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November 12, 2005

Q & A - How Do You Impress a Potential ESL Employer?

"Only strong personalities can endure history, the weak ones are extinguished by it" ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

I recently came across an enlightening message in a post (here) about what ESL employers are looking for when hiring a teacher. I thought that there might be something there worth of discussion for us, the ESL "employees."

ESL Job Interview.jpg

In a nutshell, this poster suggested that employers should look for three "attributes" in a potential ESL instructor. These were, and I quote:

1. "an engaging personality,"
2. "a set of skills that permit them to a organize a class well," and
3. "a body of knowledge that they can use as a classroom resource."

All good points, but how do you think that an employer will effectively (and fairly) quantify some of these quite abstract (and subjective) requirements, e.g. an "engaging" personality? Is this something that they can "feel out" effectively on their own?

With that in mind, how can we be sure that our vitas truly reflect "a set of skills that permit [us] to organized a class well?" Are there things that need to be on our vitas that might cost us the job should we choose to omit it? Could this work the other way around, i.e. including too much info?

The last point seems espcially esoteric in that it suggests we come to the application table with a "body of knowledge" that can be used as a classroom resource. That's fine and dandy but I wonder what "bodies" of knowledge are acceptable and which are unnacceptable. Should that body of knowledge be focused primarily on former academic training (degrees, etc.) or from actual work in the field. I say this because those are two very distinct things, i.e. information acquired from Ivory Tower theory books and data collected fom experience.

Anyway, now that you know what your employers may or may not be looking for, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on what does (or does not) make a good ESL teaching candidate.

In solidarity,

Lee Hobbs
ESL Instruct, Editor-in-Chief

*To read more ESL Questions and Answers, please click HERE!

Posted by lhobbs at November 12, 2005 08:07 PM

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A good teacher needs to be one who understands theory and practice and knows how to merge the two. The teacher also needs to have a pleasent personality that will engage their students (smiles please no scowls)

Empathy Empathy Empathy - You must be able to relate to your students and the struggles they are going through as language learners. One way to achieve that is to continue to learn a language as it is really easy to forget what it feels like on the other side of the desk.

Additionally creativity in some form is a necessity and a willingness to share ideas and resources with colleagues.


Note from Lee:

Great advice! Especially in a world seemingly so full of apathy, apathy, apathy. I especially like the suggestion about creativity. How can we show this particular trait to employers who would like to see this demonstrated in an interview, for example?

Posted by: EFL Geek at November 12, 2005 10:45 PM


creativity can be demonstrated in two ways - in a teaching demonstration or via a portfolio of materials that you have developed or examples of student work.


Note from Lee: That works for me. Thanks for the input!

Posted by: EFL Geek at November 13, 2005 06:14 AM

Over the years I bet I've interviewed about 500 teachers, and thinking about this conversation for a minute I'd go with two attributes (warning: generalizations follow):

1) high emotional intelligence that results in being "engaging" or the "connection" that should happen with students. EFL Geek nails it with "empathy" (coincidentally I posted on EQ yesterday).

2) Professionalism: our industry has a challenge in that many teachers use language teaching as a means to an end (see the world, postpone grad school, etc.) rather than a professional end in itself. I've heard "I'm doing this until I get a real job" too many times. As a result, performance suffers: lesson planning, punctuality, in-service (self) development, etc. So less exprienced candidates should emphasize how serious they are about professionalism (unless they're at a Dip or MA-level and then professionalism should be a given and creativity for example takes on more importance).

Note from Lee: Thanks Cleve for that personal insight.

To me, it seems next to impossible to make this process completely objective (since many ESL employers may or may not be looking for different things in a potential employee), obviously a judgement call based on the employer's own experience will have to be called into play, especially if his/her school has a history of being burned.

Another thing I thought about, in your comment about the transient "temporary" nature underlying many in the overseas ESL market, is how difficult many ESL teachers that I've known (I'm speaking from my own experience) have had in finding teaching work (ESL-related or otherwise) once they've returned home to their native countries (particularly the US). In a nutshell, it's like their ESL work abroad counts for "nothing" (or very little) in a teaching vita. The reason? Because this type of teaching often has a negative stigma associated it with it as (and I'll try to put this nicely) "something different" from "real" teaching (I didn't want to say worse).

Of course, it's a completely unfair comparison these domestic, federally-sanctioned employers have, e.g. federal regulations, etc. However, the issue is there, and it's only right to address it from time to time. My point is, ESL teaching IS a different field, in many ways, than our traditional, domestic education to native-speakers but, in my opinion, in a much more superior way. Why? Because it's harder to do (at least, harder to do correctly). Therefore, I agree with raised hiring standards. The way I see it, the cowboy ESL schools that don't implement these policies that have a lot to do with the encouragement of the non-commiting, freelancing "market" we are speaking of.

