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Traveling with a TEFL

There are many ways to a great gap year, but few are as rewarding as becoming a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) teacher.

If you think you’ve got what it takes to be a teacher, there are literally hundreds of opportunities around the globe, as from Southeast Asia to South America, the world increasingly turns its attention to learning English.


Why Teach?

It's not just a feeling of well-being you'll get from trying your hand at teaching. Here are three more reasons to teach:

1. You’ll be earning money whilst you’re away from the home, which means that you don’t have to go through several months of purgatory working in McDonald’s to be able to afford to go off traveling.

2. When you finally go out into the real world, it also looks good on your CV, as it shows you’ve got the necessary initiative to go out there and get a good job, and that you have a caring, nurturing side (we’re reliably informed that employers love that sort of thing…)!

3. Want an authentic taste of a country? By teaching, you get to meet normal people in an environment where they’re going to open up to you and tell you about themselves. Through them, you can really learn about a country, its people, its culture and its customs, and not just scratch at the surface.

Getting a Qualification

These days you can't just speak English as your first language to teach it. Even in Asia where the desire to learn English is particularly strong, most language schools and academies are now demanding some sort of qualification. And there are so many out there to choose from!

Choosing a Course: You can subscribe to an online or weekend course, but you won’t be exposed to the necessary classroom time. Besides, many schools now expect a minimum of a month’s CELTA course (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) or a comparable qualification. And frankly, you’ve got to ask yourself: would you want to be taught by someone who had absolutely no prior experience in a classroom? Exactly.

Getting on a Course: In theory, in order to qualify for a TEFL course all you need is to be a native English speaker. However, to get on a good course, you will probably be expected to be able to demonstrate in interview (and through a quick exam) not only that you have a good working knowledge of the English language, but also that you’re cut from the right cloth to become a teacher. You’d be well-advised to prepare a little bit for the interview, and more generally, to think about whether you really do want to teach, and, when it comes down to it, whether you’d actually make a good teacher!

Be Prepared: It's not an easy ride. A good TEFL course can be  absolutely exhausting.  You usually have to cram a great deal of learning into a month. Apart from learning many of the necessary techniques, much of your time is spent teaching and observing your fellow aspiring teachers. It can be extremely daunting standing up in front of a class on your second day. And then there’s the coursework too!

Choosing a Destination

A couple of pointers -  it’s more difficult to find work in Europe (and the cost of living is generally higher). But outside of Europe the possible destinations are virtually never-ending. There are lots of opportunities in Asia, particularly in China and Japan, one of the advantages of which is that many schools will also pay for your flight out. There are also plenty of fantastic opportunities to choose from in South America.

What Wages can You Expect?

Becoming a TEFL teacher certainly won't  put you on the path to great riches. As a first-jobber it’s extremely unlikely that you’re going to get paid a great deal. But any money for your travels is going to help out. Getting work as a teacher virtually everywhere in the world will pay you a perfectly adequate living wage (or keep you in beer and bus-fare money, anyway!) to do a job that can be immensely satisfying.

In addition to paid positions, there are also many volunteer schemes throughout the developing world where you can really make a difference by teaching some of the poorest and most disadvantaged children. (For more on this, see our Volunteering on Your Gap Year article.)

Remember, Teaching is...

1.  Hard Work... If you’re looking for nothing more than a lazy time on the beach from your gap year, then teaching isn’t for you.  You’ll probably be expected to work a 20-hour week, although with the preparation time necessary for a good, fun, informative class, the total number of hours you’ll be working will almost certainly be in excess of forty.

2. But Still Fun! Once you’ve arrived in your country of choice, the opportunities to get some great traveling under your belt are limitless. You can break your year off into two sections, working for a few months and then heading off traveling for the rest of the time. Or you can use the town or city in which you’re teaching as a jump-off point and, as soon as classes finish on a Friday evening, strap your backpack on, and hit the road for the weekend (just make sure you’re back for class on Monday morning!)

3. And Rewarding! For the more serious-minded, teaching abroad can be an incredibly fulfilling experience. You’ll learn a great deal about yourself and different cultures by living and working in a foreign country. And you can’t ask for much more than that on a gap year.

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