Careers in TEFL or TESOL are common. Many teachers start out in TEFL as entry-level teachers in small schools around the world; some will stay a few years before going home and moving into a different field, but others will move on in TEFL. It is common assumption that TEFL is a stop-gap job, but this is simply not the case and there are many examples of teachers who have had lifelong careers in the industry.
This article explores longer term options in TEFL and how to get into those jobs.
New TEFL Teachers
Although reliable statistics are hard to come by, perhaps the majority of new TEFL teachers begin work overseas working in places like China, South Korea, or southern Europe.
Often the work will be in a small school of perhaps 200 or so students, working 20 hours a week with classes of 15 or so students. Some jobs will be in larger chains of schools, especially in Asia.
It’s often the case that new teachers will work a few years in the industry, enjoying learning about the country they are in and getting to grips with teaching. However, after a few years the country has lost its “foreignness” and the teaching is no longer new. A teacher may then well look at their life and job and wonder about other possibilities and ask themselves the inevitable question: Will I be doing exactly the same job in 20 years’ time?
For some teachers this won’t be a problem and there are older teachers everywhere enjoying the same work as young teachers. But others may want to move on.
Staying in TEFL Teaching
Certainly a career as a TEFL teacher is possible. Whilst many teachers do move on from a school after one or two years, some teachers have remained with the same school for many, many years and often the school will try to keep a good teacher once they have found one.
If you prove invaluable to the school, this can lead to a good salary and great working conditions and occasionally becoming part of the management of that school. Of course you can always swap schools as good, reliable teachers are always in demand and many schools are happy to pay a premium for these qualities.
If you like teaching but are after something slightly different, one job to consider is teaching online. This is a growing business and combines the practice of teaching but from your own home rather than a school.
There are sometimes possibilities to move out of the classroom and into a higher position but this is only possible where there are lots of teachers in the same school or group of schools and managerial positions are available.
The usual goal here for ambitious teachers is to become a Director of Studies or DoS. This is a kind of “academic manager” and their job will include running the academic side of the school: hiring and firing teachers, reviewing teaching performance, organizing and running courses for the teachers, reviewing work and attending conferences. Essentially it is a manager for the academic side of the school.
Generally speaking, the higher up the chain a teacher is, the less they will be in the classroom and the more they will be managing others. For some this is ideal but many teachers find they do miss the classroom side of things once they move up the ladder.
In general management positions are filled internally so it will mean firstly getting into a large chain school (or the British Council, for example) and staying a few years building up your reputation. When a vacancy does become available – simply apply for it!
TEFL Teacher Training
Teachers with experience and an interest in the art and practice of teaching may well decide to move into teacher training. This will usually mean taking further qualifications such as an Masters in TEFL. Good teacher trainers are in demand and can find work in large schools where they combine teaching language students along with running training courses for other teachers. There are also jobs in training schools offering TEFL Certificates and suchlike.
Finally there is freelance work running refresher courses for groups of teachers from different schools. Sometimes these will take place at conventions overseas and some teacher trainers are in demand for this kind of work. Good trainers can build up this side of work privately and turn it into a very rewarding experience.
Teacher training requires experience and qualifications. If you have these then you can start out quite simply by setting up and running a few half-day courses and getting to grips with the actual process of teaching teachers. This helps your CV/Résumé and the experience here is invaluable.
Your Own TEFL School
If you prefer to remain working in a small school and fancy running your own business in many countries you are allowed to set up and open your own school. This is often a good move since parents will believe sending their child to learn English at a genuine British/American, etc, school will be better than the usual local school.
This kind of work varies greatly but you do need to have a good knowledge of a country before setting up your own school there.
ELT publishing is big business and the big publishing houses have offices in most countries. Here they employ representatives to go around schools and conventions presenting new books and talking to schools and teachers. Often these representatives are native speakers and former TEFL teachers themselves.
In most cases these aren’t selling jobs and representatives are paid a normal salary rather than a percentage on sales. The job is more PR than anything else.
To find this kind of work try contacting the publishing houses in the local capital city; of course keeping an eye on the ELT press may turn up job advertisements as well.
TEFL Materials Writing
A few teachers will move into materials writing. At its most basic this means preparing tests for a class, but at the other end of the scale this will mean writing and presenting books (coursebooks, study aids, etc…) which can be sold all over the world and can be incredibly lucrative.
Arguably the most famous ELT book is Raymond Murphy’s English Grammar In Use which has sold some 15 million copies. Whilst most materials writers will not have this level of success there are other options – for example the resources on this site you are reading now employ a number of freelance teachers to prepare articles here.
Most materials writers begin very small by preparing work for their own class. Keep everything you prepare if you do this and never be afraid to revise and adapt. Murphy’s grammar (above) was originally just worksheets for his classes before it was turned into a book.
In some countries local publishers of material will often issue CDs or DVDs with their new books with spoken listening comprehension type exercises on them. These all require native speakers to read the dialogs. If you have a pleasant sounding voice, this can be good fun and also provide extra income though it is rarely full time.
For this kind of work, contact local publishing houses to see if they need new voices; be prepared to send them an MP3 sample of your voice.
TEFL Employment Agents
If you are familiar with a particular country – especially if you speak the local language – then there are jobs available as an agent supplying native speaker teachers to schools who need them. In some cases this is fairly easy to set up on your own, but you can always look at working with one of the larger, more established, agencies.
See the main article, TEFL Employment Agents.