Teaching English as a Foreign Language sometimes gets a bad rap. People assume we’re all on holiday all the time, spending our not-very-hard earned cash on beer and flight tickets. In reality, while that may be the case for a few of us, teachers of English as a Foreign Language still have to work hard, and feel passionate about our choice of job. Yes we have fun at weekends like everyone else, and yes we enjoy the fringe benefits of our job, but that’s nothing to get down on ourselves about.
Even if most of us only do it for a few years, teaching English as a foreign language is an awesome choice. You serve a real market need, and help people develop new skills. You make pretty good money the world over. You have adventure, fun, and get out of the 9-5 rut. You learn new things about yourself and other cultures. And then often, you return home a more well-rounded person with a greater outlook on the world.
For many teachers though, we turn TEFL into our full-on, long-term, all-guns-blazing career. We don’t care about people who judge our profession or think we’re not serious, and we don’t need to think about ‘getting a real job’ because we realize we already have a job we love – and we don’t want to go back and earn a seven figure salary sitting in an office and watching life pass us by. That’s not to say that everyone does that, but we know more than a few people who do. But here’s the other thing people don’t realize – you don’t have to stay on the bottom rung of teaching English forever. While we all have to start somewhere, people don’t realize that TEFL is absolutely not a dead-end. You can do a lot of different things, utilize all that experience and skill that you’ve developed, and keep a slice of the TEFL life even when living in your home country. If you feel like you’re worn out with the classroom, then consider these five career paths that you can follow.
1. Language school management
One of the most obvious choices if you love teaching English and don’t want to be too far from the classroom is language school management. Typically, the career progression is from teacher to senior teacher, then academic co-ordinator, and finally academic manager or director of studies. In these kinds of roles, your responsibilities might vary depending on whether you work for a big chain or an independent centre. It’s likely though, that you’ll be involved with maintaining academic standards, keeping a few classroom hours here and there, recruitment, budgeting, and marketing. You might even get to the stage of running the school, and having serious input in future plans and development.
For anyone interested in the business side of things, this is a great way to stay in the TEFL industry, work abroad, and have a clear career path without working yourself into an early grave. It’s also likely that if you work your way up to Academic Manager, you’ll be rewarded very well for your work. Some sources indicate that an Academic Manager at a large language centre can make $5,000 a month or more, which when you live in a country with a lower cost of living than home makes for a very comfortable lifestyle.
It’s also possibly to move out of the academic side of things entirely. While it’s not quite as simple and might require extra training, there’s no reason that if you get a foothold in a large, multinational organization, for instance the British Council, that you can’t transition from a teaching position into operations or business management. If you’ve got a talent for development, strategy, finance, or marketing, and are able to focus on the ‘bigger picture’ of private education, then this is a viable option. The important thing is to talk to your seniors and let them know of your intentions. Ask how they can support your goals, and whether you can gain practical on-the-job experience of different functions, while maintaining or reducing your teaching load. Remember, language schools are still a functional business, and as a teacher, you have valuable subject matter knowledge and can help make vital strategic decisions. If that’s something you’re interested in, then there’s no reason that you can’t move into strategic or operational roles. It may take time, but it’s certainly possible.
Already thinking about it? You could start in the ESL Capital…
A surprising option might be the high-flying world of academia. If teaching is truly what makes you happy, or you’re interested in researching and understanding more about languages, then it’s worth considering this path. Word of warning: it’s expensive, competitive, and intellectually challenging. But, if you can make it through, you can be rewarded with the knowledge that you’ve pushed forward the frontiers of human knowledge (a little grandiose, but true). You’ll also have great job mobility, a good salary, and working in a university environment is often very pleasant. Time to focus on your own research is also a big consideration, if that’s something you’re passionate about. Assuming you have a bachelor’s degree, the obvious choice is to pursue an MA in TESOL, or even a Delta, followed by an MA TESOL (Some programmes exempt you from certain modules if you have Delta – so it can be a good way to get two qualifications at a discount!). You can look at our article on ‘which MA TESOL’ to find out more. After that comes the tricky bit. While an MA will allow you to teach in most universities around the world on English programmes, if you want to get into lecturing and research at Ivy-League or Russell Group standard schools, you’ll need to undertake a PhD. It’s a long journey, and at four to five years of study, it’s not for the faint-hearted. For some though, it’ll be a labour of love, and what more worthwhile ways are there to spend your time than that?
