Pros and Cons of Being a TEFL Teacher

I know it sounds a bit weird, but I do actually love being a TEFL teacher. I used to hate my old sales job when I lived in London so for me teaching is a dream job, especially because I’ve been able to live in 5 different countries.

It’s not all fun and games though. Like any job, there are disadvantages. Here are my top four pros and cons of being a TEFL teacher.
Job satisfaction
Helping students is a marvelous feeling. Even after 8 years teaching I still get a buzz when I see my students’ faces light up when they understand what I’ve just explained. In the academy I work for we prepare students for exams. The highlight of the year for me is handing over their report card saying that they have passed, or failed if they deserve it. Even just correcting students’ pronunciation so they speak better gives me enough satisfaction to teach. You can’t beat seeing the students progress as a buzz factor either.

As long as you plan something entertaining, teaching is fun. I try to add a game aspect to all my classes. I don’t use the word ‘game’ because the students can become dependent on it: ‘Can we play a game’ after the first five minutes gets on my goat. I just say activity. It doesn’t have to be a full out activity with points and teams, just simple guessing will suffice for keeping them entertained. I normally have a laugh with my students and try to get some banter going to liven up the day too.

You learn
I’ve learnt loads since being a TEFL teacher. Not only do I now have an in depth knowledge of the English language (okay, I still have a long way to go until I get to David Crystal status), but I’ve learnt how to teach, how to elicit answers from students, how to make them do the work, and how to wing an unexpected class with 40 Chinese students. Most of what I’ve learnt has been on the job, but also my academy has a decent training scheme, something to bear in mind when choosing an employer.
Every day is different
When you teach a range of levels and ages each day is different. Being a TEFL teacher provides you with enough variation to keep you busy. It does depend a lot on you. If you’re prepared to research or think up new activities for your students then your TEFL life will be varied. I try not to stick to the same activities because I get bored, and so do my students.
It doesn’t matter if you’re in Rio de Janeiro, Bangkok, or Brighton: work is work and Monday morning is Monday morning. Everyone would rather not work, but it makes a difference when your work is something you enjoy.

Nasty students
I’ve had my fair share of nasty students over the years: Panu, an eight-year old Thai boy who used to drive me, and the class, up the wall with his high pitched screaming and protests, Rocío, a nutty Spanish woman, who made me and the class suffer with her constant questioning of everything, and Marcus, a butch Brazilian lad, who used pick on the younger students, and the gimpy English teacher, all the time. Turning round the nasty ones is a tough job, but that’s part of teaching. With the amount of students you teach over the years you’re bound to clash with a few on the way.
Hours and holidays
Depending on where you are in the world the hours and holidays could be a problem. At the moment I work until 10pm, which means I miss all the football during the week as well as the pleasant spring and summer evenings. I know some teachers who teach random hours all through the day, leaving little time to properly relax. It’s tough getting extra time off as a teacher too. When I worked in Thailand it was impossible to get a day off. Where I am now I have to pay someone to do my class, unless I’m ill. We get long holidays, but they are normally unpaid. Welcome to the dark side of TEFL teaching.  
Always on stage
Sometimes I feel as if I’m a glorified clown who knows some grammar. Keeping kids, teenagers, and even adults entertained and motivated can be a hard job. You can’t have a bad day and hide behind your computer or avoid phone calls; you’re always at the front of the class. If you have an off day, the students have an off lesson; it gets noticed. Most days I don’t mind being on show, but take today for example, I twisted my foot over the w
eekend, but I know that this afternoon I’ll be expected to jump about for six hours.

They are my pros and cons. I’m sure you have a few more. Leave a comment below with a couple of your advantages and disadvantages to being a TEFL teacher.

