Working in the TEFL industry can be an exciting and rewarding experience. It can also be lonely, challenging and exhausting. Many people pursue a career in TEFL because they want to travel all over the world and earn a living. Contrary to the popular belief that all you need is a backpack and passport from an English-speaking country to teach English, you do need be prepared to live and work abroad. The information below is provided to outline TEFL for you to help you decide if TEFL is not only something you might be interested in, but also if you are ready for TEFL.
What kind of people work in the TEFL industry?
TEFL teachers are anything but a boring group of people. They come from all over – The US, Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and even South Africa.
Some of them have been public school teachers for years. Some of them have been working as professionals in the financial or IT industry. The one thing that almost every TEFL teacher has in common is that they want to live abroad and are willing to commit to a contract lasting anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, depending on the country. The majority of TEFL teachers want to use their job as an opportunity to immerse themselves in another culture and possibly study the language.
In Russia specifically, TEFL teachers are often people who studied the Russian language or Russian studies or literature at university. A large percentage of them have actually visited Russia, or even lived here for some time before returning to work full time. But there are a number of teachers who come here knowing nothing but the Cyrillic alphabet, or even less.
One of the great things about working in TEFL is that you can meet other teachers from all over the world, of all ages. Having said that, there is, in general, a certain “type” of people that choose to teaching English abroad.
Most TEFL teachers are between 23-30 old. A lot of people decide to teach English overseas after completing their undergraduate degree as a means of travelling and earning money, or a means of immersing themselves in a country of which they previously studied the language – that’s why there are great number of teachers who are in their early 20s. While the majority of TEFL teachers are in the early 20s age range, there are still a great number of “older” teachers. For example, some people are career TEFL teachers who have lived and taught in several countries and are still forging ahead. There are also retired folks who are not ready to sit around and watch TV all day, who still have a passion for travelling and learning. Finally, some people who choose TEFL are pursuing a second career after years of working as professionals. They just desire to try something new.
Most TEFL teachers are single, but it is not surprising to find couples who teach together all over the world.
In the past, all you needed to teach English abroad was knowledge of English and proof it was hour first language. Nowadays, it isn’t as easy to break into the TEFL industry.
The minimum that most TEFL schools require is a bachelor’s degree. It doesn’t really matter which subject, but in a lot of countries schools can’t even get visas for new teachers unless they can show proof of an undergraduate diploma. Some schools will hire native speakers without a bachelor’s degree, as long as they have a recognized TEFL certificate – for example a CELTA. This is different based on country and school. There are several places in the world that have more lenient requirements but it is important to be wary of these as they may expect you to “perform” rather than teach, and may not provide course books, syllabuses or academic support.
Some schools/institutions require a DELTA or an MA in TEFL/TESOL. These requirements are usually imposed by schools in the Middle East, or by universities or colleges that need teachers. Most language schools will not require a DELTA or MA for a standard teaching position.
Reading descriptions of TEFL teaching can be very misleading. Many people see the words “travel and earn a salary” and get very excited. While being a TEFL teacher can be a great job, it is important to remember that it is not only hard to teach English properly, but it can also be hard to live in another country.
Here are some important points to remember when considering a career in TEFL:
TEFL teachers often work odd days. In other words, TEFL is NOT a 9-5 job. Depending on the country where you are teaching, you may have to work on Saturdays and Sundays, and have days off during the week. Sometimes your days off are not consecutive, so that immediately dashes all hopes of travelling on your time off as you had assumed you could do. Some TEFL teachers don’t even get whole days off, rather they teach a few hours every day and then have 1-2 days where they work all day.
TEFL teachers teach when students sign up for classes – this is usually in the evening. Having said that, there are still a lot of people who do have time during the day to study. So while you are imagining you will be a “day” or “evening” person, the reality is, you will most likely be a day AND evening person. It is not uncommon for TEFL teachers to have an early morning class, time to kill, an afternoon class and then still a little more time to kill before their evening class, which could end anywhere between 21:00-22:00. This could get you home quite late and yet you are still expected to be bright eyed and bushy tailed for your morning class the following day.
Sometimes you have to travel quite a bit to get from client to client, or school to school. If you live in a small city, this may not be an issue. If you live in a very big city, you might spend a significant amount of time on public transport.
Regardless of what anyone has told you, if you work for a decent school, you MUST lesson plan. Lesson planning takes time. Sometimes your school will have a great deal of resources, sometimes they won’t even have a working photocopier. A lot of new teachers are sometimes shocked how long it takes them to plan a decent lesson and find the combination of the classes, the strange hours and lesson planning to be exhausting. Eventually it gets better, but at the start it can be very hard work.
You are not in your own country anymore. There are so many implications here. Some people get homesick. Some people just can’t handle the country they have moved to, as the culture shock overwhelms them. Combined with a new job they thought would be easier and isn’t, many people leave after a few months. While there will be a lot of other people who speak English, you may have to deal with staff in your school who either don’t speak English well, or at all. This can be very frustrating and can also lead to cultural clashes. For a lot of people, that first few months is a series of extremes. Some people enjoy it, some people become stressed and miserable and some people leave.
The most important thing to think about is why you want to teach English and where you want to do it. There are two main types of TEFL teachers – those who take it very seriously and consider it an important job, whether they intend on teaching as a career or even just for one year, and those who think teaching TEFL means being able to talk a lot in Enlgish, tell stories and essentially make it through each class just to get to their extra-curricular activities. We refrain from judging either type of teacher. But one thing to remember: if you are interested in a job in TEFL, you should decide which type of teacher you want to be and find the right place for you. It’s a good idea to either contact the schools you are interested in and ask about what is important to you, or even make a good list of questions in case you are interviewed. The types of questions you ask will not only help you decide if the school is right for you, but will also help the school decide what kind of person you are and if you are right for them.