Is a TEFL career worth it?

21 Apr


I’m trying to find a full time TEFL position in London, but actual jobs seem thin on the ground. I have hours, and classes, but no permanent contract that guarantees the hours will continue. Apparently, a great deal of people are in this situation, indeed, it is a norm in the industry.

In many ways, it is a travesty that teachers are expected to bear the brunt of their school’s problems.  My father owns a business, and when business is not good, it is the business’ accounts that suffer, not his employees’.  In TEFL, when business is bad, it is expected that teachers will simply work less hours and get paid less, effectively bearing a large part of the financial burden. Teachers are treated like contractors, even when we perform a central part of the business.  I’ve met teachers who have been in the business for three times longer than me who are in no better position.  A general lack of work and surplus of teachers mean schools can keep up this model of business.

A highlight: being invited for dinner with students in Vietnam.


Teaching countries in Cambodia. TEFL can be rewarding as it can be infuriating.






It is what it is. And there are a lot of great things about TEFL teaching.  It’s fun and it’s truly rewarding.  Moreover, its low pressure: you are rarely observed doing your job and as long as your students are happy, your bosses will normally let you do whatever you please. It’s academic an practical, and constantly challenging. You rarely have a boring day at work in TEFL, as each class presents a new challenge. I’ve had some fantastic experiences over the last four years: I have helped students to pass life changing exams, I have fascinated four year olds with stories and helped them to learn to read, I have trained fourteen year olds to use a dictionary and fourty year olds to ask for what they want in a shop.  Moreover, I have listened to people of all ages and many different nationalities tell their stories, give their opinions and interact with each other and learned no end about the world around me.

The job is incredible, in many ways, but infuriating in others. With no stable full time hours, there’s no way to get a mortgage, the bank doesn’t even want to give me a credit card, and planning for the future is impossible. I can’t even book a holiday in four months time because I can’t guarantee that I will be able to afford to go anywhere.

And, in terms of the career, where is there to go?  Managing is pointless: you get several times the amount of stress for half the salary that McDonalds pay their managers (who are often younger than I am).  Teacher training is possible (and attractive), but you have to work your way in to it, and even then its often not full time.

I am at point where I have no idea where to go.  Should I leave the industry? Apply for jobs in something completely different?  


An unexpected party: part of a life only TEFL can offer?

Every part of me wants to think that I can turn my passion for teaching into a viable career, but right now there’s a reality-check panic alarm in the back of my mind which is saying that its time to jump ship, before I find a thirty five year old me with no house, no pension, no savings and a contract that’s only valuable for as long as the school I am am working for has customers.


6 Responses to “Is a TEFL career worth it?”

  1. Alex Walsh (@AlexSWalsh) April 22, 2013 at 2:37 am #


    I think the thoughts you’ve shared here are one’s that have gone through every ELT’s mind. At the end of the day, no one became an ELT for the money, and I think that only a certain kind of person can hack the job long term for the reasons you’ve laid out. But, for a certain type of people, the job is a dream. Before teaching English I worked as a scuba diving instructor, surf instructor and mortgage adviser. Yet, despite always being broke, never knowing if my contract will be renewed and, funnily enough, just being turned down for a credit card, I have never been happier.

    I think there are opportunities to make ELT your career, but you have to be smart about it, willing to work hard and put the effort in. I decided to go down the qualifications + professional networking route. I got myself a CELTA, then M.A TESOL, started a website like you have and networked! So far it is working out nicely, but it a lot of work outside of normal teaching hours.

    Anyway, I guess my point is, the options for long term career advancements are out there, they’re just not as obvious as in most career, and we will never be rich!


    • Jonny Lewington April 22, 2013 at 9:37 pm #

      Hi Alex,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I went down the CELTA/DELTA route only to find that in London, having a DELTA still isn’t going to get you much more than a casual contract.

      Who did you study your M.A. with? I’m thinking of starting one sometime soon!

  2. tomtesol April 22, 2013 at 5:29 am #

    Hey, I was there! Nothing to argue about. Things get a bit more stable and perhaps a little more respected outside of ‘native homelands’, and with an MS or MA, or even a PhD, earning potential works out a bit. That said, it’s only a traditional career for a very famous few, and probably several of them would argue with me. I think I’m still in it be because I couldn’t bring myself to quit doing something I loved so much… and while I do go through occasional bouts of worry that MAYBE those in other fields don’t, I haven’t regretted the choice once.

    • Jonny Lewington April 24, 2013 at 6:07 pm #

      Hi Tom!

      Thanks for your comment. Good to hear that someone has stuck with it and not regretted it.

      M.A., that seems to be the theme. I thought a DELTA would be enough, but now I have major doubts. But also, two years part time is a massive commitment, both physically and financially, so I’m still weighing up whether it would be worth it.

      • Tom Randolph (@TomTesol) April 25, 2013 at 1:03 am #

        I already had a DELTA, too — and the last thing I wanted was 2 years of (redundant) MA-TESOL study supervised by guys who I figured were too far removed from real classrooms to be much use. Such was my attitude at the time. I opted for an MS in a related field — mine was Applied Sociolinguistics, and I got a lot more long-term personal gain from that choice than I would have from the MA-T. No regrets and only a few ‘wasted time’ requirements.

        There are a lot of guys over here (in Asia), earning reasonably well while doing a blended MA/MS part-time… travelling back to the UK in the summers and what-not. If you want to, you will do it. If you don’t you won’t. Simple as that. Best of luck.


  1. Test subject A- a follow up TEFL: Finding Legitimate Companies. | frogandcount - May 26, 2013

    […] Is a TEFL career worth it? ( […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: