The other day, I came across my old Trinity TESOL certificate. After leaving university, I took a 4-week training courses and learned how to teach English as a foreign language. I say learned, but really, the course just allowed me to dip my big toe into the world on language teaching. Many years later, I’m still working in this field although now I prefer to introduce myself – rather more pretentiously – as an English Language Teaching Professional!!
Back in April 1996, however, I thought the TEFL certificate would be nothing more than a useful skill I could use to find work abroad, a way to fund my travels. But, being a TEFL teacher can be more, much more, than just a job to do during your gap year.
So, without further ado, I’d like to present my list of 10 reasons why you should teach English as a Foreign Language – as a special bonus , at the end of the post, you’ll find my list of 5 reasons why you shouldn’t become a TEFL teacher – attached with the aim of providing balance.
1. EVERY CLOUD HAS A SILVER LINING – Despite or perhaps due to the economic crisis, many people all over the world need to upgrade their skills and maximise their chances of finding employment. One of the most valuable skills people can have nowadays is the ability to communicate in English. This means that English teachers are still in demand and that proficient English speakers, with a minimum of training and experience, can find work.
2. THE WORLD IS YOUR LOBSTER – One of my favourites students, Juan the Colombian, was infamous for his malaproprisms – unintentional misuse of the wrong word – and confused lobster with oyster to create the expression: The world is your lobster. English teachers can ply their trade anywhere in the world, from Azerbajan to Ankara, Berlin to Buenos Aires, Cairo to Cusco. If you have ever wanted to live in a particular location, you can do so by becoming an English teacher.
3. TRAVEL BROADENS THE MIND – Learn new ways of thinking, experience different ways of living, discover inspiration from different cultures. Teaching English allows you to immerse yourself in a different way of life and interact with the locals much more than travelling around with a guide book in your backpack
4. SPEAK THE LINGO – As well as looking good on your CV, learning a new language keeps the mind in tip-top condition, a mind gym if you like. If you can avoid going out to ex-pat bars with your teaching colleagues every night, you should be able to learn a new language by living in the country where it is spoken. Some language schools even offer free classes in the local language for their teachers.
5. MAKE A DIFFERENCE – How often can you say you have made a difference to somebody’s life? Well, in my umpteen years of teaching, I can genuinely say – with my hand on my heart – that I have helped people learn a skill which has transformed their life by opening up new opportunities to them. Many of my learners needed to pass exams to enrol on university courses or to increase their job prospects and were genuinely grateful for my assistance.
6. SEE THE FRUITS OF YOUR LABOUR – As well as seeing long-term goals achieved, English teachers can also observe daily improvements in the English skills of their learners. I still get a warm feeling when a learner successfully uses a phrase or grammar structure that I’d recently taught them. Especially with beginner learners, the improvements can be striking.
7. WE ARE THE WORLD – Over the years, I have had genuine friendships with a number of my adult learners. Even if you are not comfortable about making friends with your (adult) learners, you’ll still make useful contacts which could help you later in life.
8. PRESENT LIKE STEVE JOBS – Standing in front of a group of expectant learners who struggle with understanding your accent, intonation and diction is fantastic training for becoming a skilled public speaker. TEFL is not about lecturing but you will learn how to deliver your message concisely and clearly.
9. BRUSH UP ON YOUR GRAMMAR – At school in the UK, I wasn’t taught much about the English language system. Apart from knowing that a verb was a ‘doing’ word and a proper noun was the name of somebody, I had no idea about English grammar – despite graduating with a degree in English literature months before doing my TEFL training . After years of teaching, however, I can discuss linguistic concepts with the best of them. That may make me a pub bore but now people ask me which private school I attended!
10. FREESTYLE TEACHING – One of the great joys of working as an English teacher in the private sector is that, on the whole, you aren’t as restricted as teachers working in the state education system. That means we are still able to design many of our own lessons and activities. In other words, we can let our creative juices flow a lot more in a TEFL classroom than in many other teaching contexts. In fact, I’ll let you into a little secret: many of my most successful classes have been those in which I’ve discarded the lesson plan and have responded to what the learners needed at that particular moment. Adopting a coaching / training role rather than a traditional teaching one seems to be an effective way of meeting the needs or your learners.
However, it’s not all flowers and chocolates. If you’re feeling warm and fuzzy about the thought of teaching English abroad, stop reading now and pour yourself a glass of wine or a nice cup of tea. Then, come back and finish reading.
For those of a more stoic disposition, read on…
5 REASONS WHY YOU SHOULDN’T BECOME A TEFL TEACHER
1. FAR FROM THE LAP OF LUXURY – While you might be able to earn a decent local salary, you are unlikely to make much money teaching English. Conditions can be tough, wages often have to be squeezed out of your employer’s tight fist and you might wonder why you didn’t take that job in the insurance company after all.
2. HOME COMFORTS – It’s easier than ever before to keep in touch with friends and family, favourite TV shows, news from home etc. However, you’ll still feel homesick and no matter how well you speak the local language, you’ll often feel like an outsider. Many people teach English for a couple of years before returning to their homeland and finding alternative employment – which usually pays a lot better!
3. PAYING PEANUTS, GETTING MONKEYS – Unfortunately, the ELT industry is not as regulated as it should be in certain countries. This means you might be offered jobs at schools with a less than professional working environment: few – if – any materials and resources, ineffective academic management, and teaching colleagues who should probably who should have a warning sign attached to their forehead. As a new teacher, you might find your professional aspirations are not immediately met but may have to gain experience in such places before moving on.
4. NOBODY BACK HOME UNDERSTANDS WHAT YOU DO – If people back home have heard of TEFL, they’ll probably see it as something that young people do during a gap-year. If you are over 30, people may not treat your job with a great deal of respect so expect comments such as ‘When are you going to get into proper teaching, then? Many of my friends think I teach Spanish in Spain for some reason!
5. KNOW YOUR STUFF – Many teachers make a decent living abroad teaching local people English. Some of them have never done any training and do not teach effectively but are offered jobs purely because they are native speakers. Don’t be like them. Many highly-skilled and knowledgeable local teachers of English cannot find work despite being far more capable and knowledgeable. If you think that teaching English as a foreign language to local people is a quick and easy way to make a buck, think again! You need to learn your trade, study the language, and refine your teaching skills.
Thanks for reading. If any of you are thinking of teaching English as a foreign language, why not pick up a copy of my reasonably-priced ebook: A Short Guide to TEFL by D P Gates. Currently available on Amazon or free from this website.