Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The TEFL Job Interview - Latin America

Here is an article I had published some years back, about the typical job interview you can expect when coming out of a CELTA or TEFL course and looking for that first job in Latin America.

Congratulations! You just finished your EFL teacher training, those grueling four weeks of sweating over coming up with interesting ideas for classes, of pouring over page after page of theory, of juggling type three conditionals.

Well you're all done. So what’s next? All this time, you've been dreaming about what wonderful new things you'll see and do in Santiago de Chile, in Buenos Aires, in San Miguel de Allende. You've also been worrying about apartments, about plane tickets, about work permits, but the most important event has yet to come: the job interview.

There's still a job interview? Yes, and all that hard work you did is about to pay off. But what will it be like? What will they ask me? Do I have to talk in Spanish?

Don't sweat it. It's probably nothing like what you are expecting. Knowing a little about what a DOS (Director of Studies) looks for in a teacher will help you do well in an interview. First, did you know that most Directors of Studies are from the UK, or the US? Your average DOS started out just like you are – teaching abroad after an initial intensive training course. Even if he or she isn't a native-speaker, it's a job requirement for them to be very good speakers of English, so either way, your interview will be in your own tongue.

You might now think that the next question has something to do with modals, or with communicative approaches, or inductive reasoning. You would be wrong in this case. Invariably, every DOS has the same worry – how long is this person going to commit to my students? This is easily the most difficult part about managing human capital. Too often, the pile of resumes on a director's desk is littered with the same acronyms and objectives. John Doe, CELTA, looking for a summer position, Jane Teacher, TEFL, can stay 8 weeks, and so forth. Most school directors know that it takes time for a teacher to develop a good rapport with students. They also program classes by semester or by level, lasting anywhere from 3 months to a full year. What they don't want to see is a teacher who can't complete a semester or level, since it is quite difficult to rebuild rapport with a new teacher halfway through a student's studies.

Should you be serious and professional or casual and open in the interview? The best answer is simply to be you. The person on the other side of the desk wants to know what you'll be like in front of a group of people - so be that person. An overly serious person may give the impression of having difficulties getting students to open up and communicate in the classroom while someone who comes off as too casual or not serious enough gives the impression of disorganization and sloppiness. The ideal? Don't be afraid to ask questions and make comments on what you see. Be friendly and smile, but stay focused. This is the person the students will see and a DOS simply must be sure that you aren't on either extreme.

What about grammar? The fear that most EFLers have when completing a training course is remembering all those grammar terms and rules. Yes, you need to know them. You are going to teach them after all. Most likely, you'll be asked to write up a demonstration class, or perhaps even deliver one to a few students or other teachers. You may be given a grammar point and asked to develop a class plan around that – introducing the point in context, running a few practice drills using it, then finishing with an output exercise that demonstrates student comprehension.

Know your students. Having knowledge of who your students will be will go a long way. During the job interview, you can win over any DOS by showing great interest in the types of student the school attracts. Aside from the obvious questions as to age groups and proficiency level, ask from where the school draws its students. Are they professionals, university students, exchange students, etc? Getting to know your student shows an interest in people and tells a DOS that you can connect on a personal level with your students, and most importantly, that you are flexible – ready to teach from a variety of platforms.

Sound simple enough? Of course, don't ignore the obvious stuff. Dress smart, be confident, and let this DOS know that you are the right person for the job.

Now, with that out of the way, you can focus on the important stuff. Getting your plane tickets, arranging accommodations, and discovering a new corner of the world. Good luck!

This entry marks my first article contributing to the ESL/EFL Roadshow, a blog ring of ESL/EFL teachers and TEFL teacher trainers around the world. September's project is hosting by Sharon of TEFL Tips fame. Here is the Roadshow roundup that shows Interview Tips as other teaching bloggers see them.

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