What is teaching English abroad really like?

TEFL is often cited as a great way to travel the world and experience new cultures – does it really allow you to do so, though?

One of the great things about TEFL, it is often assumed, is that it will give you access to one of those very glamorous-sounding carefree existences, where you can hop from country to country, visiting exotic places, experiencing new cultures and embarking on new adventures.

Of course, there are people who stay in the UK and teach, but many would-be TEFLers are attracted by this idea of providing a ‘ticket to ride’.

And sometimes it does.

In honesty though, most schools will want you to sign a contract for the whole school year, meaning that doing a few months here, and a couple of months there is not always as easy as it sounds.  In addition, it is not always a ‘given’ that you will find good jobs in decent schools where you will be well-looked after, adequately remunerated…and given enough free time to make the most of being in these far-flung, exotic places.

The working conditions and salaries for TEFL teachers vary enormously from country to country, and even from school to school. This is principally a result of the unregulated nature of the industry, and the lack of uniformity that ensues.

When it comes to teaching EFL abroad, the majority of jobs are to be found in private language schools. In short, there are good language schools and there are bad language schools. If you’re lucky, you will find a job in a well- run school, where teachers and their professional development are valued. There, you would hopefully be offered a decent wage and in-house development sessions. If you’re unlucky, you’ll find yourself working for an unscrupulous employer who charges over the odds to their students of English, and pays their teachers a pittance!

TEFL is not a well-paid profession, and no wage will ever be hugely substantial in Western terms, but some salaries are much better than others.

The issue of EFL teachers’ salaries has long been contentious, and it does seem unfair that in Western Europe certainly, they are not generally comparable to those of teachers in mainstream education. Anyone looking to forge a long-term career in TEFL would probably struggle to earn enough to get by without ascending to the position of Director of Studies, Teacher Trainer, Academic Manager or School Principal after their initial stint as a classroom teacher.

For those who use TEFL as a way to go abroad for a couple of years and “see the world” the argument tends to be that the experience is more intended to enrich in terms of cultural and international awareness, rather then financial gain. Granted, this is a concept that is often exploited as a convenient excuse for low-wage brackets and antisocial working hours, but to a certain extent it is true.

My stint as a teacher abroad certainly didn’t make me megabucks, but it did give me a bona fide experience of living and working in a foreign country. Yes, I worked some antisocial hours (and wasn’t always gushing in my accounts when talking to friends and family at the time!) but I met nice people, learned some of the local language, and learnt some new skills that genuinely have helped me professionally.

More about TEFL courses worldwide

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