Life as a TEFL teacher, what is it really like?
Before teaching, I was always told that you need to graduate from university, find a job, preferably in corporate and build your life from there, your standard textbook advice to life. I had a great bunch of friends, and a steady job which meant stable income and I got to travel at least once a year, twice if lucky. However, the nine to five routine soon became mundane, I felt something was missing from my life and I was never satisfied. I had some good days and some bad, but even when I was enjoying my good days, I felt like there was more I could do. More to see, more to learn and more to experience. It was then it clicked that I needed to branch out and explore the world.
Possibly like you, I wondered how sustainable it was taking time off to travel without getting finance, and how long I needed to save before taking the huge step. After extensive research, I had finally found my answer, it was to teach English as a foreign language, to become TEFL certified.
English following Chinese and Spanish is one of the most spoken languages in the world and as such many countries demand for people like me and possibly you, to travel and get paid to teach English. The best thing about TEFL is, you can get certified almost anywhere in the world, in Asia, South America or in my case in Madrid, Europe.
Many ask me, “What is the salary like? Can you survive?” the answer is absolutely YES, however this required some sensible planning. When I decided to make the big move, I did not rush into things, as much as I wanted to be in Madrid as soon as possible, I sat down and worked out all the expenses that would be on-going while I will be away for the year. I made sure I had all those expenses saved up so that I didn’t have to worry about it while I was enjoying my time in sunny Madrid. I also decided to save up at least 3 months’ worth of rent as I knew I would be busy completing the TEFL course during the first month, then looking for a job which I would then get paid at the end of each month.
Currently, I work eighteen hours a week and earn about 1,100 euros per month after tax. You have full control over your own salary. If you feel like you need more, you take up more hours. For me this is perfect, I always joke that “I don’t know how I can ever go back to a forty-hour week”. I love telling people that I only work four days a week which means I can explore more of Spain and travel around Europe!
Madrid is one of those cities where you will most likely break even. On my current salary, I am able to live right in the heart of Madrid and I love it! Eating out, drinks and groceries are also relatively cheap. My go to Spanish breakfast only costs me 3 euros, toast with tomato and coffee (tostada con tomate y café), this is as traditional as you can get! Madrid is also filled with affordable activities and even better, their museums have allocated free visiting hours.
Can TEFL be a career?
Teaching English abroad has always had this reputation that is it not a “real profession”. Often when you mention to your family and friends that you want to become a TEFL teacher, their typical response would be, “I am happy for you, but for how long, and when will you return home?” Whilst this is partly true, I would definitely say TEFL can be a career. Why be a fish in the pond when you can swim the ocean?
Like any job, you don’t stay in one position all your life. After some months or years of teaching, who’s to say you cannot progress into roles such as a curriculum co-ordinator, an educational consultant, a trainer or even start your own academy?! All my trainers were ex TEFL teachers and they know it the best because they have all been in the exact same situation as us.
Finally, if you do decide to move home, there are always foreign students who need preparation for IELTS, Cambridge exams, and ESL classes. So YES, TEFL can be a career, teaching is a career.
TEFL teachers are in high demand and what’s better, you dictate your own hours, the types of students, level, and classes. Let’s have a look at the different opportunities, once you are TEFL Certified.
Many students, children or adults take up English classes after school or work. These classes usually run in the evening up until 10:00PM. The best thing about these classes, you are usually in one location (minimised travel time) and it is advertised in “block hours”.
If you like working with children and enjoy a fixed schedule then maybe working at a school is the answer for you. Classes usually run from 9:00AM – 2:00PM sometimes even 5:00PM depending on the school.
You will be teaching adults, you get allocated a company, it can range from: construction, engineering, banks etc. These classes are generally held early in the morning between 8:00AM – 10:00AM or in the afternoon between 2:00PM – 4:00PM.
There are many websites out there that advertise for private teachers, you find your own students, set your own rate and location. These are usually paid cash in hand!
Finding a job is not hard, I would say finding classes to fit into your lifestyle and your timetable is more difficult. Are you a morning or late-night person? Do you want to enjoy a three-day weekend? These are some of the factors you will need to take into consideration when agreeing to the classes offered.
Sometimes I wonder what life would be like after TEFL, when it’s time to finally return home. Will I feel refreshed and fall in love with my previous job again? It has only been 3 months and I can already feel and see my growth. I can still remember teaching my very first class, I was over prepared because I felt anxious, it was literally all eyes on me. What I want to say is, if you do not choose to pursue TEFL as a career, I can assure you that you will have grown in many ways that you did not think was possible. You will only gain from this experience.
Whilst, I have been blessed to do what I love, teaching is not any ordinary job. Just because you are native, it does not mean you are suited for the role. I have learnt that it requires:
Confidence: it will be all eyes on you. Through my experience so far, I have learnt to be calm and focused when standing in front of a large group. Do you remember those times when you had to give a presentation? That sick butterfly feeling right beforehand? Well, this does not even cross my mind anymore!
Patience: the ability to stay calm even if it means explaining a particular word, phrase 100 times.
Empathy: apart from teaching English, I also take Spanish classes. It is nice to be in the shoes of your students. Learning a new language can be difficult. I understand what it is like being afraid to say or pronounce something incorrectly. I understand how frustrating it can be when you can’t fully express yourself.
Organised: nothing is worse than turning up to class unprepared, your students will notice this. Always have extra materials!
Looking back, I am glad I took the courage to decide to move abroad. I would be lying if I said I do not miss home, but the life experiences I have gained so far are priceless and irreplaceable! If you are on the fence, please just take the leap of faith.
Living abroad definitely broadens the mind. You will develop a new way of thinking and experience a different way of living. Immersing yourself into a new culture and teaching opens up a different way of life, you get to interact with locals and not the typical tour guide handbook.
Lastly, how many of you can say you have made a difference in somebody’s life? Whether it is to help that particular student to pass an interview, an exam or increase their job prospect, that one-hour lesson you planned can change your students’ life forever and hopefully have helped them opened many opportunities.
Till this day, it makes my heart smile when I see my students’ eyes light up when they understand what I have taught. When my students can successfully use a phrase or new word, I know I have done my job properly. Being able to pass on knowledge has been one of the most rewarding experiences thus far and the greatest gift you can give to anyone.
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