Its a familiar tale. You’ve just graduated after completing your final exams, and after the last 3/4 years of higher education (and perhaps the last 20+ years in some sort of academic institution) its no wonder you want a break!
While many may continue the well trodden path right into work (that is, assuming you can find a job within a good amount of time), some of us just don’t have that same sense of happiness when facing this future.
“Why would anyone shed the load of academia only to straight away adorn themselves with the shackles of full-time employment?” I hear you say to yourself.
I hear you, while you do have some options available to you that allow you to travel the world while earning money, the aim of this blog post is to make sure you are aware of the realities of this choice.
I want to reiterate that the opinions on this are a culmination of my own experiences and the experiences of friends and family members.
Thankfully, even without a lot of experience you still have quite a few options allowing you to see the world as you see fit.
Here are two of the main teaching certifications:
Let’s take a brief look at them:
Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) is the simplest of them all, though it has some drawbacks.
Being certified with a TEFL qualification can entitle you to teach English in many international schools. The course itself can be paid for relatively easily and can be completed either online or in person, full or part-time.
The fact that it can be completed completely online should say something to you here.
I’m not knocking any TEFL certified teachers, I know better than to judge people by what certificates they hold. What is apparent to everyone in the industry however, is that this certification isn’t seen as anything serious and will not do great in securing you a decent job, let alone pay.
Many institutions and schools around the world will straight out reject applicants who hold only a TEFL, so dont think of it as the simple answer to a complex situation.
Up next is the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA).
This is leagues above the TEFL (and anything else) in terms of prestige and recognition, and rightly so. The course by which the certification is obtained lasts for either 4 weeks full-time or 8 weeks part-time.
Take my word for it when I advise absolutely everyone to take the part-time course. I did it and I (and the rest of my classmates) still found it taking up most of our waking hours. The learning curve is steep and you will have sleepless nights ahead. I can only remain aghast at the concept of doing it full time. As far as I am aware, you are even contractually obliged when you start the course not to work more than 16 hours per week!
Across the world, the CELTA is recognised as the high standard for English Teachers (short of a real, University obtained, Teaching Qualification) and generally guarantees you a certain level of job and pay, ranging from decent to very lucrative.
If you want to teach English abroad, this will definitely prepare you and I recommend this above all else.
The Short Term
I won’t lie. The short term will most likely feel amazing. You’ll feel free and fresh in a new environment and the new culture will teach you a lot about the world wherever you go.
You will literally be paid to work abroad in a country of your choosing, on paper and quite often in real life it seems almost to good to be true. Its likely that the money you earn will be enough to sustain you in your country and then some. There are many job packages where your employer will also provide you with a place to stay and even flights back to your home country.
Sounds good right?
The Long Term
Even a rose has thorns. While the type of lifestyle I described above might sound perfect for some people, the main point of understanding that people have to ask themselves is what plan they have for their lives.
- Did you complete your education and just want a break to see the world for a while?
- Did you finish your studies knowing that you don’t want to pursue a career in that field, but else unsure what you want to do and see travelling as a way to find out?
- Or do you see teaching English abroad as something you’d like to do for the rest of your days?
Whichever it is, the answer is different.
Ill be focusing on those who don’t necessarily see it as something they will do for the rest of their lives.
First we must understand that the current state of the market in many of the world’s economies is often very competitive. Even the most recent graduates, fresh from study at some of the top regional universities find trouble being accepted for jobs in their field. So how about someone whose only experience is teaching English in a foreign country.
It may sound harsh but the realism will either come to you after you’ve spent a while abroad or from advice on a post like this. You can have the understanding that you will gain invaluable ‘transferable skills’ for any subsequent job you make take up, but there’s a limit at which it just seems irrelevant. By going to teach abroad right out of higher education, you risk lagging behind the competition and making life harder for yourself when you get back.
