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.