TEFL often gets a bad rap. Back home, when friends or family ask “So, what are you doing now?”, the answer “I teach English abroad” can be met with the kind of look that says “Oh that’s interesting, but it’s not a real job, is it?”. TEFL is “not real teaching” and it comes with the assumption that after you’ve finished with it, you will “come home” and start thinking about a “proper” career.
TEFL and travelling
The perception described above probably has to do with the transitory nature of TEFL and its association with “travelling”. It is absolutely true that for many of us, TEFL is a temporary thing, a means to an end, a way to make money while travelling and seeing the world. And that’s fine of course. But it can mean that teachers don’t take their TEFL jobs as seriously as they would take other jobs, where they are hoping to progress and be promoted. There can be a throwaway attitude towards the jobs: “I’m only staying for a year so I won’t bother”, or “If I get fired, it doesn’t matter, I’ll just move on to the next job” (such is the demand for TEFL teachers around the world).
All of this seems to filter down somehow to “people back home”. Even those who know little about what goes on in the TEFL world somehow know that it’s temporary and, in their eyes at least, not a real job. And that leads us to the first question. For those of us who do see it as a more long term option, is it possible to make a career out of TEFL? And can we do things with TEFL that people back home might accept as a “real job” as well?!
Can you make a career out of TEFL?
The short answer is yes. There are a number of ways that TEFL can be a long term career choice. Here are 6 ways to make it happen:
Carry on teaching
Why not? For many teachers, being at the forefront, in the classroom in front of a group of students, is what it’s all about. Why leave the classroom? If you enjoy teaching enough to stay with it for more than a couple of years, then the chances are that you’re taking every aspect of it seriously – the time and effort you put into preparing and delivering your classes, your relationship with your employer, your own professional development, and so on. So you can carry on teaching, safe in the knowledge that you do have a real job, and, provided you’re taking it seriously, a demanding, worthwhile and rewarding one at that.
Become a senior teacher or Academic Coordinator
One of the natural ways up the TEFL career ladder is to take on a more senior teaching or management role. Many language schools and institutes have senior teacher positions, or positions such as Young Learner Coordinator or Business English coordinator. These can involve anything from helping and advising other teachers, to planning and running TEFL development workshops, to getting involved in the administration and management of a particular type of class, such as Young Learners.
Become a Director of Studies
Moving on up in TEFL career progression, most language schools also have a Director of Studies. This is more of a management role, often involving some or all of the following:
- Planning and developing the curriculum and individual courses
- Coordinating teaching schedules
- Running teacher development workshops
- Observing and advising teachers
- Recruiting new teachers
- Meeting and dealing with clients
- Liaising with the Sales team and school management
Director of Studies (DoS) roles are very demanding and require wearing many different hats. You are normally the common link between teachers, school management, sales staff and administrative staff, and managing the often conflicting needs and expectations of everyone is part of the job.
Senior teacher, Coordinator and DoS roles often require further training (more on that later), although it’s not always a prerequisite. Sometimes, working hard to show your value, skills and qualities, and then being in the right place at the right time, can be all that is needed to get that TEFL promotion. I started a Director of Studies role at a language school in Morocco after working as a teacher there for just a year. The current DoS was leaving, and the school found it easier to recruit in-house for the role. I was just in the right place at the right time, and that opened the door to other similar roles.
Open your own language school
I have known a number of teachers over the years who have started their own school. This has usually been because they love the place they are teaching so much and can’t imagine leaving, but want the autonomy of having their own business. Opening your own school doesn’t have to involve renting a large space and recruiting admin and sales staff and teachers (although it could, and I have seen this work too). It could be as simple as setting yourself up as a one-person business and doing all of these roles yourself. Your business premises could be your own home, or you could teach on clients’ premises. Or you could do something in between. One teacher I knew in France set up her own school, but kept it small scale. She rented out two rooms in the centre of town, took care of all the sales and admin and a portion of the teaching, and hired freelance TEFL teachers to cover whatever teaching she could not.
Become a TEFL teacher trainer
If you’re passionate about teaching and have the enthusiasm and energy to pass on your knowledge and skills to those just starting out, then teacher training could be a good way to make a more long term career out of TEFL. For TEFL teacher training roles you will need to have some additional training, with an advanced qualification such as the Delta or Trinity DipTESOL (again, more on these later).
Not many TEFL teacher training positions are widely advertised, and that may be because most people who land one of these roles don’t give them up easily! But, once you’re suitably qualified, you may find that opportunities to move your career into TEFL teacher training arise at the language school where you’re working. This might mean that you have to look at getting a teaching job in a centre that runs teacher training courses in the first place. You might then be able to help out part-time on their CELTA or other TEFL course, and progress from there.
Get involved in ELT publishing
All those coursebooks, and books full of teaching ideas and supplementary materials that you use when teaching need writing in the first place, and then selling! You could work for an English Language Teaching (ELT) publisher either writing and developing materials, or as a sales rep, travelling around language schools to promote and sell them. ELT publishers love to work with teachers with a lot of experience of working in TEFL in different countries, so you can bring your experience and knowledge to their publications.
Can I get additional training or an advanced TEFL qualification to help my career?