Don’t get me wrong, its not entirely impossible to find employment after a stint abroad, but you need to be tactical about utilising your time abroad for your benefit. I know people who have funded Masters Degrees or even further career certifications through their time abroad, effectively enjoying their time travelling/teaching while also preparing for their return. It’s not for everyone, and it takes a lot of self-organisation, but it works.
Working as a teacher abroad means working according to fixed term employment contracts. You generally promise an employer to teach for a certain period of time up to a year or two. Upon delivery of good performance, this can be rolled over for another year or two depending on your employer. While convenient for you, it also takes away the element of job security. You could work at an institution for 5 years but suddenly your contract won’t be renewed. It’s not always a given to find alternatives easily either.
Many forums exist online for teachers to discuss their thoughts and experiences as well as warn again unscrupulous companies, however one sentiment that seems to be prevalent is that teaching English abroad for the long term can seem like a series of ‘jobs’ rather than a developing career. There is little room for professional development when you are on a fixed term contract after all.
There is also the issue of age. While many places of employment place no restriction on the age limit of applicants, you can find many who do. These are listed openly on the requirements when applying and are regularly enforced with little leniency. That might be okay for you now, but how about as you start to approach that age? (Which is often 40!). How will you plan to find relevant employment?
Last but not least is the issue of settling down. If you plan to marry and have children, you need to take into account to what extent your employer will support this. Where do you want your children to be born? Will your employer support them and your significant other under your terms of employment? Everyone is able to suck it up and deal with the small changes in quality of life which differs from country to country, but is it something you are happy for your children to deal with too?
Eventually it seems, you will have to take a look at your long term plans sooner or later.
I Want To Pursue Teaching English as a Career – Now What?
So you’ve decided that working abroad is pretty much all you want to do, that’s absolutely fine. Let’s take a look at some of the options available for you.
It can be possible to progress into a supervisor-type role where you help run a school. This may take you away from teaching others yourself and is usually very competitive, so be prepared.
This one definitely applies more to the CELTA qualification due to the stringent testing, but training as a CELTA instructor can be a smooth path towards satisfaction. You will essentially be teaching the teachers of tomorrow.
In order to do this, you will have to acquire the interestingly-named DELTA (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). Why the acronym doesn’t match the expanded title is something I still don’t know, but I can say that this is the highest type qualification short of an official Degree that an English teacher abroad can achieve.
Not only will you be able to help produce more teachers, but you will be formally authorised to produce your own teaching materials too. Pretty cool if you ask me.
Start Your Own Business
Cliches aside, you can take advantage of the fact that you work abroad in order to identify gaps in the market and import products into your home country you think people may want (or vice versa).
This is obviously something completely unrelated to your career as a teacher, and you should also ensure to prioritise the level of education you pass down to your students. For those who can do this successfully, you may be able to run a profitable business while earning comfortable money in your day job too.
Make the most of your surroundings!
My Personal Advice
As you have likely gathered from what has preceded of this post, I would strongly advise thinking about your career plans before going abroad to teach English – especially if you are a recently graduate with little to no experience.
Travelling the world while getting paid to make a difference in young people’s lives is definitely an incredible experience, there is just no denying it. However you should not forget to think about your own long term plan too.
In my eyes, if you have a strong determination to make things easier for yourself in the long run and still teach abroad, then do it. But do it in the way that you work in the field of your career for at least 3-4 years before you head out. It sounds outlandish and outright unthinkable, but you will be thanking yourself down the line. Once you have the 3-4 years of solid industry experience, you can fallback on it reliably and employers will take you much more seriously when it comes to reapplying in future. Its also much, much easier to paint and contrast your experience teaching abroad when you have field-relevant industry experience too.
I don’t intend to put anyone off teaching abroad. It is a very fulfilling experience and one which you will feel rewarded for every day. But it is dangerous to go into it not knowing that you may be setting yourself up for disappointment when you decide its time to pack up and head home.
Whatever you do, think long term.