How to Turn Teaching Abroad into a Lifelong Career
While the average TESOL job offers no automatic in-built career progression, there are ample opportunities for interesting offshoots and advancements in the industry. If you want a real career, keep your eyes open and be prepared to stand out from the crowd.
My colleague, William had only been teaching English for 2 years in Portugal when his then boss approached him about going into partnership to open another school locally. William says
‘I was only 24 with no management experience or even an advanced teaching qualification at the time. He must have thought I had potential and that he could work with me. It was a really exciting opportunity and I never looked back.’
While such opportunities don’t happen every day, teaching English, like most things in life, is what you make it. Here are 4 ways to make TEFL a real career…
1. Start your own business
OK, so this won’t be the first thing you do but after few months into a contract, you should get a feel for local demand, competition and the price people will pay for classes. Tease out freelance opportunities, learn something of the local language and network. Think of offering something others locally don’t. Could you offer Skype plus face-to-face English classes or a blend of both? What about visiting local schools and offering Saturday morning conversation classes for children? One former colleague created a business out of teaching English to nursery schools locally. Every parent was happy to bring in an extra few pounds for the privilege of having a native English teacher sing rhymes and learn to count in English.
2. Consider career offshoots
There are a number of teacher trainers, online English markers, ELT publishers, TESOL blog writers, course developers, ELT journalists and even app writers who have all used their TESOL experience to succeed in these related fields. One teacher, after training pilots to speak English in Kazakhstan, carved a particular niche out for herself by writing a book on aviation English for Oxford University Press.
3. Go to countries with good year- round contracts
For the security of a year-round contract with additional perks you’ll need to head to places like China, Korea or the Middle East. Then, seek to stand out while you are there – go out of your way to help students, suggest improvements (sensitively) to management and volunteer to help out where you can. Look to make yourself indispensable. Good schools will be keen to keep you on and you’ll become establish as a true TESOL professional. You may even get offers like William’s.
4. Keep learning and impressing
There are plenty of teachers with a generic entry level TESOL qualification. There are fewer with a specialisation in young learners or business and still fewer with the advanced Trinity Diploma or MA in TESOL which is seen as a way into management or teacher training. An advanced qualification tells employers you are a serious teacher who wants to improve their teaching skills.
Alternatively, make it your business to keep up with the huge advances in technology for ELT, new learning platforms and fresh ideas to revitalise classroom teaching. Become the teaching innovation guru for your school. Inform employers and staff of the exciting new developments in English language teaching and impress your bosses.
It is very easy to enjoy the TESOL lifestyle and turn around in 5 years to realise you are teaching exactly the same kind of classes for exactly the same pay. That’s fine; Teaching English as a Foreign Language can open the door to some wonderful experiences. But to make a real career out of TEFL will take a little strategy and perseverance. The good news is that the opportunities and rewards are there in this booming worldwide industry.
Louisa Walsh is Course Director at accredited provider, Global English TESOL.