When we talked about TEFL career moves into teacher training and academic management (Academic Coordinator and Director of Studies) roles, I mentioned additional training and qualifications. While not always necessary, a more advanced TEFL qualification will certainly help, and without one you will rule yourself out of many opportunities. If you’re thinking about TEFL as a career, you may find that you want to take a further qualification anyway, regardless of what your career ideas may be, simply to further your teaching skills and knowledge and apply these to teaching or other career goals. So what advanced level TEFL certifications can you take?
Delta (Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults) is run by Cambridge English, the same organisation who run the CELTA. It is aimed at qualified teachers with at least two years of professional experience. You will essentially take everything you learnt on an initial TEFL course (teaching theory and methodology, skills and techniques) to the next level, looking at every aspect of teaching in depth. Delta is a sought-after qualification if you are looking to get into teacher training or academic management.
You can find a Delta course here.
The Trinity Diploma in TESOL is similar to the Delta in taking your skills and knowledge to a much more advanced level. It is run by Trinity College London, the same organisation who offer the popular entry level qualification, Trinity CertTESOL.
You can find a Trinity DipTESOL course here.
Certificates in Teaching Business English and Teaching Young Learners
If you’d like to advance your TEFL career by specialising in one area, then a course in Teaching Business English or Young Learners could be a smart choice. Many TEFL course providers offer these types of course, which can last anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of weeks. One of these certificates can pave the way more easily into senior teacher and coordinator positions, as well as, perhaps, to opening a school specialising in one of these areas.
What is a normal TEFL career progression?
TEFL career progression isn’t always as linear as some other careers. That’s partly because teachers often have two or more roles at the same time. For example, it’s quite common for someone to spend half their time teacher training, and the other half teaching, or to work as a Coordinator for one school while teaching at another. You can jump steps, and go back and forth between different steps. I went from being a teacher, to a Director of Studies, back to being a teacher again, then a Director of Studies, then a teacher trainer, then a combination of teaching and teacher training. This is what has suited me and my circumstances at each point of my TEFL career, and the TEFL industry is great at giving you the flexibility to do that. Returning to teaching after being a Director of Studies, for example, is not necessarily seen as a step backwards, as a similar move in many other careers would be.
With this in mind, here are some of the steps in a TEFL career.
Teach in private language schools.
Expand your teaching
Branch out into freelance teaching, or work for universities, or as a language assistant in local state schools.
Senior Teacher / YL or Business English Coordinator
Take on a junior management and coordinating role, maybe specialising in Young Learners or Business English.
Diploma level qualification
Take a course such as Delta or Trinity DipTESOL in preparation for more senior academic management or teacher training roles.
Director of Studies
Manage the academic side of a language school, recruiting, managing, developing and advising teachers, dealing with clients, coordinating schedules and developing training courses.
Become a trainer on a TEFL course, passing on your knowledge to those just starting out.
Start a language school (large or small), work in a related field,
work in TEFL back home (more on this below).
What are my job prospects after TEFL?
In this article we’ve been talking about how to make TEFL a career, but there may still come a time when you’re ready to move on to something new, maybe back in your home country. But come “home” after 10, 15, maybe 20 years of teaching and living abroad, and you may be thinking “What can I do after TEFL”? Maybe you studied accounting or biology 20 years ago and are thinking that it’s too long ago for any knowledge you’ve retained to be relevant. So, job prospects after getting out of TEFL may not at first seem all that good.
But, think about all that international experience you’ve built up from your time living abroad, your sensitivity to and knowledge of other cultures, your knowledge of the TEFL industry, not to mention the transferable skills that come from your teaching experience: active listening, instructing, learning strategies, effective communication, time management, problem solving, to name but a few.
These skills are transferable to a range of jobs and industries – there is life after TEFL! But why not apply them in a field related to TEFL? Here are a few ideas:
Work for a travel-related or study abroad company
There are many organisations involved in bringing students to native-English speaking countries such as the UK and USA, for study abroad trips (here’s one list of study abroad agencies). You could get involved in the organisational side of this, or advising students, organising homestay accommodation, and so on.
Work with immigrants
You can put your TEFL training and experience to good use working in the field of immigration. Local and central government agencies and NGOs need people to advise immigrants on resettlement and jobs. Maybe you learnt a language while living abroad that could be very useful in this kind of role.
Get into TEFL recruitment
You could start a TEFL recruitment agency, using your experience to find teachers for language schools around the world.
Keep working in TEFL in your home country
“Coming home” doesn’t necessarily mean an end to working directly in TEFL either. Some of the bigger TEFL course providers often have different roles that they recruit for, such as in customer service or marketing and communications. If you’re Delta or Trinity DipTESOL qualified, there are sometimes teacher training roles available in your home country too. Or, keep on teaching! Set yourself up as a part time freelance teacher wherever you’re based, and work it around whatever other projects or jobs you have.
For many people, Teaching English as a Foreign Language is a temporary job, but it doesn’t have to be. As we’ve seen, there are a number of different ways you can make TEFL, or work in TEFL-related fields, a career, either at home or abroad. Keep teaching, get an additional qualification and get into management or training, open a school, work in the travel industry or use all those transferable skills for something new. And what about those family members who say “When are going to get a proper job?” Well, you have a proper job, and if you love what you do, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be your proper job for many years!