By Josh Butterworth. Josh has experience teaching on our programs in China and Thailand.
The benefits of teaching abroad are well known. Travel, incredible food, better weather, and unforgettable experiences are but a few.
But I would guess – that if you’re reading this – you’re probably unaware what the realities of being a TEFL teacher actually are. How easy or difficult it is to be one, and what challenges it brings.
And I’m assuming that maybe, just maybe, it’s a fear of the unknown stopping you from considering it as an option.
After receiving my TEFL qualification in 2019 – I’ve since taught in Shanghai, Thailand, and online. With my experience, I hope I can shed some light on how difficult, or easy, it really is embarking on a teaching adventure to some faraway land.
Getting a TEFL qualification
You guessed it. The first thing any prospective TEFL teacher must do – is land themselves a TEFL certificate. Qualification from a 120 hour course, to be specific. The good news is, it’s not as tough as it sounds.
Finding a course is easy, a quick Google search pulls up numerous options, but choosing the right one can be tricky. Prices vary, as does quality. But there are plenty of good ones out there.
And if finding the right one is too overwhelming, then Impact Teaching offers the qualification included in its teaching programs.
Once you have a course – all you need now is a bit of time, some hard work, and the desire to get it done. And although studying may not be the top of your agenda, the course really isn’t too complex or taxing (and it doesn’t actually take 120 hours, but keep that between us).
With the world of opportunity that having a TEFL brings, a bit of grind for a few weeks is completely worth it. Make sure you take plenty of notes because you can use them in the final exam, and nobody will know if you have another laptop open to help with any sticky questions.
So don’t be scared of doing a TEFL, it really isn’t that hard.
Finding a job
TEFL completed – time to find a job.
At this stage you have two options. The first is heading over to our old friend Google, banging in ‘TEFL jobs in ____’, and hitting search. You won’t be short of options. There are a ton of websites with thousands of listings, so put on the kettle and get scrolling.
To apply for these jobs you’ll need your CV, a cover letter, TEFL certificate, and in most but not all cases – a degree. Although an exciting and not particularly challenging process, it can be draining.
And unsuccessful applications are usually caused by one thing – schools requiring classroom experience.
It may be a frustrating barrier, but isn’t impossible to overcome. There are schools out there who accept new or inexperienced teachers, they’re just harder to find. So don’t be disheartened by setbacks. Make your CV and cover letter the best they can be, and keep applying.
Your second option – letting an agency, like Impact Teaching, do the work for you. No experience? No problem. An agency is sure to find you a school. So, put the kettle on and relax.
Documents and visas
I’m afraid – getting yourself a TEFL and landing a job doesn’t mean you can head straight to the airport. There are a number of tasks that need completing first. At least if you’re doing things legally (which I highly recommend).
The first is authenticating your documents. Your degree, TEFL, and background check all need to be legalised depending on which country you’ll be teaching. This effectively proves they are real. It’s necessary for China, Thailand, and Vietnam – but not Poland or Cambodia. There are a few different steps that I won’t go into now, but keep an eye out for future blogs because I will be covering this topic.
And there’s plenty of websites out there that will point you in the right direction.
It can be cheaper to complete these steps individually, but also rather complicated. And you really want to make sure everything is done right. So, the easiest thing to do is use a company that offers packages completing everything for you. You can find them online, or, Impact Teaching has longstanding relationships with trusted companies that offer discounts for its teachers.
Once you have all your documents ready, it’s visa time baby. Different countries visa applications vary, some are easier than others. But with the guidance of your school and/or an agency – it’s an exciting process that isn’t too difficult.
Documents and visas do have the potential to be a bit scary, but there’s plenty of guidance available out there. And they’re really not something to worry about, just one of the necessary final steps of the journey.
Culture shock and homesickness
So, now that we know the challenges, if you can call them that, involved in becoming a TEFL teacher. I want to tell you about some of the issues you may face once you’ve left home, and are now in the country you’ll be teaching in.
I speak from experience. After moving to China, to one of the biggest cities in the world. And to a rural Thai town. Culture shock is real, as is homesickness.
And these negative feelings can be difficult. I’ll be honest. But I beat them, and so can anyone. All it takes is a positive attitude, patience, and a willingness to remember why you are there. For an experience that will never leave you.
Surrounding yourself with kind people and immersing yourself headfirst into the new culture – is the best (and only) way to overcome negativity. And at the end of it all, you’ll come out the other side a stronger and more confident person.
Can culture shock and homesickness be difficult? The answer is yes.
Can they be overcome? Yes.
Are they worth enduring? Absolutely.
Whether you’re teaching a class of 5 students, or 50, entering a classroom as a new teacher can be a daunting.
With the skills you’ve learned completing a TEFL, and training if you’ve chosen to go down the agency route, you should be fully prepared to teach like pro. But it’s not that simple. Of course.
On my first day – I felt more like Jack Black from School of Rock, than someone who was actually ready to shape minds. An impostor of sorts.
But in reality, this feeling is likely to occur at the start of any new job. It’s important to remember that. And both my Chinese and Thai coworkers were all very patient when I started, and weren’t expecting perfection on day one. So any pressure you may feel is likely to be self-inflicted. All you can do is try your best and your efforts will be appreciated.
And just like anything, by the end of your first or second week, confidence will start to grow. And within a month – that impostor syndrome will be gone.
The other major concern people have, and ask most about when they’re considering becoming a TEFL teacher, is classroom management.
But from my experience, and that of other teachers I know – it’s really nothing to worry and it.
There are times when students misbehave or don’t do their work. It can be draining, yes, it’s tiring. But as your experience and skills grow, you learn how to deal with these issues. And with the assistance of co-teachers or other staff members – you WILL be able to get them under control.
Impostor syndrome, classroom management issues, and pressure that you’re not teaching well – are all natural. They can be difficult and cause stress, but just like in any new job, they’re part of the challenge that you absolutely have the capability to overcome.
So, is being a TEFL teacher difficult? There’s no straightforward answer. But I would say – no.
It doesn’t come without challenges. But with all the benefits attached – including skills you’ll struggle to gain anywhere else, and a stronger CV with better future job prospects – these minor struggles are more than worth enduring.
But hey, I know, it’s still can seem like an overwhelming and scary move. That’s why Impact Teaching is here to help. With over 17 years’ experience placing thousands of teachers in China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Poland – they’re the best people to help you begin your teaching journey. And assist you on every step of the way.
To discover more – explore their website – and arrange a call with Arnold here. The guy behind Impact Teaching and Teach English in China – who helps new teachers get where they want to go.