Whatever your current vocation, whatever your personal history, wherever you might currently find yourself, if you speak English fluently and join the TEFL profession you are only three months away from from a life changing experience where you will be able to travel, save money and get a fresh start. In 2012 it was estimated that there were over 250,000 full time TEFL teachers located around the globe. That number has continued to increase with an estimated 20,000 jobs being posted each month.
Read on as I explore whether you have what it takes to be successful in the TEFL industry and how to become a certified teacher. If you already know that you are going to become a teacher, but would like some extra motivation, you can get my motivational A3 poster by clicking on the download button below.
Should I become a TEFL teacher?
Let’s go on little journey together. I’ll ask you a series of questions, and if you answer “yes” to the majority of them, then you should read on. If not, maybe your time would be better spent watching the new season of Game of Thrones. I heard that someone will die in this one ; )
1) You’ve just arrived in a foreign land and are surrounded by loads of delicious looking food that you’ve never seen before. Does this excite you?
Ok, it’s not just food. This question is to see whether you’re up for new experiences. That is, after all, what travel is all about. Many people embrace this, but I’ve met some people who get homesick very quickly and are upset about the differences in their new country of residence. This is an important thing to consider before investing time and money into becoming a qualified teacher.
2) You are confronted with a new language that you’ll need to at least learn the basics of. Are you up for the challenge?
In all honesty, I’ve known lots of teachers working abroad who spoke little to none of the local language and they got along just fine. A lot of language is simply body language anyways, right? Also, depending on where you live, it’s usually not too difficult to find someone who can speak English to help you out if needed.
Having said that, learning the language is a ticket to learning more about the culture and fitting in. The more of the local language that you get to know, the more rewarding the experience.
3) Do you like to meet new people? Are you comfortable speaking to relative strangers?
You are going to be speaking in front of a room of people you don’t know in a situation where you are meant to lead the conversation. Also, you are going to a new country where you will know few to no other people when you first arrive. Being moderately social and confident are key to making the TEFL lifestyle work for you.
4) Are you a fluent English speaker?
You’ll notice that I didn’t ask whether or not you are a native speaker. While there is still industry bias towards native speakers, there are many successful non-native speakers. In fact, there is a move towards making the TKT (teaching knowledge test) more widely used within the profession. This test checks not just your knowledge of English, but also of teaching methodology. The idea is to level the playing field a bit. If you are a non-native English teacher (or want to be one), check out my post about this. Also, I’d highly advise you to, after taking a TEFL course, take the TKT.
5) Do you like children?
It’s still the fastest growing sector of the TEFL teaching world. While it is possible to only teach adults, it will greatly limit your teaching options and ability to grow in the profession. If you enjoy children, the methodology and self improvement to teach them well will come easily.
6) Do you have, or do you have the ability to save, two to three thousand USD?
Right, so you’ll have to pay for a course, a plane ticket and enough money to survive while you wait for your first paycheck. Depending on where you’re planning to go, you may need more money to get yourself set up. You could always go into credit card debt, but, as someone who got out of credit card debt by working in Korea, I can say that life is much easier without debt. I’d recommend saving up.
There are more questions I could have asked, but if you answered yes to most of the questions above, I think you’re off to a good start.
How do I become a TEFL Teacher?
Remember at the beginning of this post where I said that you were three months away from becoming a TEFL teacher? It’s not an exaggeration. It might take you longer, but it doesn’t have to.
You need to take a TEFL course or equivalent. There are two main options when considering your course. The first option is to do an online TEFL. These courses are cheaper and easier to do because you can do them from anywhere. If you do this, make sure that your TEFL course has a practicum (where you are expected to do a little teaching) or volunteer someplace near to where you are based. This will greatly increase your chance of getting a good teaching gig and will be more valuable than you can imagine when you start teaching.
The other option is to do an on site TEFL, CELTA or certTESOL course. These courses are definitely more intense than their online counterparts and are also considerably more expensive. That said, you will come out of one of these courses confident in your ability to teach. Also, as an employer, I’m usually partial to candidates who have done their courses on site or who have practical teaching experience. I’m sometimes wary of candidates with no experience and only and online TEFL.
For both of these options, the courses last for roughly five weeks.
While you’re finishing your course, you could be looking at job boards and starting to apply for jobs. TEFL is an industry that hires all year long. The industry standard is that you are a fluent English speaker, which you can prove by your place of birth, or by recognized standardized tests (TKT, IELTS, TOEFL, etc.) and that you are TEFL qualified. If you’re not a native speaker, but have lived in an English speaking country for a long time, this is also something that will help you be considered.
There are a few ways about going on this job hunt. One is to choose a country that you want to live in and research the TEFL teaching scene, either applying directly to employers or finding local job listings via social media. Another method, if you don’t know where you want to go, is to look at some international TEFL job boards and see what catches your eye. I recommend TEFL Express’s job board, TEFL.com or Dave’s ESL. You can join a TEFL jobs webinar by clicking on this link.
When you get to this phase of becoming a teacher, check out this post that I wrote a while back to help TEFL teachers nail their TEFL interviews.
Finding the right job and doing interviews is going to take a few weeks. After you find a job, it’s time to tie up loose ends and make the necessary arrangements for your new life. You might not get the chance to see your friends and family for a while, so take this opportunity to spend time with loved ones before you start out on your new adventure.
Alternatively, you could start teaching immediately by taking advantage of apps like Savant, that help match teachers to English learners.
Three months might be a bit tight, but that’s how long it took me. I was talking to a friend who was in the middle of their course and thought it sounded like something I wanted to do. Three months later, I was in Vietnam with a room full of children singing songs and playing games for a living. I’ve stayed in the industry for ten years and don’t regret it in the least. Joining TEFL was the best choice that I’ve ever made.
Oh, and you might want to check out this post for just before you go to your new country. It’s my top tips on first things to do when you arrive in a new country.
If you want to become a teacher, I encourage you to download this poster/desktop background to keep you on focused and on track while you study and save to make this work.