Essential Guide to Teaching English
Perhaps you’ve thought about teaching English but aren’t sure if it’s for you. This essential guide will tell you everything you need to know about embarking on a TEFL teaching journey. Whether you’re looking for a gap year adventure, a part-time job to supplement your income or for a change of career, TEFL could be the answer. Read on to discover the basics of what you need to become a TEFL teacher, and where your teaching journey could take you.
Why Teach English?
If you’re a native speaker of English and like talking to people, you have the basic requirements to become a TEFL teacher (and yes, many schools do accept applications from non-native speakers, but it certainly makes it a lot harder!). So, if you have these attributes and feel drawn to teaching English, here are some of the reasons why you might want to get TEFL qualified:
For a gap year – You don’t have to be a lifelong aspiring teacher to embrace TEFL; teaching English is sometimes just a stepping stone to adventure for those who want to travel on a budget. It doesn’t take long to get qualified, and as long as you aren’t fussy, it doesn’t take long to find a job either. A TEFL gap year could be a bit of a breather before or after a university degree, or perhaps if you need a career break and some time to figure out what you want to do with your life.
To save money – TEFL salaries vary widely, not only between countries but also between jobs. If you’re finding that life at home isn’t providing you opportunities to save up, whether it’s for a qualification you want to do, a deposit for your first home or even just for a car, going abroad could be the answer. Many countries offer decent TEFL salaries where you earn several times more than the average local employee, meaning that you can afford a nice quality of life while still putting cash aside. Live like a local by eating cheaply and living in smaller accommodation and you could save thousands of pounds in a year. China is a great place to make big savings – just look at the cost of living in your chosen country vs the average TEFL salary. You can also save money by working as an online TEFL teacher, particularly if your teaching is extra to your ordinary job.
For a career – If you want to be a teacher of any sort, not just a TEFL teacher, then getting experience abroad is a great way to start off. Teaching English as a foreign language before you’ve done your PGCE or other teaching qualification will prepare you with experience and resilience before you start studying. If you can handle a classroom full of boisterous kids who don’t speak your language, you can handle anything. Experienced teachers sometimes turn to TEFL to have a break from their regular teaching position, or to expand their knowledge by seeing how things are done in other countries. Teaching TEFL isn’t a step down from ordinary school teaching, and if you get a position in an International School it will look all the better on your CV.
For an adventure – Perhaps you don’t have much interest in teaching and just want to see the world? That’s fine – you’ll meet many backpack teachers just like yourself. Some of them set out on a gap year and like the lifestyle so much that they just keep on travelling, whereas others know from the beginning that the road is their home. Whether you want to keep things fresh by accepting short-term, freelance or voluntary positions that enable you to travel more, or whether you want to really get to know a culture by living for a year in each destination, TEFL is a sustainable way to travel the world and enjoy a great quality of life.
Different TEFL Certificates
In the TEFL world, there are numerous acronyms that all sound pretty similar but can mean different things. TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is an umbrella term that’s often used for all sorts of English teaching, and is also the name of the most common qualification, a TEFL certificate. TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) means about the same thing, and other acronyms you’ll come across are ELT (English Language Teacher) and ESL (English as a Second Language). Another one you’ll hear is CELTA (Cambridge Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) which is another certificate in TEFL teaching that’s more advanced, and as the name suggests it is specifically for teaching adults, whereas most TEFL certificates are more geared towards teaching all ages.
When it comes to what kind of certificate you should choose, you need to think about what kind of teacher you’re going to be. Firstly, do you want to teach children or adults? Are you looking for a long-term career that will make the high costs of a CELTA qualification worthwhile, or do you want to start with a TEFL to test the waters? Do you like studying in a classroom or do you prefer the flexibility of studying online? Are you in a rush to get stuck in or can you afford to wait weeks or months until the next course starts near you? Here’s a quick breakdown of TEFL vs CELTA.
TEFL vs CELTA
– Choose either online study, face-to-face course, or the popular combined course (involving mostly online study with an intensive face-to-face weekend training)
– Specialise in different fields of study (such as teaching children, teaching large classes, business English or teaching with limited resources) by picking modules you are interested in
– Cost varies, so pick a course to suit you
– Read more about the different TEFL courses offered by TEFL.org, including online, Level 5, advanced and specialist courses
– Expensive and location dependant – a big investment if you’re not in the TEFL game for the long run
– Focus on grammar, higher level students and adult classes
– Practice teaching real students as part of your course and receive feedback
– Read more about CELTA on the Cambridge English website
To read more about the differences between TEFL and CELTA certificates, read our in depth article.
Teach Abroad or Online
While many TEFL teachers are drawn to the adventure of teaching abroad, there are also merits to becoming a seasoned online teacher. Teaching classes online can be just as daunting as in a physical classroom, and a different skillset is needed to make it work. While many teachers choose online to subsidize their income or get a feel for the work part-time, it’s certainly possible to make a full-time career out of teaching online. Many teachers take up online teaching as a part-time job if their full-time teaching position isn’t brilliantly paid, or as a way to keep up with the TEFL lifestyle after their gap year has finished. Both teaching abroad and teaching online have their pros and cons, so don’t rule one out before exploring what it can offer you.
Finding a Job
Once you’re qualified and have decided if you want to stay home or work abroad, it might feel like the hard work is done, but finding a suitable job is a huge step on your TEFL journey. The jobs market for TEFL is huge, with opportunities across the globe throughout the year. If you’ve decided that you want to teach in a specific country or with a particular company, you’ll be limited by their yearly hiring schedule. However, if you’re happy to go wherever the wind takes you, huge TEFL industries like China will be hiring year-round – the only thing for you to do is sift through the countless job offers you’re sure to get and pick the best one for you.
Browsing TEFL job boards online is the most popular way to find a job. Here are a few of the best-known job boards on the internet where you can search for up to date job listings.
Dave’s ESL Café has vast quantities of job listings (which need careful consideration as there are some bad eggs in there) with new listings daily, particularly for China and Korea.
GoAbroad.com can point you in the direction of teaching positions both in country and online.
TEFL.org lists everything from full-time and part-time jobs to summer positions, volunteering opportunities, internships and temporary positions.