in Colombia and the University of Nottingham in the UK where he is also studying an MA in Education.