Your advice certainly rings true about a "degree'd" intructor's professional integrity: potential ESL instructors, take heed: if your intent is to be a nomadic, cowboy ESL teacher, do yourselves a favor and don't announce it all over town (this includes the forums and blogs) and certainly not in your interview. You not only hurt yourself, you also hurt the ESL industry by encouraging this kind of applicant to show up overseas. I mean, do you really want to be associated with an industry that develops a worldwide reputation as an insincere, money-grubbing institution with frivolous educational standards? As teachers, let's do our part to change that too.

Posted by: Cleve at November 13, 2005 05:23 PM

I think cowboy teachers are encouraged at the interviews because the interviewer is often not a teacher or even a native speaker. He has a list of questions but often can't understand the answers and in the end the teacher is only judged on 'whether he will fit in'.
I believe that your career stops progressing, whilst you are working abroad and so when you comes back home, you are out of date. You may be practising and honing your teaching skills but you are not keeping up to date with changes in the language or within your culture because you are out of touch, working in a foreign country, in the middle of nowhere, in a tin hut, often with no other native speakers for miles. After 20 years of this, you come back home like a zombie. People back home do not know or understand what you have been up to. Out of sight, out of mind.

Posted by: kenneth at November 13, 2005 08:42 PM


Note from Lee:

Kenneth, on several of your points I couldn't agree more. I came across your first observation, the overseas phenomenon of being hired by "businessmen" and not traditionally/academically trained teachers, on several occasions. Fortunately, for my part, I didn't have to work too many times in these type of establishments but I have heard some horror stories. Like you said, the "hirers" sometimes have no clue as to what the current discourse of the ESL field is. Perhaps being an EU citizen (or other: fill-in-the-blank) is more of a priority than if you come highly recommended, for example. The 'fitting in" part is certainly key and, to be honest, things still work that way quite often anyway even back "home," wherever home is for you.

The other part you mentioned I also found to be true. That being, that current scholarly theories about ESL teaching do not necessarily abound in your run-of-the-mill private ESL language school. Maybe some do, but I didn't seem to know about too many in my experience. In my experience, even the public universities were using old methodologies I had never heard of (I think some outdated Soviet-endorsed techniques). Anyone out there know if this is changed?

So, unless one takes it upon themselves to stay current (in the end, don't we all have to assume self-responsibility anyway?) there doesn't seem to be a "push" from many schools to do so. They aren't, after all, research institutions. At the end of the day, these schools are a business. No students (clients) = no product, no cash flow and no teacher(s). You can see then why personality factors so highly here. It's a double-whammy: first, you have to "fit in" to the clique/family you're applying to, as you said (don't rock the boat) and second, the students themselves have to like you. If you can't juggle both of these awkward personality contests, your job could sometimes be in jeapardy in the private system.

Lastly, I like what you said about trying to become an "expat returned." Yes, everything changes while you're away and there's absolutely no guarantee that you'll even like the "world" you return to (nor that they'll like you: perhaps you remind them of their past? lol). This definitely happened to me (I'm still a recovering expat). No wonder an entire of class of "rex-pats" was born after the millenium!

Thanks for that awesome feedback!

Posted by: Lee at November 13, 2005 09:13 PM

In my book you always need to be humble during the job interview. I was once able to get an inside track to the minds of employers as I quasi-managed a program for a while. Be humble. The guys biggest complaint was that he ran up across too many haughty English Teachers who thought they were god's gift to the world and basically from the first contact with the employer said "you should feel priveledged to get this job" just cause they read Susan Griffith who falsely recommends teachers to approach employers with this attitude, claiming that the employer needs you more than you need them. Sure, that may be the case in a lot of language schools that are in areas where natives are scarce, but it sure as all get out doesn't mean they will want to hire some stuck up cry baby.

Is that civil enough for you blog master?

Posted by: ESL Nerd at November 14, 2005 03:40 PM


Note from Lee:

ESL Nerd, do you think it might be possible for an ESL applicant to express a certain degree of humility (as you suggest) and confidence at the same time? I don't believe that self-confidence and arrogance need to always be synonymous concepts.

Few persons would want to work with a haughty snob, be they your employer or co-worker. To that point, I concur. Since it just so happens that we live in a world where things are not ALWAYS strictly black-and-white, might I suggest that some happy medium could possibly exist between outright pretentiousness and submissiveness?

Intriguing reference there ESL Nerd to author, Susan Griffith. I see that you've done your ESL homework. Once again, thanks for gracing our posts once more with that ever-civil tongue of yours.

Posted by: Lee at November 14, 2005 07:45 PM

Note from Lee:

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Posted by: Lee at January 27, 2006 09:56 PM