18 thoughts on “Pros and Cons of Being a TEFL Teacher

  1. Hours and holidays, in my opinion, are probably the hardest of the disadvantages. At my interview with my Spanish language academy (all done in Spanish), virtually the first question asked of me was "As you are English, how many times do you go back to the UK for a holiday?". When I responded "not often", their reply was "Good, although we would have preferred 'never'!". Teaching when you are ill with a stuffy cold for example can be a drag sometimes but I haven't had a day off work, due to sickness, for the past 6 years while I've been living in Spain. I can't say the same about my many working years spent in the UK however so living in Spain must be a form of motivation in itself!

    I am envious of your academy's training scheme as mine doesn't have one and I strongly feel that, no matter how good you are, it's still nice to have your skills polished up by an 'outsider' once in a while.

    Cheers Barry – keep up the good blogging work.

    Hobbers (A fellow Andalusian and TEFLer)

  2. Thanks for posting Hobbers, quite surprised to see how your interview went. I had similar treatment in Thailand but so far the academies I've worked for here have been top notch re holidays and hours.

    Saying that I've taught with a cold numerous times and about 2 years ago when I broke my ankle I taught with a cast on the bottom part of my leg for 2 weeks. Kids were great though and surprisingly got quite a bit done. That was my choice though. I could have taken a baja (sick leave for non Spanish speakers reading) but with the current crisis I didn't want to take any risks.

    Yeah the training is pretty good. Where are you based?

    Glad you like the blog.


  3. I agree that with the current economic crisis, it is wise to refrain from rocking any boats. In reality, I'm sure my academy wouldn't have too much of a problem with holiday time etc and to be honest I'm quite rooted here so don't feel the urge to take frequent holidays away. After all, we live in Spain so it's almost like we are permanently on holiday (as my old friends back in Blighty frequently tell me 🙂 ).

    I am based in the Almanzora Valley about 400km east of Seville. It's very rural, quiet, easy going and time has kind of stood still here somewhat so it suits me down to the ground. Due to the crisis and many expats returning to their previous home countries, learning Spanish here is vital now in order to really appreciate what there is on your doorstep and, of course, properly socialise with the locals. The Spanish language is so rich and colourful – I have just as much learning their language as I have TEFling!


  4. Yeah, good point. I'm only working 1 day in the next 5 thanks to the puente (bank holiday but nothing to do with banks). Not heard of the Almanzora Valley, sounds intriguing…

    Keep in touch.



  5. Agree with the above, another pro is that the adventure can go on forever, the con being it would be nice to get paid a little more to continue the adventure:)

  6. Yeah, totally agree, the adventure continues but the money seems to stay the same. Where are you Special Brew Man? Great name by the way, reminds me of my days back in England drinking with the lads!

  7. Ah yes, the "bridging" day leading us up to Andalucian Day today. I have somewhat enjoyed the rest to be honest. Except for preparing some worksheets on comparatives and superlatives which is never a chore when done in the blistering sunshine and ice cold Estrellas to keep me sane 🙂

    I have heard the Valley called many things but I so prefer 'intriguing' 🙂 I am surrounded by mountains, goats, way too many creepy crawlies than I have spare pints of blood for and it is so quiet that I can hear other people in the distance thinking.

    Hope you enjoyed your time off Baz.

    Ah, Carlsberg Special Brew…. When I was a young whipper snapper, that beer always separated the men from the boys. Tasted a bit like what I imagined bitumen tar would taste like although from memory, it never put me off drinking the stuff 😉

  8. Iḿ in São Paulo, there is a lot of work here, but when you travel round a lot 40 an hour isnt a great wage. Looking to bump it up to 50 Reais – what did you used to make in Salvador?

  9. I spent my bridging day working too, looking for new publishers and agencies for my book; it's a long haul.

    I wish I could hear people think, all I get is abusive nutters at 5am chanting outside my window at the weekends, did I sleep well last night? I think not.

    I don't think I ever tried Special Brew, we used to drink 'K' a strong cider, after 4 or 5 bottles we were all over the shop…

    Thanks for posting!

  10. I loved Salvador and wanted to stay longer but I had a visa starting in Oz so I had to get a move on. Students were great and carnival was class.

