Teaching English: Is it really a long-term career?
By Lara Treacy
If you are still trying to weigh the pros and cons of becoming a teacher of English, doubt no more. When choosing a career we are usually guided either by what we love doing or by the financial benefits of a job. In my opinion teaching English can be the perfect combination of both - it is a fun job (you are guaranteed to never be bored) and there are plenty of opportunities to make good money.
Another point in favour of choosing teaching English as a long-term career is that there are a lot of options to transition to from teaching per se to other areas within the TEFL industry: you can become a DOS, open your own language school, move into materials creation and TEFL writing, or into teacher training.
- Fun. Nobody can deny that teaching is fun - every day you meet different people from different cultures and backgrounds who you get to know and learn things from. I have been asked before if I find it boring teaching the same grammar/vocabulary year in year out and I have always said no - language is a living thing that changes, develops and evolves. Therefore, firstly, I am not teaching the same stuff over and over again, and secondly, even if I am, teaching it to different people in different contexts makes it feel different.
- Travel. What other job can give you such amazing opportunities to travel and experience different countries and cultures? You can spend a year in one country, then move to another one, etc. until you have found the perfect place to settle down or you have had enough and decided to return home.
- Variety. Teaching English can mean a lot of different things: for some it is teaching children at kindergartens and schools, for others - working with teenagers and adults in language schools. There’s also teaching in an academic environment like colleges and universities, teaching in-company, giving private lessons or teaching online… You can specialise in teaching General English, Business English, EAP (English for Academic Purposes), ESP (English for Specific Purposes), exam preparation… You can stick to what you like the most or you can mix and match what you teach, how and where you teach and who you teach. The choices are unlimited.
- Flexibility. If you need some time off for your family or some other projects you can always go part-time or freelance.
- Pay. Even though teaching English is not the best-paid job in the world, it offers a unique opportunity for you to control how much you want to earn: your salary will depend on the country you choose to work in, on a company/school you work for, on your level of qualifications and experience and on the number of hours you teach.
- Job guarantee. Being a TEFL teacher means you are always guaranteed to have a job - even when job opportunities in your town/city are scarce, you can move to another city or country, or start freelancing with some private students (a number of language schools have started out this way) or teach online from the comfort of your home.
Cons (and the reasons they’re not that bad):
- Teaching is one of those jobs where you often have to take work home - correcting student’s homework, tests, essays and preparing for lessons can feel overwhelming, but with a little bit of careful planning you can get on top of it. If you are working at a language school where you have space, resources and an internet connection, you can always stay there after classes to do your preparation and corrections for the next day so that you don’t have to take work home. If you are teaching in-company or working with private students or online, you can set aside some time to do this at home. But why not take your work and your laptop to a cafe and feel like one of those digital nomads or like a famous writer having a cup of coffee and working away while people watching and spending quality time with yourself.
- Burnout. Like any other job teaching can lead to burnout. Not because it is a high pressure or stressful job, but because it is quite intense. It involves communicating with many different people (this can be especially challenging if you are an introvert), ensuring customer satisfaction and lots and lots of preparation. But there is a solution - take a break. The academic calendar will give you that opportunity regularly enough and even if you think that you’ve had enough and you will never get back into teaching, never say never. You might find that you miss teaching and how rewarding it feels after a while and a great thing about teaching is that it is really easy to get back into it. A teaching career gives you a great opportunity to take breaks, to try something else and then if you have not found anything that you like doing better, it will welcome you back and you will be an even better teacher with all the experience of other jobs you have tried (for example I like telling my students about my experience working for Google and I think it gives them a motivation to improve their English and an ambition to find their dream job.)
Transitions and career progression
From teaching English you can move into various areas within the TEFL industry, depending on whether you want to try your hand at something new or to move up the career ladder.
- Exam preparation. This is a very specific area and if you become an expert in specific exam preparation you can help your students pass exams like IELTS, TOEFL, Cambridge exams, etc. which they might need for their academic, professional or personal purposes. This qualification is in high demand in every language school.
- Be an examiner. You can become an examiner and work in your local exam centre or you can work remotely correcting and marking written parts of the exams.
- Materials development. If you like the creative part of teaching and are always on the look out for new exciting materials and resources for your students, you can move into the materials development area. The growing number of online schools and institutions are looking for qualified professionals able to develop both general and custom-made courses for their clients. The popularity of online and blended learning has created a demand for specialists who can develop well structured courses using a variety of media - from PowerPoint presentations to video lessons.
- Teacher training. Another interesting transition area is Teacher training. If you consider yourself an expert in teaching and want to share your expertise with fellow teachers or people who are training to become teachers, this is your chance. You will need to do an advanced course to get qualified and it will give you the opportunity to become a CELTA trainer, for example, or work in your local teacher training institution.
- Becoming a DOS. If you want to move up the career ladder, the next step is Director of Studies, where you will move from teaching to planning and administration, organizing and ensuring the smooth running of the education process in your language school as well as hiring new teachers. Having qualifications like DELTA or a Master’s degree in TEFL will help you get the job, but there are other ways you can become a DOS. To get a taster of what the job is like, you can start as a DOS in a summer school. Experience is often all that is needed for this, it will look good on your CV and will give you the necessary experience to move into a management position.
- Starting your own business. If you have an entrepreneurial flair, why not open your own language school. You can start small and be a Jack of all trades - teacher, DOS and school director in one, and gradually hire more staff and grow your business. If you have enough capital, you can even buy an already functional school in any country (check out businesses for sale on TEFL.com)
In my opinion teaching English is a long-term career, and on top of that it is a career which you can enter any time, put on pause any time and come back to any time. It is extremely flexible and varied, with lots of opportunities for growth and development, for career progression or transitioning into other areas within the industry.
I started my teaching career 19 years ago, there were times when I got tired of teaching, I took breaks, tried other jobs, but always came back to teaching. I have now transitioned into online teaching and am thinking of trying my hand at materials development. You can rely on TEFL to welcome you back even if you go astray from time to time.
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