‘Within two months of doing the weekend TEFL taster, I was working in Colombia!’
Shirley Finlayter, like many of us, was working in her old job and realised one day she needed a change. She worked in a retail head office and had simply been doing it long enough. She didn’t hate her work – it just didn’t drive or motivate her anymore.
This is a blog post about life as a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher and how this evolved for Shirley into a career as a TEFL teacher trainer and into managing her own English language teaching consultancy in Brighton & Hove, Concorde Education Services. She wants to help anyone keen to do something similar and, in this interview, shares the main things you need to know to help assess if the TEFL lifestyle might suit you too.
After realising retail head office training was no longer her calling, Shirley signed up for a weekend TEFL taster workshop to discover whether this might be her new path. After one weekend, she was hooked: ‘I loved it so much’. Within two months she’d moved to Colombia where she stayed for 7 years.
Over the years she’s completed her TEFL Certificate, Diploma in English Language Teaching (ELT) and a master’s degree in Applied Linguistics and ELT.
Her job has taken her to Libya, Senegal and Egypt where she worked for the British Council as a teacher trainer and English project manager. If the idea of travel and educating others appeals then read on, because doing a TEFL course is easy, accessible and age is not a barrier – so a great idea for anyone looking to change careers.
What does a typical teaching day/week look like?
The day usually starts with a planning session. You need to consider the needs of the people in your class and plan and prepare for what you’ll do next. You need to plan the day and be clear about what objectives you are setting for the class. The majority of the time is then the actual teaching – being with the class and working with them, answering their questions as you take them through the lesson plan you’ve prepared.
What are the main skills you need?
Cultural sensitivity. You’ll be working with people from different cultural backgrounds. Everything from thinking about the food you are ordering, to not taking things personally if people treat you differently because you are a woman/black/younger/male etc.
It’s important to have an open mind. When you are working in different countries, you will come across cultural norms or practises which may differ from what you are used to and consequently, which you might not agree with. You need to try and view things from perspectives of other people and not be closed minded to how others live.
You also need good IT skills. You need to be comfortable using different packages like Skype, Zoom or Adobe Connect. It depends to a large extent on the client and what they are using (some can be quite stubborn!) but the blended approach of online and face to face learning is certainly increasing in popularity.
What are the highs/lows of doing this work?
– I learn something new every day. I work with brilliant teachers who teach me how they work and about their teaching contexts. It’s wonderful.
– I also enjoy getting feedback. Courses are rated and independently assessed, in a private language school setting this is usually done by the British Council. I really enjoy opportunities to learn and get feedback on my own skills.
– The travelling! Most people love this part of the job and I’m no exception. I’ve been to some amazing places and treasure the memories I’ve made there. It’s a wonderful way to see new countries and to experience them not just as a tourist, but as someone who gets really embedded in a culture.
– It is sometimes hard working with a wide range of different expectations. Managing the expectations of a group can be challenging and people can often have unrealistic expectations about how far they’ll develop in the time we have.
– I’m a black female and the reality is, in some countries, you may similarly have characteristics about you which your class don’t readily accept. If they are expecting a white male and they get a black female, it can be hard work to break down the barriers. Not being the same religion, gender, having too strong an accent, being too old/too young, etc. can all cause issues. It isn’t personal – it’s culturally different and it takes time to build relationships.
What are the barriers to entry? How hard is it to become a TEFL teacher and then to become a teacher trainer?
To become a TEFL teacher is relatively easy but you need to have a good level of English. You can literally do a taster workshop over two days to get a good feel for what is involved. Most people do this, test things out and if they like it and want to progress as a teacher then you can consider one of these options:
- Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA), awarded by Cambridge Assessment English
- Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CertTESOL), awarded by Trinity College London.
To get the CELTA or Trinity Certificate is expensive, at around £1,400 – £1,700, and you need the time and energy to invest 100% into the course as it is very intensive. However, it is a good investment and I’d say that you re-coup that cost quickly as there is a high demand for people with these qualifications and you earn more when you have them.
A cheaper option, post-weekend TEFL course, is to study an online teacher development course which lasts around 120-140 hours. You can find numerous training providers online.
Then to progress as a trainer and increase your employability skills you should consider one of these options:
- Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (DELTA), awarded by Cambridge Assessment English
- DipTESOL awarded by Trinity College London UK
- IH Teacher Training Qualification, International House UK
Speaking of earning more, how much can a TEFL teacher and teacher trainer earn?
A TEFL teacher can earn around £2,200 ($3,000) per month this depends on:
- Location (big cities such as London and Dubai will pay higher)
- Teaching experience (+2 years post-CELTA or equivalent will pay higher)
- Type of course (Business English & IELTS often pay more)
A TEFL teacher trainer can expect to earn over £2-3,000 a month after tax. Salaries can be supplemented in the following ways:
- Webinars £25 per participant
- Online tuition £10-£12 per hour
- Writing online and print content £20-£24 per hour