    It always seems that in the big cities you have to move about a lot, certainly the case in Madrid and Barcelona. Are you doing private classes or working for an academy?

  11. Hi, I can't believe I am experiencing exactly the same thing over here in Spain as a teacher. First I thought I had chosen the wrong school but now it feels like I'm not the only one who's got the same problem. I am a novice teacher, so I guess the whole thing makes it even more difficult for me. Anyway, was good to read your comment. All the best to you!

    Victoria (de Murcia)

  12. Hey Victoria,

    Thanks for the comment. Yeah there are a few cowboys outfits in Spain. Have patience and you'll find a decent school eventually. A friend of mine, Anthony, was in Murcia last year, but I don't think he's gone back.

    Anyway, keep in touch.


  13. Hey Barry,

    Great article and blog. I am currently working towards my TEFL certification (online) with the University of Toronto. Most of my research thus far has been focused on Ecuador, as I have a few contacts/acquaintances there. In your opinion, where is the best country to teach? I am quite concerned that since I do not have a degree, just a two year college computer science certificate, that I will have immense issues finding a properly paid job – or a job at all. I understand that a lot of countries will not even consider someone without a degree. What are your thoughts?

    Thanks so much, take care.

  14. Hey Brady,

    Thanks for writing! Crikey, best country to teach? I loved teaching in Thailand, mainly for the respectful and fun students, but over the years Spain has grown on me a lot. I guess at the end of the day it depends what you want from a country and work conditions…

    If you're looking for a 'properly' paid job the don't chose TEFL! Only joking, there are some good academies out there but most will ask for a CELTA, and to do a CELTA you need a degree, so you might have problems there.

    It's different in South America though. When I was there the main concern was how long I was going to stay in the country. In Mexico I was honest and said I was only going to stay 2 months, I didn't get anything. In Ecuador I started to say I was going to stay 'as long as possible' which left it open and I found work. They were poorly paid though, but you have to start somewhere.

    Depends what you want and how long you can wait. If you can get some experience behind you with less well paid schools and work your way up, which is what I did, then you'll be fine. If you're in a rush they you might struggle to get a well paid job without a degree or CELTA…

    Where else are you thinking of going?

    Good luck


  15. HI Barry,

    Great blog, but i have to query what you said below…

    "If you're looking for a 'properly' paid job the don't chose TEFL! Only joking, there are some good academies out there but most will ask for a CELTA, and to do a CELTA you need a degree, so you might have problems there"

    You saying you have to have a degree to do a CELTA.., this is the first word i hear of this…as i'm planning to do a CELTA soon, without having a degree, and never read anything in that regard as a requirement from Cambridge..

    Kind Regards,

  16. Hello guys!
    This was great to read and really helpful!
    I'm a 20 year old just starting to get interested in tefling, any advice would be greatly appreciated!
    Especially on the following:
    which online tefl course would be most beneficial,
    any advice on said course,
    and exactly what to expect as the tefl website isn't all too clear..
    do you have to 'pass' a course to get a certificate or is it a garunteed pass?

    At the moment I'm focusing on the course details and whether I want to spend such a large amount of money on it if I won't be able to afford to live whilst I am out there..
    but if there is anyone with tefl experience in Finland or the Amazon please prepare me for the worst!
    I'm certainly not looking for anyone to sugar coat it, realistic, honest and informative answers are very much appreciated!

  17. Hi Toni-Lou,

    Sorry for the late reply. I know i-to-i courses are most acknowledged these days. But I'd do a full CELTA if you're really serious. It's not normally a guaranteed pass, belie it or not you actually have to be able to teach. No idea about Finland or the Amazon, one is cold the other is hot and sticky, lots of water, and fish.

    Good luck.

  18. Hello,
    Thanks for this great post.
    My name is Eikaiwa.
    I live in the countryside in Japan.
    Thanks for your insights. Work is really work. And being an English teacher is demanding. A lot of preparation time is usually required, and so on…Some think it is the easiest job on earth, but this is simply not true!

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