How to become an ESL teacher

So, you’ve heard of this job called ‘TEFL’ where you can teach English as a foreign language while you swan around the world, doing a bit of travelling, and maybe work a little while you earn a living.

Maybe you are stuck in a rut in a dull office job (like I was), where you only see daylight when you pop out for lunch to the local jacket potato place, or grab a hard crusty roll from Wenzel’s and need a job, a life, a career, which all provide you with more satisfaction. Something more meaningful, with a chance to really push yourself and help people at the same time.

If you are in search of something different, something new, something away from your home country, then why not try to become an ESL teacher?


Become an ESL teacher and make a difference. Photo by markheybo

A Word of Warning

Before you embark on this new adventure, you need to have a long, hard think about whether it’s really for you. Life as a TEFL teacher is not all about having fun in the sun, easy work, and living it up like a king. I only ever felt like I lived like a king in Thailand, but that was only with respect to money, not actual happiness. I was too far from home, didn’t feel entirely comfortable in the society, or the school I worked in.

Another important consideration is that most long-term TEFL teachers realise they are not in this game for the high paid salary. Not unless they come up with an idea for a best-selling course book for teenagers and get a decent deal with Macmillan. Sure, you can pay your way, save some cash for travelling and live a pretty decent lifestyle for a while, but if you want the prospect of saving for a house or having a family then it is a tricky road to go down.

Still interested? TEFL could be for you if you willing to do the following:

  • Learn more about English, especially the rules and theory on how to teach it.
  • Stand in front of a class and be generally entertaining, sometimes even dress up as a clown or father Christmas.
  • Leave your comfort zone, be away from your family and best mates.
  • Learn how to control naughty, spoilt students (depending on the country).
  • Put up with money pinching bosses (not my current one).
  • Push yourself through various stages in your career to learn more about the methodologies of teaching English, and all the while keeping sane.
  • Work long, sometimes unsociable, hours, especially at the start, and especially preparing classes.
  • Learn another language in order to be able to communicate and fit in with a foreign society.
  • Get your brain whacked out now and then by demanding students.

Think you’re still up for it? Then follow the next steps.

Start researching CELTA courses

As I’ve said in previous blogs, such as 5 reasons to do a CELTA and 5 more reasons to do a CELTA, obtaining a CELTA is your first step to becoming an ESL teacher. There are other kinds of TEFL qualifications, but a CELTA is well recognised by the most prestigious, sound, and reliable language schools and academies around the world.

Yeah, it is possible to get a job teaching English abroad without one, but sooner or later if you want to get serious about TEFL (if that’s possible), then you’ll have to end up getting one. So you might as well just go for it now.

One tip I would give, and I did this, would be to get in touch with a local language school and ask if you can sit in on a class. I saw two classes before I actually signed up for the course. As soon as I stepped in the class of foreign students trying to speak English I became fascinated by the whole process. I’d been wanting to travel for ages, so witnessing a mix of South American, Asian, and European people all sitting together trying to chat blew me away. It was so much more exciting that a crappy office job.

So, do your research. Find a CELTA course close to your home, or alternatively, out in the country you want to teach in.

Pass the CELTA

This is your next step, and I’ve written a pretty detailed blog titled How to pass a CELTA, so take a look. The specific details have probably changed a bit since I did it, back in the caveman times, but from what I’ve read and also speaking to recent CELTA graduates it’s the same structure. An intensive, four week course, which will no way on earth actually prepare you for the madness of the classroom, but it’s the only way to get in. So it’s the best place to start.

Find a job

Once you’ve got a CELTA, you can start looking for jobs. Check out this page for the best job boards around. Then you can start sending your CV off and trying to get an interview. You’ll have to work out what’s best for you, whether to just leave everything and go find a job in another country, which I did 5 times, or get a job before and get it all sorted before you leave, which I did once. 

I’d recommend getting some experience in your home country before you set off on an adventure, just to get some experience for potential employers. This will always help you get a job abroad too. There’s a lot of competition these days, so anything you can do to stand out from the crowd will be useful.

I wasn’t as intelligent and it took me a while to get a decent job. I started in Mexico, but the directors of the academies weren’t having any of it unless I had experience and a work visa.

Luckily I was able to get a job working illegally in Quito, Ecuador, where I started my TEFL career. From there I went on to teach in Brazil, Australia and Thailand, while travelling, of course. This took a couple of years in total. Now I’m based in Seville, Spain, where I’ve been for nearly 11 years.

Looking back now, those first years were the most fun, travelling the world, getting to meet students, teachers, and learning different languages was the highlight of my life. I didn’t actually become a decent teacher until I got to Spain though.

Now TEFL is a career for me. I did the DELTA four years ago, which took my experience and learning to a new level.

I do miss those early days though, which is why I’ve written this blog, and my book, and will be writing my next book titled How to become an ESL teacher, to encourage and help wanna be TEFL teachers make their dreams their goals.

What about you? Are you keen to get on the TEFL boat and not sure where to start? Any questions then let me know.

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