The reason that many of us become TEFL teachers is so that we can travel the world and not get bogged down in a nine to five office job where the bulk of our interactions are about spreadsheets and new product lines. I might be over-generalizing, but the majority of teachers that I’ve known are focused on creating a good work-life balance. Being a TEFL teacher is fun, but it can be tiring and people can, and do, get burnt out.
Also, while TEFL teachers aren’t generally the most money hungry group of people in the world, the importance of saving should not be overlooked. At the very least, a teacher’s goal should be to save enough that they can start out in their next walk of life with some stability.
TEFL teaching isn’t a holiday, but there’s no need to make it consume your life completely. Read on for some of my tips on how to balance your life as a TEFL teacher.
Or, if you’d like some advice on productivity apps that have helped me stay organized as a teacher, you can get access to my recommendations by clicking on the button below.
How Many Hours is Too Many Hours?
The answer to this is a personal one. Through the course of my own teaching career, I’ve had jobs where I was teaching around forty hours a week (yes, forty contact hours), and some jobs where I taught less than sixteen hours (yes, this was still considered full-time). I know some teachers who have full-time daytime teaching jobs and still supplement these classes by teaching in the evening. I know some teachers who only teach ten hours a week, but claim that this is stressful for them as they spend too much time planning.
For me, the magic number of teaching hours is between twenty and twenty-five. Below that, and I probably am not saving enough money. Above that, and I start to get a bit tired out and don’t spend as much time preparing my lessons as I should. Of course, there are a lot of variables in this equation that you need to personally consider.
If you are teaching a lot of classes that are a similar age group and level, then preparing for them is considerably easier. If you are teaching only one class each day, but are expected to teach every day, then this might begin to feel like too much. Also, experience comes into play here. After you’ve been teaching for some time, planning classes take a lot less time, so upping your number of hours doesn’t affect you as much.
Hacks to Make Your Schedule More Manageable
The first bit of advice that I have is to be reasonable with your manager concerning your schedule. This is a business, and these classes need to run. This necessitates a bit of give and take between your desired schedule and the schedule you actually get.
If you do a few favors for management (cover classes, take on a difficult class or two, etc.), you will find that they are much more obliged to grant your requests for time off, or certain schedule requests. Keep this in mind when trying to build your ideal schedule.
Hack #1 One thing to avoid, if possible, is teaching only one class per visit to the school. Let’s face it, it almost takes as long to commute to the school, get out materials and brew that necessary cup of coffee as it does to actually teach one class.
Hack #2 Don’t be afraid of a few busy days. It isn’t uncommon to teach eight hours a day on the weekends if you are teaching at a language center. However, that’s already twelve hours of your teaching week finished. The key is to be prepared so that the only energy you need to expel on those days is in the classroom.
Hack #3 Try to get a number of classes that are similar age groups and levels. This will cut your planning time considerably as you’ll be able to use some of the same games and activities for both groups. Also, you’ll be more in touch with those classes and they will be easier to teach.
Hack #4 Limit the number of split shifts that you have to do. Granted, having a few days where you teach in the morning then teach in the afternoon is normal. The problem is that it feels, rightfully, like you are working ALL day. The time you have off in the middle of the day is often a write-off because you are worried about the afternoon classes. After work you don’t feel like going out because you work early in the morning. Avoid these when possible.
Managing Your Finances
One of the strangest things about being a TEFL teacher is how much your financial status will change depending on the country you are living and teaching in. In some countries you might get paid considerably more than others, however, the cost of living may be so high that you will feel poor. Conversely, working in a country with a low-cost of living, but where the pay is lower may make you feel rich…at least until you leave.
Managing your finances as a TEFL teacher doesn’t need to be that complicated, though there are a few essential things to consider. The first of these is “what next”. It seems like a contradiction to think about your next move shortly after arriving in a country, but you’ll be glad that you did. Figure out how much money you will need to either return home, get settled in a new job or become a backpacker for a few months. It helps that many TEFL jobs offer contract completion bonuses on top of your final paycheck– this will make this calculation pretty easy to deal with.
The next thing to consider are your travel goals throughout the year. The last thing you want is to come to your next big holiday without any money to do anything. I’ve suffered from this before due to lack of financial planning, and it was pretty depressing to watch many of my friends going on cool trips while I was stuck reading books in my house for a week (albeit on a really nice and expensive rocking chair that I’d purchased). Saving a bit of your paycheck every month for these trips will be much easier than waiting until the last-minute.
Now that you’ve figured out those essentials, your finances as a TEFL teacher are pretty simple. Find out how much you need to spend on rent and other essentials. Then, decide where to spend the rest (or save). One bit of advice here: try to change your habits to fit the country where you are living. Trying to live the same lifestyle you did in your home country is needlessly expensive and will likely take away from, not add to, your experience teaching abroad.
Good luck trying to find your own work-life balance as a TEFL teacher. I think that you’ll find it easier than in many other situations. If you’d like some advice on productivity apps that have helped me stay organized as a teacher, you can get access to my recommendations by clicking on the button below.