Every ESL teacher I have met so far in my teaching career has had a different route into teaching. There is no right or wrong way, as long as you are motivated and excited to teach. Back in 2018, at the age of 22 I graduated in ancient history from Edinburgh University with absolutely no plan about what to do next. The only thing I knew is that I wanted to get into teaching. Teaching fascinated me. I loved the idea of being able to share knowledge and interact with people in new and interesting ways every single day.
The question I had to answer was, what kind of teaching? Primary or secondary education would need another degree at university and after four years I was done with that for the time being. Consequently, I decided to look at teaching related training options as part of my post-university trip to South Africa. Immediately I came across TEFL courses. It turned out they were everywhere. I could go anywhere in the world to train as an ESL teacher. After a day of research my opportunities suddenly felt endless. I could travel and teach English all over the world. The excitement started to kick-in. I had a plan for my future.
Fast forward three years and things turned out a little different than I had planned. After my teacher training in Cape Town and a little more travelling I managed to secure my first teaching position at an international summer school in Cambridge. After this experience I took a little break from teaching and in March 2020 I followed my boyfriend to Amsterdam, then the global pandemic hit and I ended up pursuing online English teaching. Overall, it has not been the teaching path I had imagined for myself back in 2018. I had to adapt and grow and reevaluate at each stage. Moving to online teaching was one of the most difficult things I actually had to do as I had next to no training in it.
Going out of your comfort zone makes you a better teacher.
My aim in the rest of this post is to share some useful tips if you are thinking about your TEFL career or just starting out or have also struggled with your situation. The tips are based on my experience and the lessons I learnt. I would like to highlight that despite all my different teaching experiences, I am so glad I stuck with it and kept developing my skills post TEFL training. Teaching really is my passion and I can’t wait to see where it takes me next (hopefully back into the classroom).
1: If you can, take your TEFL training abroad
Taking your TEFL course abroad is always my first piece of advice to any aspiring ESL teacher. You have to interact with another culture, another language and you can fully experience what your students go through. I taught Congolese refugees in Cape Town throughout my course and it taught me invaluable lessons on the student learning experience and the importance of lesson adaptation. Going out of your comfort zone makes you a better teacher. Of course, you do not need to go as far away as I did. Most countries around the world have TEFL courses.
When it comes to finances you will most likely have to do some planning. I certainly did not have a lot of money. I saved as much as I could in my last year of university to put towards whatever plans came next and with a full-time summer job after that was able to pay for the course and my travel to Cape Town. Be sure you set some goals before you start teaching and think about what you want out of the career.
2: Do not jump into the TEFL course thinking it will lead to an easy and fun way to travel – you have to put the work in
I have come across some TEFL students and teachers that quit because they were not prepared for the work that goes into teaching another language. This is not my way of telling you to stay clear of this line of work. I love my job to pieces. It is rewarding and fun and the people I meet make all the hours spent planning lessons worth it! My aim instead is to be open and honest about the hard work that goes into teaching. Simply being able to speak English does not mean you will be a good English teacher. Learning how to teach grammar and pronunciation to students who don’t speak much English, controlling your classroom, teaching in a way that students actually retain the information and keeping them engaged is hard work, especially at the start. So be prepared to put in the work. As time goes on you will get better and it will get easier and you can reap the sweet rewards every day.
3: Do not give up if you struggle to find your first teaching job post-TEFL
I was fooled into thinking after my TEFL training it would be super easy to find a teaching job anywhere I wanted. It was not so easy. However, it does depend on where you are looking. I applied to some of the best English schools in Europe. I tried Italy, Spain, Budapest and Poland to name just a few. First, they need to have an opening for a new teacher and then they need to have the resources to take on a brand new teacher with little experience. I struggled.
In the end I looked at short-term positions at summer teaching camps (these are very popular in England). For summer camps, schools are much more willing to hire new and young teachers to work with the international teenagers. Along with a basic starting salary you get accommodation and although it was not the first job I wanted (I was looking to teach adults, not children), it turned out to be a great first experience to jump into teaching and test what I had just learnt. On top of this, if you are an excellent teacher the school may have room to take you on full-time after the summer.
Although it was not the first job I wanted, it turned out to be a great first experience to test what I had just learnt.
As a new TEFL graduate do not be disheartened if it takes a little time to find a job. There are so many opportunities for English teachers and there will be one out there for you! Put yourself out there, contact schools even if they do not have an opening and advocate for yourself and your skills. There are certain countries that require many new English teachers, such as China, so if you are up for the challenge they are always on the hunt for new TEFL talent.
4: Have fun
The most important one. Despite all the hard work, teaching can be so much fun and the more fun you have the more your students will want to keep coming back to your classroom.
Have fun even when things go a little wrong. When you have a difficult student or the technology breaks or you have suddenly forgotten how to spell a really common English word – have fun with it. How you deal with challenging situations is what really makes you stand out as a great teacher.
5: Online teaching is not the same as classroom teaching
To finish off, I want to say a little something about online teaching. This line of work has become the norm around the whole world for almost a year now and it has been a completely different experience for me. I will begin by saying that classroom teaching is where I shine and where I want to be. This is not the case for everyone, however. I have had conversations with many online teachers who have always taught online and prefer it to classroom teaching. They get to teach children and adults from all around the world from their laptop and fit into their schedule whenever they want. While I have been able to appreciate the flexibility of remote work and learned new teaching skills, I have never quite been able to enjoy myself as much. I find connection with my students harder and creating teaching resources that work in an online setting has not been easy.
So, if you want to do your TEFL or have done it recently and think online teaching would be a great gig, then I would say go for it, but not without considering what kind of teacher you are and understanding that teaching online does not automatically make you a good classroom teacher if you do want to switch. I certainly had a steep learning curve when changing to online teaching.
I wish you all luck in your TEFL journeys!