7 ways to be an exceptionally mediocre TEFL teacher


Do you have what it takes to be a really bad TEFL teacher?  Time and time again TEFL teachers are referred to as backpacker layabouts with no dedication, and every school can relay a tale of a certain TEFLer who left them in the lurch and now wary of every other foreign teacher who comes along.  Follow this advice and you will most definitely succeed at being yet another mediocre TEFL teacher giving the rest a bad name.

  1. Firstly, start from the viewpoint that anyone can do the job.  Don’t worry about considering your English skills or if you are suited to working with children – anyone can be a TEFL teacher.  In fact, don’t even bother with any sort of certification, so many schools will be simply falling over themselves in desperation for you, there will be plenty of job offers and you will have your pick of the establishments across the length and breadth of your country of choice.  The world, and its children, are your oyster.
  2. On the subject of your country of choice, you should most definitely make your decision based on the number of beaches, the level of debauchery to be found in the nightlife and how easy it will be to hide away from the problems you have at home.  Don’t consider the culture, the food or the way of life that you will be invading – you won’t be throwing yourself in to deep anyway.
  3. But then again, you probably won’t be sticking around in one place too long anyway.  That’s what this TEFL malarkey is all about anyway, floating from country to country doing half-term stints at any school that will take you with no consideration of actually immersing yourself into the way of life or making any meaningful relationships.  Always have your eye on the next destination, the next place that you can use to impress the next travelers that you meet.
  4. Of course, don’t make friends with the locals.  You should only mix with other ex-pats and feed off their bitterness for the job, the country and the people.  Better still if you become that grumpy old man as quickly as possible, to blend in with the others and be better equipped to join in on the conversations about how this country needs to change x, y and z to make things better for you – the coveted and most highly-revered foreigner gracing your presence on this inferior country.
  5. When it comes to inside the classroom (where you will of course spend the bare minimum required amount of time), make sure you are uninspiring, and use the least amount of enthusiasm and energy possible.  Don’t take the time to get to know your students.  Dish out pointless worksheets that you will never look at, let alone mark.  Then again you could just sit at the front of the class and wait for the hour to be over – everyone in the room is more than aware that this is just a means to a paycheck at the end of the month, why waste anyone’s time any further by actually attempting to impart any knowledge?
  6. Don’t bother planning for your lessons, certainly not beyond a cursory glace at the next page in the workbook and most definitely not in the comfort of your own home.  Who needs a range of learning tools and stimuli anyway?  There are a few old flashcards in the bottom of that teacher’s desk – the one that never came back from the last long weekend – that you could probably use if you had to.
  7. Finally, when it’s your turn to disappear, don’t worry about informing your employer or the students.  Don’t concern yourself with grading those tests or planning for the first few weeks of your absence.  Just fly off, ready to grace your presence on the next unsuspecting country on your list.

So, do you think you’ve got what it takes?



19 thoughts on “7 ways to be an exceptionally mediocre TEFL teacher

  1. Without a doubt, one of the most cynical things I have read this week. One wonders if this isn’t somehow autobiographical. Yes, there are plenty of people like this in almost any ex pat community, not just EFL.

    1. I think you may have mixed up sarcasm and cynicism – this is only a bit of fun after all! Sure, the non-teaching parts can apply to plenty of expats too, and I am sure we have all been guilty to some extent of something included in the post!

  2. Kylie, you give an accurate description of what makes a really back teacher of EFL (not a mediocre teacher, but a really bad one).

    A suggestion in relation to point 4 about not mixing with the locals: We wrote a post a couple of days ago which looks back at 20 years in the business from the opposite point of view: Someone drawn to EFL out of a love of the foreign – someone who “goes native” and shuns the grumpy ex-pats. Sadly the end result is a certain grumpiness. If you haven’t abandoned the career and the foreign home after the next 18 years (I gather you’ve been there for 2 so far), and you aren’t grumpy, perhaps you could write a post about how to avoid this utterly unpleasant fate.

    Our post on the EFL business from the point of view of a xenophilic teacher is here:


  3. I love these. I taught English in Taiwan six years back and admit that I did fall into some of these… not some of my finest moments. It was much easier there to meet locals and hang out with them though.
    I have a harder time meeting local Thai’s (that aren’t married to expats that I know), do you have a secret? I am going to start Thai language courses when we return from traveling, but I figured you may have a secret that may help. 🙂

    1. Oh, I have totally been guilty of some of these at some point – I don’t think I would be qualified to pass comment if I hadn’t!

      I have to say that since moving to Phuket the meeting the locals aspect has been a lot harder. There seems to be a preconceived idea that all foreigners are idiots that you have to overcome first! And the friendships I have made have mostly been developed over a bottle of whiskey – call it social lubrication I guess!! It’s definitely so much harder to meet the locals when there are so many other foreigners around, but my issue is with people who won’t even try. Simply saying good morning and good evening to a lady on my street has resulted in numerous gifts of food (got to love Thai people!) and help when my cat went missing?- if I had been an unfriendly/ignorant person, things would be very different. So what if I only understand about a third of what she says, she knows that and I think she quite likes it!!!

      1. I agree that trying is where it counts. Also, I agree with the whisky, too! I can’t wait to get back and have some Meakong and sprite along with awesome food. 🙂

  4. Great article! Unfortunately, teaching ESL does tend to attract a lot of people who only want to drink at bars and laze around. It gives all foreigners and ESL teachers a bad reputation, which can make it really difficult for the teachers out there that really care and work hard. Thanks for writing this!

  5. Reblogged this on Teaching in Kantō and commented:
    I came across this fantastic, tongue-in-cheek blog post by a fellow educator in Thailand recently and had to share it. While we work in different countries, these issues certainly exist here in Japan. If they did not, the big ALT dispatch companies would not thrive here as they would lack a fresh supply of warm bodies for the classrooms of the towns and cities they are contracted with.

    The author mentioned not bothering to learn about the culture of the country you plan on working in, but I am surprised that she did not mention the language. I have come across educators who have been living and working in Japan for years and have never bothered to learn more than just the basics of Japanese. Now, for some, time really is a big factor in this, but I know quite a few people who are content to simply make friends with other ex-pats and could care less that they cannot communicate with their Japanese coworkers that cannot speak English despite having plenty of free time that could be spent learning more than just, “ビールもう一つ (One more beer!)!”

    Nevertheless, the point of the article is humor and so if you need a laugh this weekend, do take a peek. Enjoy!

  6. I was going to agree with Torn Halves – that sounds a fair bit worse than mediocre! (At least I very much hope…) But yes, having done a bit of teaching and I admit I didn’t do a formal course beforehand but at least try and pick up some tips and tricks and put your best foot forward. I was so embarrassed at how much more I was getting paid than the local teachers, it only seemed fair to give it a bit of enthusiasm!

  7. Love this! I have yet to teach abroad (though I hope to in the future), but I experienced a version of these people in droves when I studied abroad in Florence. And though I did not end up managing to meet many Italians, I at least managed to always improve my Italian by speaking to locals when I could, and I almost always got a look of delighted surprise and a “Brava!”

    Very funny and well-written satire 🙂

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