Whether you are currently working within the profession, or still considering it, you’re likely to hear a lot of misinformation about what TEFL is and what you will be required to do. It can be difficult to sort through what is fact and what is fiction in an industry so broadly international. To start, let me say that doing specific research is key. As someone who has worked in a number of countries on different continents, I can definitely vouch for the fact that what is true in one country, may not be true in another.
The myths that I’ve chosen to look at in this post are ones that pertain to the industry as a whole. So in this episode of Mythbusters…I mean this post of TEFL Tales, I’ll be looking at some common myths and labeling them as: true, mostly true, partially true, mostly untrue or false. If you disagree with me, or would like to add one of your own, please write into the comments section of the blog. I’d love to hear from you.
If I Can Speak English, I Can Teach It
Ok, yes, you need to know how to speak English to teach it. That is important. However, knowing how to speak the language isn’t enough to teach it. Let me give you an example, you can drink water, right (big assumption, but otherwise I suspect you wouldn’t be reading this)? The thing is, while you have the ability to drink water, you probably don’t really understand all of the muscles involved in swallowing or the complex process of what your body does with this liquid. You probably don’t understand how your brain sends signals to make you thirsty, or how your tongue has the ability to taste this water. So you can speak English, but do you know how this works?
To be a TEFL teacher, you need to think about language differently. You need to be able to break it apart into skills, lexical resources, grammatical functions and be able to detect errors in others. Also, you need to know some core methodology for teaching these things to students and getting them to use them. This is where a TEFL certificate or equivalent course comes in.
It Sounds Too Good to Be True, So it Probably Is
It is difficult to estimate exactly how many TEFL teachers there are out there, but the figures go above 250,000. That, and most TEFL teachers only teach for one to two years before heading home and joining a different profession. The British Council predicts that there will be over 1.9 billion learners of English by 2020. All of this is to say that TEFL is a very real industry. It is not made up. There is a great need for TEFL teachers all over the world.
This also means that companies will in fact pay qualified TEFL teachers a good deal of money to travel to that country to teach. Also, the average number of teaching hours is around twenty five per week, which even with substantial prep, leaves a large amount of free time to explore and pursue other interests.
I Can Backpack and Teach
Though there are exceptions, most companies want you to sign a six month contract as a minimum. The industry standard is one year contracts. There are usually substantial holidays offered throughout these contracts, which will allow you to travel, but it does mean committing to one city for a length of time.
Yes, I suppose you could just keep breaking contracts and moving on, but this will catch up with you in the end as you’ll have no references at the end of this period. Also, it is really bad for the schools and ultimately the students’ learning. So please, don’t be that person who signs a contract without the intention of completing it.
There Are a Lot of Companies Out There That Take Advantage of TEFL Teachers
I’ve never personally worked for a dodgy English school, but I do know that they are out there. I’ve heard the stories about schools not being able to pay their teachers some months or schools that overwork their teachers. So, while I haven’t encountered one, I can’t rule out that they exist.
One reason that I’ve never encountered one is that I always research the school before accepting an offer. You can tell a lot about a company by their website and by what other teachers say about them online. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that just because one bitter employee rants about a company doesn’t mean that it’s a horrible place to work, but if lots of people have negative things to say…let’s just say it should be a red flag.
Other methods of research that I do are to ask the school if I can talk to a teacher who is currently working there (they should say yes to this). Also, I will ask a lot of questions during the interview to get a picture of what it would be like to work there.
If you’d like a list of “red flags” that a school might not be legitimate, you can gain access to the resource by clicking on the button below.
Red Flags When Considering a New School
The School Will Take Care of My Visa For Me
Most schools can appreciate that visas are a scary and complicated process in some countries and will offer visa assistance. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t your responsibility to keep track of expiry dates or make sure that things are in process. Make sure to ask about this when you are interviewing for a job in a new country. This is one issue that is extremely country specific for both your home country and the country where you’d like to work.
I Don’t Want to Teach Kids, and I Won’t Have To
This myth is becoming increasingly false year by year, as the young learner sector is growing much faster than teens and adults. True, there are positions available, and even whole companies, that focus on teaching adults and corporate clients, but this isn’t the norm. It is likely that your TEFL job will require you to teach many different age levels, and employers prioritize applicants who have young learner experience.
Teaching young learners isn’t as scary as you may think. In fact, it’s usually a lot more fun and even rewarding than teaching adults. I could spend a long time dispelling myths about teaching young learners, but that’s another post entirely.
Teachers Are Respected All Over the World
In most cultures, teachers are highly valued and respected. You may find that the level of respect that another culture has for you as a teacher is considerably more than it would be in your home country. The simple fact of the matter is that if you are a skilled and qualified TEFL teacher that works hard for your students, you will be loved.