The World of TEFL

Teaching English in SE Asia is one of the most popular jobs for foreigners from all over the world, not just English-speaking countries. There is a huge demand for English teachers in both schools and academies, and for the teaching of exam orientated English to English for business.

A lot of people backpack overseas, intending to supplement their travel stash with a spot of English teaching. While this is still possible in certain places, it certainly isn’t as prevalent as it once was. Now there is more of a demand for qualifications and experience, and schools also appreciate the advantages of having a teacher who will be based in the area for the long-term, rather than employing a number of itinerants who up-sticks and leave at the slightest inconvenience.

Twelve years ago I was a naïve young backpacker travelling in Vietnam after university, and teaching English was exactly my plan. I was slightly luckier than most having taken the Certificate in English Teaching to Adults (CELTA) a few years previously, and this helped me to land on my feet. While friends worked for a pittance I managed to find my way into the hallowed land of the British Council, which is generally considered the most prestigious language school as well as offering the highest salaries. However, I quickly realised that the British Council wasn’t encouraging of backpackers and wanted committed people who would continue to develop pedagogically. Well, it certainly suckered me in and I worked for them for ten years, in six different countries, finally becoming an Academic Manager.

Part of my job was recruitment. When we advertised a job I could immediately turn down 80% of applicants. This is because many people haven’t done their research when deciding to undertake a teaching qualification. If you want to teach English briefly, or for short periods of time, then taking an unrecognized qualification is absolutely fine. There are literally thousands of places out there willing to take your money and give you a few tips on being in the classroom.

But if you want to work for a place like the British Council or International House and earn a reasonable wage and live overseas then there are only two qualifications to choose from. They accept the CELTA or the Trinity Certificate and that is it. These two qualifications are usually the same length as other courses (one month full-time) but are generally more expensive as they have experienced trainers and higher overhead costs. They include a lot of teaching practice as well as numerous essays and input sessions and actually require a fair bit of hard work. However, they will leave you feeling more confident on your first actual day in a classroom.

When people ask for my advice I always tell them to take the CELTA or Trinity even if they aren’t contemplating an actual career in TEFL. This is because you never know what the future holds and TEFL has a way of dragging you under for the long-term. I have a number of friends who are still teaching years and years later, and with dodgy certificates behind them, have no chance of being employed by a high-quality establishment. So I suggest hedging your bets if you are considering becoming qualified to teach TEFL and making sure you have a solid qualification.

Teaching English is a great way to meet the local people and create some lasting friendships. I also know of a number of people who have even married their students. As long as you enjoy being with people, know how to show up to work on time and have the patience of a saint, teaching TEFL is for you. Who knows, you might even enjoy it!