Is your TEFL ticket past its sell-by date?

Excuse me, love, do you have any bangers and mash?

Excuse me, love, do you have any bangers and mash?

Travel, travel and more travel – that’s what everybody would like to do, if only they had the time and the money. “See the world, lad, before you settle down”, my grandad used to say. Of course, he was right. There is nothing like travel for seeing how the other half live, delving into exotic cultures and then realising the limitations of your own. For some of us, travel can be addictive. We soon get bored with the easy life at home and yearn for adventure. When the travel bug gets serious, we want to throw off our tourist garb and settle somewhere for a while, learn the lingo, fall in love, submerge ourselves. But how to earn an honest crust?

Teaching English abroad is bags of fun when you're young...

Teaching English abroad is bags of fun when you’re young…

Well, if you are lucky enough to be a native English speaker, Bob’s your uncle! You can teach English, of course – what could be simpler? You were born speaking English so it’s as natural to you as falling off a lorry. All you have to do is talk…and listen to your sweet (but very slow) students without falling asleep. Eureka! Instant job, instant income! But hang on a minute…you know how to speak English, but you’re not sure how to, erm, ‘teach’ it. What about grammar and all that stuff? Well, to be honest, depending on how far-flung your destination is, you might get by with little or no previous experience. If a student asks you about the ‘Present Perfect’, you can always say you’ll do that in the future. Trouble is, if you go somewhere more popular, you might face competition from somebody ‘trained’: a qualified TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher, no less.

Yes, folks, the world is choc full of TEFL teachers of every hue and stamp – the young and the old, the keen and the jaded, the settled and the shackled. In my experience, there are three predominant ‘types’ of TEFL teacher you are likely to come across on your travels:

Hooray - I've got my TEFL ticket to the world! How far is Timbuktu?

Hooray – I’ve got my TEFL ticket to the world! How far is Timbuktu?

The Backpacker: this is the charlie who jumps off the banana boat in Rio and, after filling his nostrils with that tropical sea air and spotting the beach totty, bangs on the door of the first ‘School of English’ in view. He’s a chancer, an opportunist, but hey – he’s doing no-one any harm! Besides, he will most likely be paid peanuts but doesn’t care because he is only in it for the ride, ‘the craic’ as they say in Dublin. Come Christmas he’ll be on the plane heading back to Aunty Doreen and Uncle Derek in Darlington, no hearts broken. Believe me, there is wisdom in his nonchalance.

Forget grammar, Alfredo...let's just chat till the pubs open

Forget grammar, Alfredo…let’s just chat till the pubs open

The Dabbler: these guys are by far the most common, thickly spread like dandelions in a prison garden. They arrive in their 20s on a Club Med holiday, get hooked on the sun and the laid-back lifestyle and end up drinking so much they forget to go home. These time-servers have a rudimentary knowledge of English teaching methodology, having completed a three-week crash course in Bournemouth in 1991. Or was it 1993? They can’t remember. As teachers they are popular types, ditching the dreaded ‘course book’ for something called ‘conversation’, which often turns out to be a teacher’s monologue about past exploits, peppered with personal anecdotes. Lessons may be extended if there is a bar nearby. For the dabbler, ‘home’ is a murky memory too scary to contemplate, a cold dark place full of stressed-out people with crippling mortgages.

The Pro: this power-dressed Iron Lady makes the rest of us look like supermarket stackers on a pub trip. She has spent years studying the whys and wherefores of teaching methodology and the science of language acquisition, finally being honoured with an MA in Linguistics from Utah University. She is Miss Serious and never gets her knickers in a twist. When not in the classroom overawing students with her knowledge, she can be found lurking in the corridors of TEFL Conferences in Milan or São Paulo, clutching a bunch of papers concerning the effects of modal verbs on mental health.

Today's word is 'cheek'...these are your cheeks - go on, feel them!

Today’s word is ‘cheek’…these are your cheeks – go on, feel them!

