Being short-sighted in the TEFL industry will hurt you in the end. I’ve recently been reading about this phenomenon called impostor syndrome. At its core, it is the feeling that people have when they are in a role, but don’t really feel qualified for it, or that they really are that person; the feeling that they are pretending to be somebody else. Many TEFL teachers have this feeling at first; after all, how could a one month course possibly prepare you to be a teacher like you had growing up? Am I really suddenly Ms. North after a one month online course?
This feeling, and the fact that many TEFL teachers initially only plan on doing TEFL for a short time, lead many teachers to merely try to survive their teaching job class to class. They don’t want to ask for help for fear they may be found out, or they may tell themselves that it’s simply not worth trying to focus on developing as a teacher.
There are many reasons why not planning for a TEFL career is a mistake. So regardless of how long or short a time you plan to be in this industry, I urge you to read on with an open mind. I’ll share a few of the main reasons to take the job seriously and then go into what you should be doing now to develop as a TEFL professional.
This Can Help, or Hurt, Your Future Career
Okay, okay. Perhaps you are merely looking at TEFL as a key to a working holiday for 6 months to a year. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing shameful in admitting that you don’t want to be a TEFL teacher forever. Some of the best teachers I’ve met merely did this for a year before moving on to other successful careers.
The thing is, those “good” teachers still took their jobs seriously, and I know that they have moved on to other successful careers because I have written them letters of reference or been contacted by companies that they planned to work for. The bulk of TEFL teachers are quite young and for many, this is their first real job.
The skills that are learned in teaching TEFL and working in schools, centres or at places of business for corporate clients are largely transferrable to many different industries. Teaching is about communication and empathy; what business sector doesn’t require those skills? Working at a center or a school requires teamwork and coordination. Setting up goals for your students and creating lesson plans that fit a curriculum shows forward thinking. Teaching a class is an exercise in problem solving. The list goes on.
When, or if, you leave the TEFL industry you will leave with references (good or bad) and opportunities to develop useful skills (either taken or squandered). It’s up to you to think what you want from your time as a TEFL teacher. Do you want a series of stories about challenges overcome that you can tell a potential employer during an interview? Do you want to feel more confident working in unfamiliar environments and interacting with people from different walks of life?
You Might Change Your Mind
I did. I planned on teaching for 6 months and have been living and working abroad for over eleven years. On average, TEFL teachers tend to stay in the industry for at least two years. By today’s standards, that is a long time to be in one job.
Also, there is an increasing trend towards TEFL as careers and not just gigs. I am continually shocked by the number of applications I see where the person has done a four year degree in TEFL, and not just gotten the certificate. The industry is growing up, and the need for TEFL professionals, not just people who speak English, has risen dramatically.
Don’t miss out during this exciting time. If you plan ahead and keep focusing on your own professional development and planning a TEFL career, you might be amazed by some of the opportunities that pop up: management, teaching at Universities, developing courses and programs or even starting your own business.
It’s Actually Harder Not to Think of TEFL as a Career
Above, I mentioned imposter syndrome. Is that really how you want to spend your time as a teacher, constantly in fear of somebody discovering that you don’t really know what you’re doing? It really is more enjoyable and even easier to simply take the job seriously and try to improve. You could be in a classroom of unruly adolescents that you don’t know how to control, desperately trying to get them to repeat phrases that you were meant to teach, or you could create a fun and respectful classroom dynamic and feel confident with determining lesson aims and how to achieve them. It’s the difference of surviving a class and enjoying a class that makes you feel fulfilled.
Not only that, but investing yourself into developing as a TEFL teacher will help you learn how to learn. It’s strange, but the longer you are a teacher, the more you start to understand the mechanics behind cognition and learning. Everyone is different, that’s one thing you learn, but you’ll also be able to figure out how you learn. With this knowledge, the sky’s the limit towards what you can achieve as long as you have a growth mindset.
Here’s What You Should Be Doing to Plan for Your TEFL Career
So you’ve decided that you want to take TEFL seriously. Congratulations. Now what? Well the most important thing is the step that you’ve just taken; to try and improve. With that comes the question of how to improve, which then leads to more specific areas such as how to try and improve students’ literacy skills, or how to present complex grammar in an understandable way. These questions, in turn, lead to more questions, but how to answer them?
Firstly, you should read more. There are a wealth of amazing books and online resources specifically for TEFL teachers that run the philosophical gamut of techniques to motivate students to practical books of activities to help develop certain skills. Reading is a great way to get yourself to reflect on your own teaching as well. Whenever I read about teaching, I am always visualizing my own classrooms.
Experimenting is another way to improve. If there is a problem in your classroom, or simply something that you think could do better, try out creative solutions. They don’t always work, but every time you experiment, you improve as a teacher.
Other things that you can be doing are to attend and participate in any professional development offered by your school. Likewise, consider taking on new responsibilities and challenges. I even recommend applying for positions that seem out of reach. Even if you don’t get the position, it will show your employer that you are eager to move up in the company. In an industry that desperately needs passionate senior teachers and trainers, you will not be forgotten.