TEFL is great. Ask anyone who’s taught it. Not many jobs allow you to experience different cultures and change people’s lives.
But you sometimes hear TEFL is just something you do before you get a real job. Can TEFL really be a career?
English is the world’s lingua franca. It’s the language of business, science, technology and transportation. So, as you’d expect, the English learning and teaching industry is huge and sophisticated, now worth around $30 billion US per year, and expected to grow to $50 billion by 2027.
As you’d expect, a large part of this is teaching students, in the classroom and online. But the TEFL world also includes managing schools, developing curriculum, training teachers, and writing, editing and publishing materials. Increasingly, it’s about creating apps and games. And it can also involve consulting institutions and governments on language education and training.
It means countless people have built a successful life-long career in TEFL.
What’s the typical TEFL career path?
There are really two paths: inside and outside the classroom. (Or a mixture of both.)
If you’re passionate about the classroom, there’s no need to leave. TEFL will always need skilled and committed teachers. Schools will offer new opportunities for experienced teachers: taking specialist classes like test preparation or Business English, supervising other teachers (for example, as a Lead Teacher), or managing the entire teaching staff (often called Director of Studies, or DoS).
The alternative is to move into a related field, like materials writing. If you have another skill, like IT or illustration, you can use this to carve out a niche in TEFL publishing and materials development.
What qualifications do I need?
If you want to teach in the long term, you need a recognized TEFL certificate. This not only makes you a more confident and skilled teacher, but it also gives you credibility amongst employers, and may even be a work visa requirement.
After you have several years’ experience, you may consider a higher teaching qualification such as a Cambridge DELTA (Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults). Directors of Studies and teacher trainers usually need to have a DELTA or MA in Applied Linguistics.
For related areas, like editing and consulting, you’ll probably need relevant university qualifications, for example in languages or linguistics.
What skills do I need?
The most important thing for a TEFL career is how you perform as a teacher. The industry is all about word-of-mouth. You need to develop strong classroom skills and an awareness of teaching methodology – why you do what you do.
Almost as critical is your attitude. In such an international environment, you need to show you have the ability to adapt to, and thrive in, a new culture. You’ll need to fit into a group of teachers who may be from many different backgrounds. You’ll need to observe cultural norms, which may involve, for example, showing respect to more senior and experienced staff. You’ll see some teachers get nowhere in their career, simply because they complain a lot, and treat other people badly!
How do I find opportunities?
Find your first teaching position and take it from there. It may be hard to plan a TEFL career in advance from your home country. Most positions are not advertised, so again, your reputation is crucial. You’ll be offered extra responsibilities by your school. You’ll find out about openings from people you know: for example, teachers at other schools will recommend you, and parents might ask you to tutor their children after hours.
Once you’re in a country for some time, have established your skills, and have built good relationships with people, you’ll find numerous opportunities. There’s such demand for good TEFL teachers; you’ll be in a very strong position!
What are the benefits of a TEFL career?
Teaching, of course, is all about interaction. In your TEFL career, you will build meaningful and long-lasting connections with a wide range of people – students of all ages, parents, teachers, and many, many others you meet across the globe.
TEFL is also one of the few careers where you have an authentic reason to live in another culture. You’re not just a visitor – it’s real-life.
The subject matter itself is fascinating. If you love language and how people learn, you’ll never have a boring day in the field of TEFL.
TEFL offers flexibility for people who want it. You can opt for a stable contract with regular teaching hours, or you may choose to work as a freelancer, and decide what to do, who to work for, and when.
TEFL teaching can also be a well-paid career. Where there’s demand, salaries are high, and schools may offer benefits like bonuses for re-signing airfares and accommodation. A lot of schools in China or Japan offer salaries for new teachers that compete with entry-level jobs back home. In developing economies, salaries at schools might be low, but parents are prepared to invest a lot of money in tutoring to help their children get ahead. The key is to gain experience and skills and sell what you have!
Is a TEFL career right for me?
If you love teaching and language and want to change learners’ lives, why not? TEFL needs committed professionals like you!