Different though they may be in many respects, these TEFL ‘types’ all face the same dilemma: whether to stick it out in the big wide world or whether to face the music one day and creep back ‘home’ to Bognor Regis. The key words here are ‘happiness’ and ‘job satisfaction’: if you have both of these, you are laughing. You may also be well-integrated into a new, foreign family and feel perfectly settled in your adopted homeland. But for those of us who haven’t embraced TEFL heartily as a lifelong career, endless days of ‘conversation’ – broken by the occasional detour into the dictionary of phrasal verbs – becomes steadily less rewarding.

There were two old TEFL teachers sat in deckchairs, and one said the the other...

There were two old TEFL teachers sat in deckchairs, and one said to the other…

After all, TEFL is not rocket science. Actually, it is much more of a laudable profession for those people who are non-native speakers and have had to study the language for years. I have met many non-native EFL teachers and they love everything about English, gaining much personal satisfaction from their achievements in a foreign tongue. Most of them put us native ‘buskers’ to shame.

Miss - how do you say 'I fancy the pants off you' in English?

Miss – how do you say ‘I fancy the pants off you’ in English?

So, as an old hand at the ‘game’, what is my advice to those of you considering the TEFL route around the world? That’s simple: definitely go for it, no question about that. Nothing comes close to the soul-lifting experience of living abroad. However, there is a caveat I must throw in: don’t put all your eggs in one basket (or all your verbs in the same sentence). In my experience, it is only for the very few that TEFL becomes an engaging and financially rewarding long-term career. Before you swan off to Beijing, you need to think seriously about adding more strings to your bow, or developing a parallel career. Then, if you end up back in Blighty with a backpack full of memories and empty pockets, you are not reduced to serving behind the bar at the Nag’s Head in Romford.

All those fabulous memories...but one day I might end up back in Wigan

All those fabulous memories…but one day I might end up back in Wigan

TEFL may be a ‘ticket to the world’, but it just might not be enough to keep you abroad forever. As Spandau Ballet put it so memorably in the 80s, ‘I bought a ticket to the world / But now I’ve come back again / Why do I find it hard to write the next line / Oh I want the truth to be said’. ‘Writing the next line’ is, figuratively speaking, what you will have to do post-TEFL, so be prepared. Oh, and the name of the song? True, of course, like everything I write in From Bradford to Brazil! And don’t be late for class tomorrow…

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Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Is your TEFL ticket past its sell-by date?

  1. Another great, Martin! A lot of very relevant, true and accurate observations told with your customary style and good humour – Absolutely loved the illustrative photos! ‘The young and the old, the keen and the jaded, the settled and the shackled’ those and the three teacher types set me thinking as to where I fit in to the denominations. Guess a bit of a mixture. Your mention of Darlington made me think, ‘I’m sure I told Martin about my Auntie Win and Uncle Harry in Darlington’. Also, was your line “You may also be well-integrated into a new, foreign family and feel perfectly settled in your adopted homeland” by any chance with me in mind? Just from my pennyworth, I think, like so many other jobs/professions/occupations, in the end it’s what YOU make of it. I’m quite sure I wouldn’t want to still be teaching in a standard English language school. I never had much time for the ‘Teffely teacher types’, all running around trying to be desperately perfect ‘to the book’ teachers – always been a bit of a rebel – I nearly got thrown off the course for daring to question the sacred International House methods. I guess I love the freedom of my work, the diversity (translations and revisions thrown in) and I really do enjoy watching people progress and enjoy their learning experience. I’ve no idea what I’ll be doing in the future but, if by any chance you’re in Romford, take a peak in the door at ‘The Nag’s Head’, just in case…

  2. Brilliant analysis, Martin! Would you believe I am currently taking a course to become a qualified TEFL teacher? It’s a means to an end, to be sure, but imagine my pleasant surprise to find that I actually know an experienced TEFL teacher who used to be my university teacher 🙂

    • Eric, my man!
      Any help you need with TEFL, just let me know.
      I’m sure you will make a great teacher (but which ‘type’ will you become?!).
      Good luck with the course, and thanks for your nice comment.

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