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TEFL Career: Can You Hack Teaching Abroad Long Term?

by - Published April 2

We know what you’re thinking, is teaching English abroad a career? Like seriously? Teaching English abroad has this undeserved reputation as “not a real job,” but nothing could be further from the truth! Most people still believe that teaching English abroad is just for folks who are trying to pay off astronomical student loans quickly or who are seeking adventure in “exotic” destinations before settling down to real life. 

Of course this is true in some cases, but there are also many people out there who have made lucrative TEFL careers for themselves in their adopted countries. In fact, many of these folks were able to do so because they invested heavily in teaching English as a career, by pursuing solid TEFL certifications, and even postgraduate degrees in the field.

If you ever mention that you’re thinking a TEFL career, your friends, parents, and colleagues may probably say, “That’s wonderful dear, but what are you going to do when you get back?” Who says that you can’t stay longer in your country of choice teaching English as a career? Challenge all the stereotypes and show the naysayers that it is possible and that it is a real job.

Is teaching English abroad a career?

Yes, and it’s a viable one too! Firstly, when you leave your home country, there are hosts of ESL opportunities to choose from globally. Why limit yourself to being that one medium-sized fish in a small pond when there’s a huge ocean out there? In fact, some TEFL jobs abroad can be quite lucrative if you have the right qualifications and experience. 

Not only that, but if you choose to stay in teaching English as a career in the long term, you open yourself up to opportunities you may have never thought . For instance, after honing time in the classroom, you can apply for jobs in curriculum development in your chosen destination. You could become an educational consultant, write books and other ESL materials, train newbie teachers, or even manage your own ESL school! Don’t ever think you’re limited to just one job in the field. 

The perks of a TEFL career

Forget the image of the long suffering ESL teacher who can’t afford to pay rent or get a swish haircut. If you choose to work abroad, there are several perks of being a TEFL teacher.

Salary

It’s all the money, right? If you’re after swanky salaries, make a beeline for the Middle East. In countries like the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, you can make bank and the best part is, you don’t even have to pay any taxes! How awesome is that? However, be warned that these high-falutin’ salaries are reserved only for those who can make the grade. That usually means you have some solid classroom experience, at least a bachelor’s degree in the subject, and a valid teacher’s license from your home country that’s also well recognized worldwide. 

Housing

One of the biggest hassles of teaching and living abroad is figuring out accommodation. If you play your cards right, you can score free housing in comfy digs. Even if you don’t get all of your rent paid, you may still be able to snag subsidized accommodation and pay way less than locals. With some ESL jobs, you may even be eligible for a generous housing allowance to help offset moving and set up costs. 

Travel expenses

One of the biggest expenses of teaching English as a career is getting there. Usually, that means paying a hefty price for airfare. However, there are ESL employers who promise to pay for your flight to your chosen destination and a flight back at the end of your contract. There are even perks like yearly plane tickets to your home country so you don’t ever get the chance to feel homesick. 

Low cost of living

Even if the salary seems low in some countries, you may be surprised how far your money can go. For instance, even though ESL salaries in Southeast Asia and Latin America can’t even compare to those in the Middle East, these countries certainly make up in terms of a low cost of living. You won’t be socking away a lot in your savings account but you can still live comfortably without eating rice and beans everyday. 

You get to live in a different country

Unlike your friends who may have great jobs but can only get away for a couple of days at a time, you actually get to live in a foreign country in the long term.That means you have oodles of time to soak up the local culture, eat the local food, discover the gems beyond the tourist trail, and become fluent in the local slang. 

The opportunity to travel

Got itchy feet and a case of the wanderlust? Even if your chosen destination gets humdrum after a while, use it as a homebase to explore the rest of the region you’re based in. With some ESL jobs you can make enough money that you can explore other countries just across the border or further afield. For instance, if you’re teaching long term in China, you can always hop across to South Korea or Southeast Asia for a bit of an escape. 

The chance to make a real difference

An often overlooked benefit of teaching English abroad as a career is the opportunity to really make a difference. We’re not talking some vague concept of giving back. As a ESL teacher, you directly impact the lives of your students every time you step into the classroom. When you share your local culture, you help to improve their global understanding. You also help them learn a language that has major currency to make their lives better, particularly in the Global South. 

Personal growth

It’s not everyone who can pick themselves up to pursue a career in another country far away from home. If you choose teaching English abroad as a career, you’ll be moving way outside your comfort zone. You’ll learn how to be self-sufficient but also how to depend on others, especially in countries where you can’t comfortably speak the native language. You can also learn and master a new language and cultural skills, whether it’s speaking and writing in Russian, learning to play the djembe, or whipping up a mean paella in the cocina

The skills needed for teaching English abroad as a career

To hack a successful TEFL career, you must bring the right skills to the table. Like any other job, teaching English abroad requires a specific set of abilities and know-how. Even if you’ve never taught before, you can learn a lot of these skills by signing up for a TEFL course. Here are some skills you need to guarantee a [email protected] career in ESL.

Communication

First and foremost, you should have excellent spoken and written communication skills. You will be spending a lot of time in front of the classroom so you need to be a confident speaker. However, that doesn’t mean talking down to your students. You should aim to be friendly and approachable to staff as well.

Being a good communicator also means being an effective listener. That means paying attention to your students’ questions very carefully. In cultures where students are taught not to question their teachers, you should be aware of their body language for cues whether they’re understanding your lesson or not. 

Adaptable language

Since you’ll be teaching non-native speakers, you have to be able to use basic classroom English. Use simple rather than complex sentences. Don’t bamboozle your students with big words that cause them to reach for their dictionaries while you’re still mid-sentence. You should aim to speak slower than your natural speed, at least half of it. You’ll also be grading a lot of scripts so please use clear English when offering constructive feedback to your students.  

Cultural sensitivity

Teaching English abroad as a career also means you have to be culturally sensitive. That means not making fun of the local culture and customs and respecting the way they do things in and outside the classroom. Also, don’t act like a huge know-it-all and claim that it’s your way or the highway. That’s a sure-fire way to create culture clashes and conflict in the classroom and staffroom.

Other key skills:

To be successful at teaching English as a career, you should also have solid organizational and time management skills. You’ll probably be teaching a lot of classes so you need to keep track of your lesson plans and assessments to ensure that you reach all your students effectively. If you work well under pressure and can adapt to changes in the school, you’ll be an ace teacher. It also doesn’t hurt to bring creativity in the classroom which helps to liven up a dull English class and really motivate your students to love the subject.

Next steps to finding long term teaching jobs abroad

Want a new adventure? Ready to pursue a TEFL career for the long haul? Here are some resources to get you there pronto!

If you’re still asking yourself, “Is teaching English abroad a career?”, read more teaching articles on GoAbroad and widen your research on the interwebs. Better yet, if you still need convincing, talk to real people who’ve chosen and made successful TEFL careers abroad. It’s always nice to hear what it’s really like out there in the TEFL world from the horse’s mouth.

What’s keeping YOU from teaching English as a career?

If you’ve always wanted to pursue teaching English abroad as a career, then what’s stopping you? If it’s the opinion of your friends and family, stop agonizing what they think your life decisions and you do you! Stop living your life for other people and find out whether teaching English as a career is the right option for you. 

Once you’ve done that and weighed the pros and cons, forget your fears (irrational and otherwise) and take the plunge. In the beginning, it won’t be easy (there’s always a steep learning curve) but if you commit to it and bring the right attitude of humility and adaptability, a TEFL career can be incredibly rewarding in the long term. 

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