Turning your TEFL gap year into a TEFL career

The staffrooms of summer EFL schools up and down the UK are littered with tired and rather resentful seasoned teachers. You can spot them a mile off. They are the ones that arrive seconds before the first class is due to begin, well-worn photocopy in hand, mumbling bleakly about ‘how rude the German kids are this year’. Too bored to push on in their careers and too unsure to get out, here they remain, stuck in a kind of TEFL groundhog day.

The same staffrooms are also awash with lively, perky (often young) teachers, fresh from their first stint overseas and energised by the lively summer school atmosphere. Many only entered TEFL as a means to see the world but fell in love with teaching and stayed.

Having been in many a TEFL staffroom, the young ‘n’ fresh example is really a joy to see. However, without at least one eye on the future, it’s surprising how quickly the perky can turn into the jaundiced.

I think this is largely because TEFL is a very odd profession. Fragmented, largely unregulated and with worldwide opportunities, it presents limitless and exciting options on the upside. The downside is there is little structured career progression. This means if you don’t make it work for you, then 10 years after starting your first TEFL job, you could find yourself teaching exactly the same lesson for exactly the same money.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this but my guess is that for most of you 18-25 year olds, this is not your idea of a career.

So if there is even an inkling that your gap year could turn into a career, I cannot stress how important it is for your bank balance, job satisfaction and sanity to keep learning and keep progressing. Consider every opportunity that comes your way both personally and professionally.

On the professional front there are many examples of people who have made TEFL work for them and turned it into a career. One lady, for example who was teaching English to pilots in Khazakstan went on to write an English for Pilots book for Oxford University Press. Others become teacher trainers, language school owners, materials developers or work for publishers. Some become specialists; teaching English for academic purposes, for example, taking the chance to leave their comfort zone and try something new.

TEFL is a ‘people’ profession and opportunities can arise simply through your everyday contacts. I know of one relatively new teacher who was offered a partnership with his boss to open a new school. This happened simply because the boss liked and trusted him – factors that clearly trumped paper qualifications and experience. TEFL can be like that.

So, if you want to get on in TEFL,  ensure you look for ways to keep on keeping on; you can teach that lesson better, you should brush up on that sticky grammar point and do consider the DELTA after a couple of years to help you get into management. Upskill and keep abreast of the new technology that is set to revolutionise the way we learn languages in the future.

It is a very wide TEFL world but if you’re not sure what you want out of TEFL yet, then here is some general rule of thumb guidance; if you start to lose interest in teaching and learning, then it’s time to get out and get yourself a ‘real’ job.  And do it before it’s too late!

What are your plans in TEFL?

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About Louisa Walsh

Louisa Walsh is a former EFL teacher, teacher trainer and TESOL course and materials writer with nearly 20 years experience in the industry. She loves TEFL for the life-changing experiences it can bring and has a more muted passion for mocha coffee and Coronation Street. She is a partner in TESOL training company Global English which specialises in accredited online TESOL and weekend TEFL courses.

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