Do Your Homework

So you’re thinking about it? Fed up with your cosy Western life and needing a total change from your life of drudgery, routine and general sameness. It’s time for a new you! Just need some inspiration…

There is no easier way that I know of, aside from being outrageously wealthy, to up sticks and go off to live in another country than taking on a new career as an English language teacher. In any one of the many up and coming countries around the world opportunities are plentiful. You just need to know where to start, and to do a little homework! It’s not as bad as the homework you’ll soon be giving to your new students, so stop your whinging now! Not that students ever do their homework by the way…

The first decision you need to make, is where in the world do you want to go? I can’t really help you with that, as it is a matter of personal choice, but there are some obvious factors you should consider. Do you speak a second language? Might be a good idea to have a look at what options are available in countries where your second language is the native, or at least widely spoken, tongue.

Where are the best teaching opportunities opening up, financially speaking? Don’t let anyone kid you that teaching English is going to make you rich. It’s not, despite what some of the ads / forum posters would have you believe. But obviously there are places where demand is greater, living standards better, and payments higher. Don’t just look at the gross sums that are advertised as monthly wages though! Big mistake!

Firstly, bear in mind that many potential employers may exaggerate possible earnings! Secondly, try and find out what the cost of living is in any country you are looking at. Rent, utilities, food and transport can all vary a great deal. $2,000 per month in country A might look twice as good as $1,000 per month in country B, but if the bills in country A are ten times higher…..you can work it out!

How easy is it to move to a particular country and get a job? This is a real difficult one because it can vary greatly, and needs perhaps more homework than any other topic here. Not least because the official line on visas, renting property etc is often very different to what can be done in reality. There is no shortcut here! Once you have a shortlist of possible countries you’d like to work in, start emailing people who are already there. Get the low down from the people already on the ground! Don’t be put off, it is almost always possible. If it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be English teachers there, right?! But obviously the more you know about what is involved, the better.

Lastly….or should this be firstly? It can be either! How are you going to get qualified to teach English? Ok, it is possible to start teaching English with nil qualifications. But bear in mind, that people who employ unqualified teachers often pay little, in many cases too little to live on. This is fine for Gap year students who just need some extra cash to supplement their savings. It will cost to get a certificate, but in the long run, if you are genuinely intent on starting a new life, or at least spending a couple of years away from it all, the cost of getting that certificate is probably worth it.

So what counts as a qualification? A university degree will undoubtedly be a huge help in obtaining visas and the best paid jobs, and could possibly negate the need for a TEFL certificate, depending on where you go and with whom you seek employment. But a degree really isn’t necessary, so don’t despair if you haven’t got one – I haven’t and I’m doing fine!

So assuming you’re going to go for that TEFL course. What to look out for? What should they offer? How well recognised is their certificate? There are a lot of providers out their, offering a range of different courses, guaranteed jobs upon completion, etc, and of course some are better than others, and some are down right cons. You don’t want to be conned, so again, do your homework!

There are plenty of reputable companies offering good courses all over the world, and a little research on the various TEFL/ESL forums (see my Links) will quickly help you root out the good ‘uns. Just remember, if someone is offering a course that seems incredibly generous/good value in comparison to others…..well like in all walks of life, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t. Perhaps that’s the first phrase you should teach to your students!

So what should they offer? Well a two week course minimum, but the usual is a four week course, of varying intensity depending on the provider. But you should look for more than this. Most course providers can arrange airport collection, accommodation when you arrive, work once you have qualified, and general support and advice in adapting to your new life. Price wise costs can differ enormously from country to country of course. Expect to pay at least $1,000, up to $2,500 plus. Check them out, ask them questions and most importantly seek out special deals! An awful lot of course providers offer discounts to fill a class in the event of a cancellation, or during a slow period. Don’t be afraid to ask!

The last point I’m going to write about can sometimes be a source of controversy in the TEFL world – the subject of certification! What counts as a ‘good’ or ‘recognised’ certificate is argued about a plenty. For sure, there are two particular courses which claim to be the only internationally recognised ones about – the CELTA and Trinity, available in most large cities by at least one provider. There are those who insist that anything else is a waste of time and the paper the certificate is printed on. Others insist it isn’t so!

For what it’s worth, here is my opinion. If you are definitely dead set on a long career as a TEFL teacher, will be traveling around the world, spending a year or more in different countries, or want to progress to Director of Studies or whatever then maybe a CELTA or Trinity is a worthwhile investment. Maybe. Bear in mind that whatever certificate you obtain, once you are working you will be racking up experience, and that is also valued in most countries.

For most TEFL’ers however, it really isn’t an issue. You’ll be taking your certificate in the county you want to work in, and providing you chose a decent course provider in the first place, you should be fine. You’ll probably find it no barrier when or if you want to teach elsewhere in the world if you have built up at least a year, preferably two, worth of experience.

So what did I do? I took a course with Teachers Latin America in Mexico. No CELTA, no Trinity, no hassles. Actually, my certificate is on a shelf next to me, and now that I think about it, not one of my employers has ever asked if I’m qualified at all, let alone asked to see the certificate…! Was it worth taking at all? I’ll be writing about my course next…


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