There’s no ordinary TEFL lifestyle. In fact, sometimes comparing TEFL teachers lives’ is like comparing apples to oranges. Yes, at the base of all TEFL lifestyles one thing rests in common: we all teach English to speakers of other languages. That’s the groundwork of the TEFL lifestyle, but it’s more complicated than that. Let’s dive into some of the other areas that lead to our overall lifestyles.
Where In The World Are You TEFL-ing?
Location is a huge factor in the TEFL lifestyle. Your lifestyle adapts wherever you are. For example, if you’re in a hot and tropical climate, the likelihood of going on a Rainforest hike on your days off is probably pretty high. Meanwhile, if you’re teaching TEFL in Russia, your lifestyle isn’t going to bode well for those rainforests hikes.
Another thing that varies location to location is your school schedule. In some areas of the world, there is school all year round with small breaks every 3-4 months. While other places will have a 10 month school year with 2-3 months off during the summer. For example, in Japan, the academic year begins in April and goes through July. Then, students have a break in July and August and school resumes mid-September through December. They then have another break from January through March. So it’s important to note that if you require a certain schedule, do your research in advance so you know before applying to institutions in these countries.
Another aspect of location is your actual hours per day of teaching. For the most part, you can expect to teach Monday through Friday from about 8 AM until 3 or 4 PM. This is pretty standard worldwide but differs in certain locations around the world.
What Do TEFL Teachers Do Over Their Long Breaks?
Now…the fun part about the TEFL lifestyle. Break! This is the ultimate time of a TEFL teacher’s life. A few weeks, maybe a few months off…the adventure opportunities are endless!
It’s totally up to you what you want to do over your breaks. Many TEFL teachers opt to travel around the country they are currently in, or other countries nearby. If you’re teaching in Europe, your vacation can be spent traveling all throughout the continent. Europe is one of the easiest places to maneuver if you get yourself a bus pass and a good backpack! When living in France, I was able to see so much of Europe during my time off. It was an incredible experience that I can only owe to my TEFL lifestyle. In my opinion, the more you are able to travel and see new things, the more you are able to comprehend about our world and everyone living in it.
And For Those of Us Who Choose an Alternate TEFL Teaching Path…
Everything that I have spoken about up until this point really refers to if you are teaching in a public or a private institution, meanwhile there are some TEFL teachers, especially those who are just starting out, who teach as private tutors. In this case, they make their schedule according to what works for them and their specific students. These TEFL teachers may have full work days on the weekend (when students are off from normal school), they also may have very different and/or no month-long breaks. Private TEFL tutors may teach late into the evening and be off all day. There is, quite literally, no set lifestyle for these people.
In fact, sometimes TEFL teachers who are working as private tutors will live with a family whom they are teaching English to. This “homestay” situation occurs for many new TEFL teachers, they offer their teaching services in return for room and board. This is a nice way to integrate into a new country.
As you can now see, there are so many different “TEFL lifestyles”. It’s hard to narrow it down to a simple schedule.
The Mindset of the TEFL Lifestyle
Now that we’ve gotten most of the technical stuff sorted, I wanted to talk about what the mindset of a TEFL teacher must be, especially when first adapting to this new lifestyle. Because let’s face it, it isn’t the most ordinary lifestyle.
Flexibility, open-mindedness and adaptability are absolutely crucial for this lifestyle. If you haven’t honed that skill set and you’re thinking about becoming a TEFL teacher, I highly suggest it. Having those three qualities under your belt is just as important as having your TEFL certificate. Without these, you will fail in this endeavor. Not to be harsh, I just want you to know how absolutely important they are to possess. “Why”, you ask? Here’s the answer…
- Flexibility: And we’re not talking about doing the splits at any given second! Here, we’re talking about flexibility of the mind. It’s kind of rare when things go as planned in the TEFL world. Usually, it’s quite the opposite. It goes like this: You plan a lesson for 14 students and 3 show up. The next day, you plan a lesson for 5 students and 15 show up. And you must make it work anyway! TEFL teachers are some of the best improv artists in the world. (Sometimes, I think I should write that skill on my resume!) We’ve got plenty of tricks in our bag in order to make a class successful. Us TEFL teachers also have to be flexible with other things in our everyday life, too. Many popular countries to TEFL in, are still developing. This is something many of us TEFL teachers are not used to, coming from our native countries like the USA, Canada and the UK. I have found out from personal experience that electricity and transportation are two things that can become quite unreliable. On a hot day in Vietnam, it’s not uncommon that there will be a city-wide black-out. I have also been waiting for a bus for 30 minutes past the time it’s supposed to pick me up. It’s during these times that you have to just realize, there’s nothing you can do about it! You wait it out, and eventually..things work out.
- Open-mindedness: Have an open mind about everything! This includes stereotypes of different people, food, climate, housing, transportation, schooling, the list can go on and on! Basically, that’s the point. Without an open mind, you will go crazy and find yourself unhappy in your new lifestyle. Plus, being open-minded is good for the world! If you possess this characteristic, your students will be able to tell and they will learn, not only English from you, but also compassion and understanding. You will be tested many times with this, when you are, try to just bring yourself back to the moment and ask yourself: “Am I being open-minded?” More often than not, by doing this, you will take a step back and do the right thing. I remember living in Costa Rica and being a vegetarian. At the time, I was living with a host family and my host mother cooked a beautiful meal. The meal included chicken, which by terms of a Costa Rican family, isn’t meat apparently. At first, I was upset by the instance, but after taking a breath and thinking about it, I realized it was an opportunity for growth. Just taste it. You’re living in a new place. So, I did. And the world spun on and everything was fine…
- Adaptability: This is kind of a combination of being flexible and open-minded. Being able to adapt to your new environment will give you a huge advantage as a TEFL teacher. Being able to adapt doesn’t mean that you have to forget and neglect everything you were before becoming a TEFL teacher. In fact, its the opposite. Bring who you are with you whole-heartedly. Be able to show who you are and where you’re from to your students, teach them about your culture, but at the same time, accept their ways of being. By being able to accept and adapt while not losing who you truly are, you’re teaching your students what it’s like to be a really wonderful person of the world.
That’s what I think the TEFL lifestyle is like and how to optimize it to live happily and adventurously. Those qualities are what have made the TEFL life a whole lot easier and more fun for me. Honestly, this lifestyle has offered me so much fun over the years, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I hope that this gives you a little glimpse into this fast-moving and exciting lifestyle.
Maybe this lifestyle is just the one you’re looking for… 🙂