Teaching English Abroad: Everything You Need to Know About TEFL

teaching abroad
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There’s a huge global demand for native english speakers who can teach. Chances are, you’ve either taught abroad or know someone who has. So, why do so many people take off around the world to teach English? And, how do you get started teaching English abroad? There’s no definitive answer out there, but there are many options.

Getting qualified

There are tons of TEFL courses, making it easy to get lost and confused. You can pick from a range of weekend workshop courses, purely online courses, and 120 online and 30 hour practical sessions.

There is no formal accreditation for TEFL courses, which means that a TEFL course is only as valuable as the reputation of the provider. Some well-known courses include the CELTA course issued by Cambridge university. Courses like this one are also expensive. If you’re on a budget you might decide to stick with an online course.

ICAL TEFL provides a 120 hour online TEFL certification course. This works well for first-time TEFL teachers and has been completed by thousands of students around the world.

Either way, a 120 hour course is generally a good minimum if you are serious about TEFL. Shorter courses are available, but are often not accepted by employers.

Getting your first job: the scheme route

This is the trickiest part. How you find a teaching position will depend on timing, where you want to teach, and how soon you want to start.

Schemes are a good way to skip a course or qualification. Schemes provide their own type of training suited to the scheme. They take the pain out of searching for and worrying about your first job.

The specifics vary from scheme to scheme. You will often be an assistant in a classroom, which means less responsibility and pressure–an upside for some starting out. The downside is that you often don’t have a choice where you are sent. You can give a preference, but don’t always get it.

The JET scheme for graduates going to Japan is a well-known scheme. Throughout the world, governments offer similar schemes for native speaking assistants in classrooms.

Finding paid work with your qualification

This route can be intimidating and potentially difficult, but it is probably the best route if you want a good job and to be in control of your own destiny.

Popular areas like Spain, Japan and China are naturally going to have more competition for jobs, so it might be worth going off the beaten track during your first job search. It’s not impossible to find your first job in Barcelona, but it’s definitely trickier.

I know from experience that as soon as popular destinations post a teaching job, they’re flooded with so many applications that they don’t always have time to look through them all. And, you’ll probably be competing against people who already have some experience. It takes some time.

If you know the country you want to move to, how about throwing yourself into it and doing some traveling first? Being able to walk into schools and academies as you travel is so helpful, and will give you an edge and chance to give a good account of yourself in person. It also shows you first-hand what you’re getting into.

Volunteering

Volunteering is an easier way to get your first job. Volunteering can also uplift you by “making a difference” – an fulfilling option if money isn’t a concern.

You’ll be in less developed, poorer countries, which really makes it about the experience. It’s a great way to decide if teaching is for you while getting the experience that, in future, will put you ahead of others in the job market.

You’ll probably still need a TEFL certificate but you’ll be in charge of your own class and, although you’ll be volunteering, you’ll be accommodated, fed, and, in some cases, receive a stipend.

Hours

Work hours can be irregular and long depending on country, institution, and age you are teaching. Expect between 20 – 30 contact teaching hours a week that you’ll be paid for. Don’t forget to add preparation time, which you may or may not be paid for. Hours often fit in around the working and school days of your students: a few hours in the morning, nothing in the day, and then the bulk of your day after 5 o’clock. Saturdays are sometimes included.

In the classroom

Numbers vary. You could teach younger children in your own classroom and group throughout the academic year. Or, you might be traveling between businesses all day teaching adults during their lunch break and after work. There really is no set age or type of class – it depends what your employer gives you and what you, yourself, want to do.

Pay

Don’t be disheartened by the pay. It isn’t always that great, especially if you are thinking of the cost of living in you’re used to. Expect between $700 – $1500 a month in your first year.

Consider the cost of living. This paycheck gives you enough to live and have a decent lifestyle in most countries. The pay generally adjusts to the local climate. Countries in the Far East pay more like Japan and South Korea, much less in Thailand or South America and European countries like Spain are pretty standard. You can ramp up your pay with private classes.

Lifestyle

You’re a professional, so it’s not a vacation. You do, however, have time to do some amazing things.

Country and school-dependent, you’ll probably have weekends off and receive national holidays. In countries like Spain and Italy, there are tons of holidays. This gives you time to see the local area and visit other cities.

It’s easy to find other expats. Since everyone is in the same boat, you will likely build a strong community in no time. The locals are usually equally supportive.

If learning the language is a priority, you can find language exchanges. You also often end up being friends with your students–spending time with them outside the classroom. This constant exposure to the language is going to help you transition.

But remember: No speaking the local language in the classroom. That’s not what you’re paid for!

The future and career opportunities

You might fall in love with teaching abroad and find it difficult to imagine living in your native country again. The longer you’re in a place, the better you know it and more ways you find to increase your income.

Once you have a couple of years’ experience, you’ll probably find that you can apply for much better jobs that were not available when you started.

You can go onto further study by doing a DELTA or Masters in TEFL. This takes you right up the pay scale and makes you a real pro. This can get you into the university system, which is far more lucrative, especially if you are going to move to places like the U.K.

TEFL seems to trigger something in people that makes them realize they love teaching. So many people I know have gone on to get their teaching credential. Careful, you might just find your calling.

Teaching looks good on your CV. It gives you language skills, demonstrates you can operate outside of your comfort zone, that you’re a good communicator, public speaker, and are highly adaptable. It just generally makes you more interesting.

English language teaching is never going to make you wealthy. You’ll have enough. If you want a varied, interesting life getting to know some amazing places around the world, then it most definitely is for you. It gives you enough time and freedom to really get to know a place, make new friends for life and have experiences you’ll never forget.

written by Mark from ICAL TEFL

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