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Career or Year Out

What do you want from TEFL and how do you make the most of it?

Before you jump into TEFL the most important thing to know is what you're hoping to get out of it.

  • A year out?
  • A chance to experience a culture and learn a language?
  • A better standard of living than back home?
  • A better job market and more options than back home?
  • A long term teaching career?

You might change your mind after 6 months, but knowing what you want going in will make every other decision a lot easier.

If you're not sure what you're looking to get out of it, then the usual good careers advice stands here. Talking to an advisor, someone you respect etc. is nearly always a good idea and will help you narrow down what you're looking to get out of it.

Let's take a look at different reasons for doing TEFL and what you need to be thinking about.

A Year Out

A lot of people want to travel or visit another country. TEFL seems like a reasonably easy way to do this and get paid. Being in a new country is exciting and it doesn't have to be a long term career.

You get holidays to travel the country and its neighbours and you get paid pretty decent money, even at entry level.

That's completely possible with TEFL. Living and working in another country is a completely different experience to just backpacking through, you’ll get bigger opportunities to become involved and get a better understanding of the culture. A lot of schools or companies will offer language lessons as a side benefit and there really is no better way to learn a language than by immersing yourself in it.

How is it viewed by employers?

Especially if you've just graduated, travelling is quite common and in that context TEFL comes across very well to employers. It shows you've broadened your horizons, have the level of maturity and organisation you need to handle yourself in a foreign country and you didn't just go on a six month booze trip across South East Asia.

You still get to travel

In a year you’ll often get about 20 - 30 days of vacation and public holidays (at a private language school) to travel the country and you can head off on weekends as well. Depending on your contract and visa you may also be able to travel for a month or two when you finish rather than heading home immediately.
You’ll meet a bunch of like-minded people and as long as you play it smart and ask a lot of questions you’ll have a great time.

Although entry level positions will often take a native speaker with only a degree to their name, you do need to remember this is a job as well as a year out. If you don't enjoy teaching and have no interest in it, then you might want to consider another way of supporting yourself while you travel.

Some things to bear in mind

  • Just because someone hires you doesn't mean you can teach. Read about it, study up on it. It might not be a long term career, but a job is more fun if you’re good at it.
  • Ask a lot of questions, especially before you sign up to anything. Read everything in this knowledge base. Go read some blogs and forums. Get as many details as possible then ask questions about them.

The gap year is turning into a career

It starts off as a year out. You really enjoyed TEFL, you did it for a couple years and now you're in your comfort zone. It has a decent wage and a fun lifestyle, but it has been a year or two and you have to begin to think about your career.

The graduate world is still open

A lot of people take a gap year. You even worked on yours which is better than a lot of people. Especially in the early twenties gap years are completely acceptable and if you want to quit now and head back home the graduate world is wide open.

But suppose you want to carry on. Time to start learning. Hopefully you’ve been doing it anyway, but now you need to be actively thinking about it and working at it. Most TEFL positions don't have much traditional career progression so it’s pretty much up to you.

Start driving your own career

Start looking for progression opportunities. Ask around, join teacher organisations (TESOL, IATEFL, TEFL heavy countries will often have their own etc.), talk with like-minded people. Just as with any industry, who you know is just as important as your qualifications.

If you haven’t got a TEFL certificate perhaps it's time to think of doing a CELTA or Cert.TESOL, maybe even get a DELTA or other qualifications further up the road. If you want to stay in the industry but want a change from teaching, there are a lot of ways to progress from TEFL; management in a language company, teacher training, the academic/university route, writing course materials, moving into the examinations industry (TOEIC, IELTS etc.) even starting your own teaching business.

Perhaps you like teaching but would prefer to teach something other than English, in which case it might be time to think about getting a standard teaching qualification.

The most of this is pretty obvious, the real thing we hope you take away from this is that you need to do something to grow your career, because others won’t do it for you. It's far too easy in TEFL to keep doing what you're doing and realise in 3 years time you haven't gone anywhere.

Summary: There’s no set TEFL progression route, there aren't monthly reviews and career meetings to climb the ladder, start looking for every opportunity and chance to learn and network.

Looking for a better place than home

Things aren't great at home. Maybe the job market is bad, perhaps your current job doesn't pay enough, for one reason or another you’re considering TEFL.

This is definitely the hardest category to make a decision.

First take a look at the average entry level position for the country you’re aiming at. Assume you’ll be at this level for at least a year or two without much change in your salary or benefits. (This is assuming you'd be moving out of a career not related to teaching.)

Compare it to your current position and try to work out what difference it will make to your financial situation.

Make a budget and a plan

Don’t get caught up with the greener grass, budget yourself (checkout the money section), make a concrete plan and try and decide it it’s worth switching out.

TEFL in the middle of a career isn’t viewed with same “gap year” attitude that it is at the beginning of a career. Assume that the first 1-2 years of TEFL won’t help your career opportunities at all back home. After that it might begin to show, but again only if you’re applying yourself constantly and trying to progress. Go back and read the previous section. Everything written about career progression there applies here.

Have you got any other experience than might be useful?

One route that may be worth considering is whether or not you have knowledge of areas that might combine well with teaching English.

For example, Saudi Arabia often recruits English for Specific Purposes (ESP) teachers and looks for additional skill sets to be combined with English. That could be several years business experience, oil and gas knowledge, or time spent in nursing to help teach specific English to students. It's these sorts of things that might make the transition to TEFL more valuable, either immediately or a year down the line.

A long term teaching career

If you’re committed to teaching as a long term career, then getting officially qualified as a teacher in your home country is probably the best decision you can make.

This will open up international schools, IB schools and so forth. They offer better starting positions than standard TEFL jobs, whether you’re teaching English or not.

You’ll still get the travel, but the pay, holiday and working conditions will be better.

This having been said if you have a very specific goal, say becoming a tenured English professor in Japan, then you need to look up people already doing it and find out the sorts of qualifications needed.

For example, to become a tenured English professor in Japan you'll need excellent Japanese, experience teaching in Japan, a Masters as well as publications in TEFL journals.

If you have a specific goal then talk to people doing it and find out exactly what you need.

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