How to be a self-employed TEFL teacher

Ah, the infamous TEFL job search. Every veteran ESL teacher knows just how important it is to get right. There’s so much hanging on your ability to pick the right school, the right destination, the right program. But what if we told you it could all be avoided? What if we said there was a way to put that TEFL qualification to work without jumping through interview hoops or emailing out to countless heads of study? We’re talking about the prospect of being a self-employed TEFL teacher. There are pros and cons to it, granted, but it does mean you’ll be your own boss, you’ll be building your own business, and you’ll be manager of your own schedule. Check it out…


self-employed TEFL teacher
Studying | © James Rhodes/Flickr


Know your stuff


Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go: Private English tuition as a self-employed TEFL teacher is a whole different beast to traditional school jobs. One obvious example of just how different it is comes when you realize you don’t actually need any formal qualifications to start offering your services.


But before you start pinning up posters and listing lessons on Gumtree, consider for a moment just how important it is to offer a quality service to private students. Whereas you can afford the odd off day in a school, private students tend to be more dedicated, more results-focused and eager to get their English to a particular standard. If you can’t deliver, it’s likely you’ll quickly be dropped by the wayside and you’ll be back to square one.


The upshot is that knowing your language teaching is paramount if you intend to go it alone. A 120-hour TEFL qualification is recommended, but so is some experience of previous teaching. Get those under your belt and only then can you start thinking of entering the world of the self-employed TEFL teacher.


Online is your friend


There was a time when a self-employed TEFL teacher would have to scratch a living from the few students they could conjure up by hanging posters on bus stops. These days, the online world has changed all that. Not only can you build a huge network of local learners and potential customers by putting feelers out on communities like Facebook and Gumtree, but there’s also the added excitement of web-based teaching jobs.


They have really revolutionized the way English can be learned. Just think – you might be sitting in a café in Nicaragua teaching gerunds to a teenager from Hong Kong. You could be sipping an evening mocktail in Cyprus while sharing knowledge of modal verbs with a Thai businessman. That’s not to say online jobs are easy to come by. They aren’t. The boom in the industry means bagging clients over the web is hard work, which neatly reroutes us back to point one above…


self-employed TEFL teacher
Teaching | © MyTEFL


Dabble but don’t dive


Setting up as a self-employed TEFL teacher doesn’t have to be either or. Remember that many schools and employers will be happy for you to start dabbling in offering private lessons after teaching hours, so long as they don’t conflict with your contract. That’s a boon if you want to start testing the waters of going it alone but still want to keep the support of a “real” job for the time being.

There is a bit of a double-edged sword here, though. That’s because other schools, and even some countries, will expressly forbid you to work in any other teaching capacity. South Korea is a case in point, where most teaching visas typically specify that only a single employer can be in play. It’s easy to check if you’re school will let you start branching out in other destinations – it should always be written in the contract.


Have a tech head and plenty of materials


You wouldn’t waltz into a classroom of 20 under-10s who need to learn the ins and outs of the past tense participle without any materials, game plan or textbooks. The same goes for private lessons. Resources are key to delivering an effective language lesson but remember that if you’re dispensing of the traditional school, you’re going to have to find your own library of exercises, your own photocopiers, your own stationary.


What’s more, with being a successful self-employed TEFL teacher now firmly linked to your capabilities in the digital sphere, it’s important that you know your stuff with tech. Get to grips with project management tools like Trello and Basecamp for staying on top of your schedule. Have Google Docs ready to share learning materials. And – of course – Skype’s a must if you’ll be conducting tutorials online!


Travel and teach | © MyTEFL
Travel and teach | © MyTEFL



This is just a short intro to starting life as a self-employed TEFL teacher. There are loads more things to consider and think about. If you’ve any questions, be sure to add them in the comments below. And remember – a 120-hour certificate is the first step in any teaching adventure…


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