7 Secrets of Successful TEFL Teaching

Today’s guest post is by Honor Baldry, editor of i-to-i’s TEFL Community Chalkboard. As well as being editor of i-to-i, Honor is an experienced EFL teacher, having taught to University students in China. You can also download i-to-i’s free ebook TEFL Uncovered: How To Teach Your Way Abroad With TEFL here.

If you believe what you read on the internet, teaching abroad is the easiest thing ever – there’s huge demand for English teachers, you speak English… how hard can it be? Well, pretty tricky actually. So, to help you on your way, here are a few insider tips and tricks to make sure you’re a big hit in the classroom.

1) Keep quiet

No one ever learnt how to drive by watching their instructor cruise round the neighbourhood. Similarly, no one ever learnt how to speak English by listening to their teacher bore on for hours. You need to give your students as much time as possible to practise their own English. With a bit of guidance and a few nudges in the right direction now and then you’ll soon see them growing in confidence and ability.

2) Check the small print

This isn’t so much to do with your teaching skills, but preserving your sanity. It’s always really important to check the job conditions to avoid spending your entire time abroad running English corners. Check how many contact hours you’ll have, how much preparation and marking you’ll have to do, whether you’ll be doing split shifts, what holidays you’re entitled to and whether you’ll be expected to get involved in extra-curricular activities.

3) Be neat

This one is a bit of a no-brainer, but employers in most of the major TEFL destinations (China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea) place a massive premium on teachers looking neat, shiny and presentable. You’ll find your students (and manager) are much more willing to take you seriously if you don’t look like you’ve crawled out of some smelly backpacker’s hostel.

4) Take a TEFL course


I tried, and failed, to teach English in China without doing a TEFL course first – I had no idea what I was doing, lost all control of my students and generally didn’t manage to teach them very much. Since starting at i-to-i, I’ve taken a TEFL course and had something of a light bulb “ahh, so that’s what I was meant to be doing” moment! You don’t need to go the whole hog and do a 4-week CELTA course – there are loads of online and combined (online plus a bit of classroom learning) courses out there that will give you a good idea of what to do in the classroom and give you access to the better TEFL jobs out there.

5) Look out for local customs

Did you know that writing a South Korean person’s name in red is a big no-no?

“On writing the kids names on the board with a red marker, to my surprise, Candy my best student, erupted into convulsions! I exaggerate not! According to my other students I had wished death and bad luck upon her!”

Every country has different quirks and customs. Ask some of the local teachers at your school what they are and ignore them at your peril!

6) Stick to the rules

One of the best ways to keep control of your students is to split them into teams and have a points system – it motivates them to do well and fear of losing points for their teammates generally keeps the little blighters in check. But, woe betide the teacher who forgets or bends the point system rules – you face all out mutiny!

7) Don’t take it too seriously!

The first few weeks of teaching are pretty hard – the mix of a new job, a new country and a whole load of new students is a recipe for feeling overwhelmed. When it all feels too much though, relax, play a few games with your students, go out for some beers with your colleagues… after all, it’s meant to be fun!

Are you teaching abroad at the minute – what are the secrets to your success?

3 Responses to “7 Secrets of Successful TEFL Teaching”

  1. Clem Robin says:

    Hi Honor, these are fantastic tips! Like you, my sister taught English without a TEFL qualification and did struggle a little. She’s heading back to Japan next year to teach English and to ensure she’s more prepared she’s currently doing a TEFL course. I think that while being great for your own confidence, it’s important that the students are getting the best possible education too.

  2. Steven says:

    Nice article. I found South Korea’s EPIK orientation a sufficient introduction to teaching English. Was actually told not to take a TEFL as it would be a waste of money. Suppose it’s up to the person. TEFL does help as a lot of employers just like to know that you know what you’re doing.


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