The ELT publishing market is a huge, huge industry. As you’ll know from time spent in the classroom, there are hundreds of coursebooks to choose from, and these are authored, updated, and reprinted on an annual basis. With that of course comes online resources, CDs, and supplementary materials. These are huge, multi-million dollar projects. Particularly if you want to go and work somewhere like London, there are definitely publishing positions to be found. Most of these require a minimum of five years’ experience teaching, and a high level of subject knowledge and qualifications helps too. Moving into the publishing industry as a subject matter expert, senior publisher, or even director is possible with some elbow grease and a little initiative. So if you want to return home, and want to leave the classroom but don’t know where to go, the publishing industry will welcome your expertise.
Interested in learning more? Check outthis articlefrom the Society of Young Publishers.
Once you feel like you’ve accumulated enough time in the classroom, then maybe it’s time to pass the torch. Being a teacher trainer is a viable option for every highly experienced English teacher. We’re extremely lucky to be at a point of incredible growth for our industry, and over time this is set to continue, meaning that the demand for teacher trainers is going to keep going up.
The normal way to do this would be to work on obtaining a Delta, and getting a good range of experience across age groups, and even countries. Knowing the industry and the challenges new teachers will face is a key part of being a teacher trainer. To be a CELTA trainer will normally mean finding a training centre willing to take you on, and then signing a contract to train with them for a minimum time period. After this, you’re free to freelance, or seek a permanent position. Good pay, freedom, and the ability to travel are some of the highlights of this career path. Imagine choosing to go for a month or so and train overseas, then having a month off before choosing where to go next! Not a bad way of life.
Here’sa little info on what it takes from The British Council.
6. Language Consultant
Language Consultant is one of those titles that just sounds nice, doesn’t it? But unfortunately, writing down what a language consultant does is no easy matter. Essentially, a language consultant will work freelance on a number of projects. This could mean anything from devising courses for a centre to working on a major language planning project for a city. It could mean organizing the translation of street signs accurately, or it could mean editing a book. A language consultant has to be flexible, open to different projects, and have a great skill set. The most important aspect is a brilliant feel for language, deep knowledge of English, and the ability to get stuck into different roles. Language is ever-more important in a variety of domains, and working as a language consultant can mean a career that’s well paying (freelance projects usually are and have significant funding), comes with a lot of international travel, and a real ‘no two days the same’ job description. But be warned – to get into consulting isn’t easy. You’ll need expertise and experience, as long as a great network and the ability to cope if you don’t find work for a few months. Working freelance can be spotty, and if you’re not comfortable with having an income that varies and requires you to hop on new projects you might not be familiar with, this might not be for you.
7. Materials Writer / Author
Many teaching experts use their years in the classroom to get into authoring. Textbooks need people to write them, as do supplementary books and workbooks. There’s a huge demand for ELT materials, and only very experienced teachers can write them, because they understand what students need! Many of the ‘big names’ in ELT, have moved into this field, or academia, or both! It goes without saying that to get to this kind of position you’ll need a track record of teaching and further qualifications, particularly Delta or an MA TESOL. Writing materials could be a flexible, lucrative, and enjoyable career where you get to help learners all over the world do their thing and get the most from their time in class. Sounds rewarding, right?
And we had to include entrepreneur. Those special few with the courage, determination, vision, and grit to start their own TEFL business may find themselves rewarded greatly. Of course you have to take on some risk, but as we’ve said, TEFL is a growing industry with more and more students across the world looking to master the international language.
Your options include starting your own language school, student exchange programmes, teacher training centres, or websites. You’ll need to invest your time and money to get a return, but there’s no reason that you can’t be the next Elon Musk of the TEFL world.
So there you have it, 7 (or 8) career paths that begin with TEFL. Now next time someone says TEFL is a dead-end career, you can smite them with your powerful knowledge of just how diverse, interesting, and unique our industry is, and just how many options there are for the dedicated few who stay on this rewarding and exciting TEFL path.