Beijing, Hanoi, Columbia, Calcutta, Hong Kong; a passport full of stamps and a wallet stuffed with multiple currencies. The profession can sound like the nomadic lifestyle of a secret agent and it is similarly full of mystery and adventure. But, I am not a spy, I am a TEFL Nomad.
We as TEFL teachers do not just travel, we live, we immerse ourselves in local culture and we become, by default, citizens of the world. This occupation is not for the faint-hearted. The life of the TEFL teacher exists miles away from the fume spitting tourist bus (even though you might be on your motorbike right behind one). Get to know locals and be admired for the unusual way you look or the strange things you do until you lose track of what’s odd and what’s not…that’s where the magic begins.
While James Bond may enjoy the perks of a bag-pipe flamethrower, fake fingerprints, and a line of adoring Bond girls, the profession of the TEFL Nomad has its own set of unique perks. Besides the typical teaching perks of longer and more frequent holidays, TEFL Nomads also receive a pay packet that will afford them a fairly high quality of life in the region they are working in.
The perks are fantastic and unique, and they will suit the maverick that lives in us all. But it must not be forgotten that being a TEFL Nomad is also a responsibility. The need for school teachers in the UK has triggered viral teaching advertisements quoting that “If you can’t do, teach.” I disagree, I think that if you can do, teach. Teachers make changes, they mould their students, and when teaching English abroad, you give students a glimpse of what life in the English-speaking world could be.
Do you have the right personality?
Personality plays a huge factor in TEFL teaching. There isn’t one particular formula for what makes a great teacher, but being sociable will help you be a more engaging teacher and make the job more rewarding for you.
This doesn’t mean that a TEFL teacher needs to be the life of the party, but the idea of standing in front of a room of adults (possibly older than you) shouldn’t be a scary proposition. Likewise, it is necessary that a TEFL teacher have the social skills to at least lead a conversation with a private student. A teacher needs to be confident in their speaking if they hope to impart those speaking skills to their students.
Patience and empathy are essential when dealing with a classroom of people who do not speak the same language as you. It’s stressful for a student to be nominated by the teacher and asked to do something that they don’t understand. It is therefore important that a TEFL teacher has the ability to look at things from the student’s perspective.
Adaptability is important for two main reasons. The fact that TEFL teaching usually occurs abroad means that a TEFL teacher needs to adapt to a new culture, food, language, transportation system, etc. (just to name a few). Likewise, teachers are often asked to challenge themselves with different types of students and lessons that they may not have experience with. Successful teachers adapt, those that can’t often break contracts and return home early.
Do you have the right motivations?
There’s no right answer for what should motivate someone to start teaching, and I’ve heard many different ones. For example:
“Where else could I get paid to play with children and toys all day?”
“I met my husband in Spain and I didn’t know the language of the country well enough to get a different job, so I did my TEFL course.”
“I love the feeling at the end of the day when I see how my students’ language skills have grown, it’s like farming.”
“I love to travel and TEFL gives me the chance to get to know the locals.”
There are many charitable opportunities to teach TEFL, but always research the institutions before joining. If you are willing to work for free, on the job training can be provided and in most cases, as well as freeboard and travel expenses to and from work.
Some areas, like regions of China, have a great need for TEFL teachers and offer internships at lower salaries that include on the job training.
Do you have the time and money?
A new TEFL teacher needs to take a TEFL course, buy a plane ticket to a foreign country and set themselves up wherever they land. Current developments in the TEFL industry mean there are cost-effective courses and demos available online.
I pride myself on being pretty frugal when it’s needed but still spent about USD 3,500 setting myself up for my first teaching job. This cost varies drastically depending on which country you choose to start off in and the teaching packages you can find. As a TEFL teacher with eight years of experience, I advise saving USD3,000 to get you through to your first paycheck.
Becoming a TEFL teacher is a good investment because, after finding a job, a TEFL teacher will quickly earn back what they invested. There are lots of jobs available. As long as applicants have the right qualifications, they don’t have a hard time finding a position.
A decent amount of time to block off for your TEFL adventure is a year and a few months. This will allow you to make the initial investment back, gain some invaluable teaching experience and also enjoy the travelling aspect the holidays will afford you. Coincidently, most TEFL contracts last a year.
Do you have the right qualifications?
Many people ask the same question:
“Do I need a TEFL qualification to teach English?”
The answer is ‘no’. A teacher does not need a TEFL qualification to teach English abroad, but not having a certificate will severely limit the countries and schools at which you can work legally. A teacher without a TEFL qualification is likely to find a job where they are paid under the table. This means working illegally in a foreign country at an institution that won’t provide a visa, starting expenses, job security or a decent salary.
The industry offers recent graduates and those looking for a career change with excellent and real opportunities. But do remember, like the job of a secret agent, it’s amazing but not for the faint-hearted.
I love TEFL and am always here to answer any questions you might want to throw my way about whether or not it’s right for you. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You might also want to chat with our TEFL Express jobs expert Alex (email@example.com). We’re here to help!