Time is money.
Work smart, not hard.
Life’s too short for lesson prep*.
*Okay, so maybe we made this one up.
We have many sayings in English which remind us how precious our time is and why we shouldn’t waste it. And we agree wholeheartedly. This is why we love a good hack to save us time (and preferably money, too). If you look anywhere on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, or Twitter, people love sharing hacks that will make our lives a bit easier and make us look like we’re a whole lot smarter than we actually are. So here are our fave teaching tips and travelling hacks for TEFL teachers.
On the road
Hacks for TEFL teachers #1: Be flexi
It’s not just folklore, there really are cheaper days to travel. A recent report by Expedia states that for international travel, the optimal day to book is Sunday, but to travel is Thursday. It’s generally cheaper to fly during the second half of the week.
As for when you should book, international flights increase in price 28 days before departure, so book more than a month in advance.
Hacks for TEFL teachers #2: Don’t diss the layovers
The prices for flights with long layovers are way more cost-effective than direct flights. Plus, you can do so much with a long layover: explore the city, take a bus tour or chill out at the beach. Many experienced travellers prefer to take even longer layovers (around 24 hours) to explore the country they have never been to. So, they don’t only save money but can also tick another destination off their bucket list.
Hacks for TEFL teachers #3: Go incognito
Some maintain it’s a conspiracy, but why take the chance? Rumour has it that search engines and travel booking sites track your search history through cookies and other tools. The prices of flights you are checking regularly will increase every time you search. To avoid this, turn on incognito mode when searching for flights.
Hacks for TEFL teachers #4: Kon Mari your life
There is no better time to declutter your life. If you’re preparing to travel the world, you don’t want to have to pay for storage for all your worldly possessions. Besides, less is more these days, right?
Before you leave, make some honest decisions about your belongings and decide what you can throw out, donate or sell. Then when it comes time to pack for your adventure abroad, be sure to only pack the essentials.
In the classroom
Hacks for TEFL teachers #5: Learning names
Using your students’ names in the classroom is very important in creating a friendly learning environment in the classroom. But while your students only need to remember one name (yours), you’ll need to remember at least twenty (for one class) and probably more like 100!
When you first teach a class, draw up a plan of the desks on an A4 piece of paper and put it on your desk. Where each student is sitting, write their names on the drawing. During the class, use the plan to remember the names of the students and use them as much as possible. Quickly glancing at the plan on your desk whenever you want to call on a particular student will remind you of their name, and repeating their names throughout the lesson will help you remember them in your next lesson.
Hacks for TEFL teachers #6: Teaching on a budget
If you’re looking for some props for your lessons, there’s no need to go out and buy new props. Instead, look around your house and see what household items you can use for props. If you have any stuffed toys, they make great mascots, or a piece of pretty material or wrapping paper can make a good background for an online classroom.
Mini whiteboards are another great tool in the EFL classroom. Students love writing on the board, and using the mini versions means they can all get a turn to write on them in their groups. There are loads of different classroom games you can do with them too. But rather than spending your dollars on new ones from a stationery shop, you can make your own using hard card or cardboard. You can either cover the card in contact paper or you can laminate it. Either way, you’ll have a perfectly good mini whiteboard basically for free.
Read more: 3 Fun Ways to Use Mini Whiteboards
Hacks for TEFL teachers #7: A challenge folder
If you find yourself prepping extra worksheets to give to your stronger students every lesson, why not make a challenge folder? In the folder, you have a whole series of worksheets on different topics or language structures – think crosswords, word searches, riddles. If a student finishes an activity quickly in a lesson, they simply have to fetch themselves a worksheet to get on with quietly.
Hacks for TEFL teachers #8: Don’t re-invent the wheel
When you start out teaching, planning and lesson prep can take a long time. The thing is, people have been teaching English as a foreign language for a long time and it’s easy to take advantage of that fact – there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. Look online and you’ll find loads of websites with free lesson plans and resources. All you have to do is search for your topic or language point and the level of the class.
Read more: 5 Great Websites for EFL Worksheets
Hacks for TEFL teachers #9: Get them talking
There are a few ways you can help quieter classes become more energetic, and uninvolved students become more engaged. The one way is with a ball. Even with adults, bringing the element of a ball into the lesson is intriguing. When you ask a question, throw the ball and whoever catches it must answer the question. They can then throw the ball to someone else for the next question.
