Teaching English abroad has become a way for cash-strapped graduates and veteran adventure-seekers alike to fund their way around the world.
Indeed, the job comes in attractive packaging: easy, quick training, a booming market, endless opportunities, exotic locations, liveable wages – in these tough economic times, teaching English has become the go-to career. Yet despite it’s one-size-fits-all appearance, teaching English is not for everyone.
Before you embark on a yearlong quest in Thailand dreaming of elephants and hugging small children, there are some things to take into consideration about the pros and cons of a TEFL career.
Easy training: Though out of pocket, the cost of a CELTA or TEFL course can seem intimidating, that one certification can carry you all over the world, and you’ll make it back within a few months. An investment worth its weight for those who want it, these courses are short, easy to take regardless of location and widely respected.
Easy networking: Teaching English in other countries often links you with other English teachers. It is an easy community to fall into, as immediately you all have so much in common. Travel can be a lonely business, and it is nice to have many others with the same profession to give you a broad common ground for company.
Endless opportunities: Everyone wants to learn English. We are lucky in that our language is valuable global currency, and we have been born with a set of skills that is marketable the world over.
Schedules: You work on school schedules and so you get school vacations, including a blissful three months to take your hard earned cashed during the summer and do whatever you like. For those not ready for the long, hard climb up the career ladder, those still figuring things out and those with a severe case of wanderlust, this is more than a perk. Its an opportunity to earn money and explore, within the healthy length of a year.
Limited Career Development: Unless you want to be an English teacher, the buck stops here. English teaching can offer soft transferable skills like public speaking, organizational skills and teamwork, but with so many others doing the same job, and the job being as specific as it is, it can be a hard sell when applying to other jobs. It is becoming less and less common for companies to look on over 2 years spent teaching English abroad favorably. Most schools hire on a temporary basis, with yearlong contracts, and there’s little, if any, room for advancement, so even within the career itself, it starts at an acceptable level but doesn’t move much from there.
Integrating yourself is difficult: English teachers stick out like sore thumbs in the countries in which they work. They tend to stick together, travel together, speak English together and because you spend the majority of your day speaking English, you end up soaking up very little of the local culture. It is a way to travel around a country, but ironically, often prevents you immersing yourself fully in it.
Low Wages: Despite all the ads that claim you travel all around the world, buying pina coladas and staying in pristine, hammock-lined beaches, the truth is teaching English offers you enough to live on, but doesn’t allow much for huge savings. It is easy to live and travel on an English-teacher’s wage, if you live and travel budget, but if you’re looking for real financial security, you should look elsewhere.
Few Checks and Balances: Because the market is so saturated and because often, teachers come to countries eager to work and with little clue of local customs or language, English teachers are easily and often fleeced into more working hours, less pay or dubious contracts. Go on your guard, and if you can, have a native speaker to check everything over for you.
Another thing to consider is the work itself; this can be either a pro or a con, depending on your personality. It is a highly social, active job. If you like people and need to expend a lot of energy during a day, if you enjoy talking and sharing and being around others, teaching English can feel less like a job and more like you’re being paid to be friendly. The job can also become a bit repetitive; you will have to go over the same vocabulary, answer the same questions and you won’t be engaged in deep personal conversation. So if you prefer something stable, quiet, introspective or intellectually challenging and don’t enjoy the merry chaos of a life spent high on activity and low on money, this is not for you. Although you may like travel, from 9-5, 5 days out of the week (and sometimes more), you will be at this job, and you will not be paid much for it, so you should at the very least like it, if not love it.
It’s great to see articles outlining the pros and cons of teaching English and every potential teacher should consider these carefully, especially if they’re career-minded as you point out.
However while many are, not all teaching jobs are tied so closely to the school calendar – especially in private language schools. In fact, last summer I worked more hours than usual due to extra summer school classes on top of my usual classes. Friends elsewhere don’t work in the summer but often take camp jobs so they can keep earning.
Secondly, teaching English can be lucrative in some countries or sectors. Due to the low cost of living, I saved more money in Vietnam than I’d be able to save in the UK while still living a very comfortable lifestyle. I know other teachers who’ve paid off student loans or saved for a masters from their teaching salary.
I taught private English classes while living in Argentina and was paid very little for my efforts. If you’re paid a fair amount and have steady classes, it can be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience. Unfortunately, mine was not. But since I have a TEFL certificate, I’m going to try again! Also, in Argentina, if you’re a native English speaker, people say you don’t really need a TEFL certificate to teach, but it definitely helps with lesson planning and structure.
Great points! The one about trouble integrating is definitely spot-on. I actually just wrote a post about teaching English abroad on my blog. I’m finished two years of teaching in Taiwan this week, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to travel and has an interest in teaching. While our schedules don’t revolve around a typical calendar (they are year-long), teachers do make a good about of money here and it’s very easy to save. I was a little worried about the career development for a while, but not so much anymore. I’ve known many people to make teaching English look very good on their resume-I think it all depends what skills you want to gain from it and how you can portray them to a future employer 🙂
This articles is so good it help me somehow in my research about teaching overseas ,but I would like to have more articles about the pros and cons of being teacher English abroad .
Thank you !
Thank you so much for these great insights.
I have been teaching English online at Mainichieikaiwa (http://www.mainichieikaiwa.jp) for 8 months.
I am thinking of going to Korea, japan, or China to teach English face-to-face in classrooms.
This article really gives me a lot of insights for my preparation.
Thank you for your pros and cons about teaching abroad. I’ve been in education for many years and have had a long, very long sabbatical. With that comes with age. I’d like to re-start teaching what I love and is interested in taking the CELTA program in Torrance, Ca.
Do you find many young at heart teacher’s over 50 and room in this field to obtain steady work? I’m familiar with,and have an adopted family in France. I also have family friends in Germany. I hope that these contacts would help ease assimilation and lead to better opportunities for a young 50 something.
Appreciate your Honesty!