The other option is to use pens or rubbers or anything similar. At the beginning of the lesson give each student whatever object you’ve chosen. Whenever they participate in the lesson by volunteering an answer or answering a question, they give the object back to you. The students can’t leave the classroom until they have had their turn.
Hacks for TEFL teachers #10: Saving time
Marking assignments and assessing work can be very time-consuming. Buy a few stamps (stars or dots or unicorns) in different colours to make the process go quicker. While for many assignments you need to make corrections to the language, sometimes you just need to let your student know if the assignment is good, needs some work, or needs to be totally redone. Instead of having to write Please try again. or No corrections needed. or It’s fine but could be better next time. you can just use your stamp and your students will know what it means.
To speed up dividing the class into pairs or groups, use stickers. Buy coloured dot stickers and laminate them. When you need to make a grouping, hand out the stickers. Students can then easily find a partner by finding the other student or students with the same colour sticker.
A day in the life
Hacks for TEFL teachers #11: Read the fine print
When you are considering a job offer, make sure you consider the job carefully. A salary is not just a number, and this applies to online teaching as well as face-to-face teaching.
When teaching online, companies will often quote you a base hourly rate. This can seem quite low but be sure to take into account any bonuses you may be eligible for. Some companies give you bonuses just for being punctual – and that should be a given for any teacher! It’s also useful to think about how much money (and time) you’re saving on commuting – and your daily Starbucks! – so bear that in mind if you’re comparing an online salary to your usual job.
In a school, you must first understand if the monthly salary quoted is inclusive or exclusive of tax. Then, if it includes anything else. If you are given accommodation or a living allowance on top of your salary, that is a huge saving. Any contributions to your flight is a great money saver too. There may also be opportunities for you to earn extra money for after-school or holiday classes, which is a great way to bulk up your salary.
Read more: TEFL Teacher Contracts: A Checklist
Hacks for TEFL teachers #12: Make your home work for you
If you are teaching English online, is it possible to move to a city with a lower cost of living? The beauty of online teaching is that you can work literally anywhere (with an internet connection) so it could be a good idea to move out of the big city and somewhere more remote to save on your living costs. You could even move in with a friend or your partner or your parents to save on costs.
Alternatively, you could moonlight as a housesitter, which means you can be paid for living in a house! This is a really good option if you are a true nomad at heart because the temporary nature of the gig means you will be moving around regularly.
Hacks for TEFL teachers #13: Pinch those pennies
If you are teaching English abroad, find a partner. No, we don’t mean a life partner (though it could be!) but we mean another teacher who is in the same position as you. If both of you are working in the same school or even the same city, you could share accommodation. This will help you save money on all sorts of costs. You can save money on transport, and cooking for two is always more cost-effective than cooking for one.
Speaking of food, if you are living abroad, don’t be afraid of the supermarkets or street food. Many teachers only venture out to the fancy Western-style restaurants or foreign supermarkets that stock the food they are familiar with, but often the local food is more delicious than our own! A good rule of thumb is, if you see a local restaurant is popular with the locals, you know it’s going to be good – and probably good value for money too.
Hacks for TEFL teachers #14: Have a side hustle
Being a teacher, be it online or face-to-face does have the perk of having free time. You could finish work in the early afternoons, or maybe you only work mornings or nights. Either way, if necessary you can use the time to do a little something extra on the side to earn a few extra bucks.
Being a TEFL teacher opens up a host of opportunities for you to pursue as a side hustle. You could be a travel blogger or influencer, a writer or proofreader, or a tutor. You could even teach at a school and then teach online in your time off.
Hacks for TEFL teachers #15: There’s an app for that
When you are new to an area, it can be tricky to get to grips with many things: your neighbourhood, the language, local restaurants. Have no fear – there’s an app for that, and it’s probably free! Download a language and/or translation app to help you with communication in your new hometown. There is more than likely a local taxi app you can utilise too. And don’t forget to download an offline map so that you don’t need wifi to be able to see where you are!
And there you have it, folks. Work smart, not hard. Life can be tough, but there’s no reason we can’t try make it a little easier. And if you have itchy feet, check out our courses to find out which TEFL course is right for you – and take the next step to an adventurous new career teaching English as a foreign language.
Note: This blog post was originally posted in May 2021 but was updated in September 2022.