Number one for English language teachers

Challenges in ELT: Career paths

Type: Article

ELT teacher Vittorio Pelosi looks at career paths in ELT and examines what teachers can do to boost their job prospects.

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ELT for the long haul. Is there a career path?

In the UK, it has become quite typical for TEFL teachers to have to answer questions as to the validity of their chosen career. Perhaps you, too, have had to endure our industry being compared to someone taking a gap year where they taught a little and had a lot of fun abroad. Maybe you have spoken to people who only associate English language schools with dodgy visa factories. Arguably, worst of all, you may have been advised by friends and family to get a ‘real’ teaching job since ‘you’re not 21 any more and there is no future in English language teaching’.

Although, thankfully, in many other countries our industry is seen in a healthier light, and this is reflected in teachers’ contracts, pay and development opportunities, the misconception that TEFL teaching has no future is widespread enough for me to be invited to write this piece for an industry-famous website such as onestopenglish. I have taught General English, exams, EAP and ESP in various schools and universities for over 12 years. At the time of writing, I teach full-time for Wimbledon School of English. It is fair to say that I am committed ELT teacher and I enjoy my profession, so what can we do to change these misconceptions and help our English teaching careers? I have loosely organized my thoughts into four segments:

  1. Qualifications
  2. Professional Development
  3. Pay
  4. What next?

1. Qualifications

Presuming you have your initial teaching qualification under your belt (I recommend Cambridge’s CELTA or Trinity’s CertTESOL), depending on your place of work I would recommend a higher qualification. In the UK, this means the DELTA (Cambridge). This is a short (three months if studied full-time), intensive course with a teaching module, an exam module and an extended essay. However, be aware that in some countries, for instance South Korea, a DELTA is unheard of and schools are far keener on a Master’s. An MA in TESOL is great for applied linguistics and classroom practice, and some courses accept a DELTA for part of the course.

Another reason for choosing a Master’s is if you are interested in working in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) in the UK. Many universities prefer both the DELTA and a relevant Master’s. Those who want to move into academic English should note that although the hourly rate is considerably higher than a typical English language school, the competition is fierce. The way to get your foot in the door is by looking for pre-sessional teaching at www.baleap.org/jobs (a pre-sessional course being one that prepares students for their degree programme). Courses typically run from 4 to 16 weeks in the summer, and most universities look for teachers each year.

2. Professional Development

Go to conferences like IATEFL (www.iatefl.org) and language fairs. You may get the opportunity from your school to speak at one. Take it. Follow blogs by teachers and writers you find interesting or inspiring (e.g. www.adrianunderhill.com/the-pronunciation-blog.) Read industry journals like ELT Journal and websites like onestopenglish that have various professional development articles. Like any industry, who you know is important, so make friends with your peers in the business. Network.

Advertise yourself for one-to-one classes. These can be highly lucrative. Advertise online (for example: www.mytutor.co.uk). Times can be flexible, and the pay can be excellent.

Create your own website. It is very easy with sites such as webs.com. From here you can be found easily by schools, prospective students and agents, and you will appear more professional. When advertising on web-based job boards it’s great to be able to share a link to your page.

The future is digital. Become acquainted with virtual classroom resources. Keep up-to-date with platforms like Edmodo, which takes some of the tools and the design of Facebook and makes it into a virtual classroom.

Think about writing course materials or course books. Every teacher thinks they can write a better textbook than the one they are using. Moreover, publishing houses often offer a flexible timetable for your writing. In addition, why not submit a lesson to onestopenglish? Every month, a chosen lesson is professionally edited and designed and published on onestopenglish – a good way to start your writing career.

Finally, think about management and teacher training. In the UK, both of these will require a DELTA. Ask to take a school workshop, and see if you enjoy training other teachers. Some schools provide the opportunity for teachers to work with the Director or Assistant Director of Studies in the busier summer periods. Gain the experience. See if management suits you.

3. Pay

Pay in most schools depends on experience and qualifications, and most will have a pay scale to reflect this. Pay will also vary on your location, with certain schools in the Middle East offering very good packages that often include free accommodation and flights. Many schools give extra cash in return for helping on their social programme, and, as stated earlier, in the UK EAP work and one-to-ones undoubtedly pay the best hourly rates.

4. What next?

Well, in response to the criticisms outlined at the beginning: let’s be proud of our profession. We work very hard, and our level of expertise is high. When people query what you do, be prepared to talk about the pride you take in your job. As to the question of what next, the answer really depends on where you want to teach and whether you want to teach in a private language school or university. That decision will affect the type of class you teach and will also offer differing professional development routes. However, my final tip is to keep your options open by at least finding out more about one-to-ones, online teaching, further qualifications, etc. There are options out there, and I hope these ideas may encourage you to explore them. We can be both English language teachers and career-minded!

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Readers' comments (4)

  • Hi Megan and anon,
    I agree that your concerns are very real and like many teachers I have felt the pinch when my contract was not renewed.
    Although I have several friends who currently teach abroad I am currently working in the UK and so feel only qualified to comment about this location.
    There are however some areas of overlap and I do believe that gaining a qualification (depending on teaching location) be it an MA or Diploma is critical. Furthermore, I consider enhancing your online presence and IT skills in general (including software like Edmodo and the like) is extremely important.
    There are several reasons for this: Firstly, any way to broaden our skill set must increase work opportunities. Secondly, I am of the persuasion that as we have a surplus if teachers and increasing regulation our role will be less seen as a 'gap-year' job. My personal opinion is that this will lead to a harder entry level teaching requirement - comparable to a PGCE- this may be the Dip. Lastly, whatever is the future of schools more and more students will use smart devices to learn with. Knowledge here I think gives an advantage.
    But, may I finally say that I hear you both and it can be very difficult - for which you have my sympathy!

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  • Hello,

    I would have to agree with Megan. I currently live and work in the Netherlands, where zero-hour contracts for English language teachers are the norm and no employer will guarantee you a position for more than the duration of the course you have been hired for. Permanent positions are few and far between and most schools prefer to keep a variety of teachers on their roster.

    I know situations change depending on the country, but I can't help but feel that if you are not located in one of the ELT 'hubs', finding work in adult teaching is difficult and when you do, it is not always reliable work.

    I love ELT and I have dedicated my career to it, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to support myself and earn a steady and reliable income.

    Lucia (Uruguay, currently in the Netherlands)

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  • Hi Megan,

    Many thanks for your feedback. We will pass this on to Vittorio.

    Best wishes,
    The onestopenglish team

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  • Hi Vittorio,
    While I have managed to have worked in this field for over twenty years now, I am concerned about the opportunities available to younger teachers. The high rates of casualisation in the ELT industry are profoundly inhibiting on career paths. We simply cannot ignore the fact that education is being increasingly privatised and this is affecting employment practices. Despite the fact that there are many committed teachers, it is clear that many employers are exploiting that commitment. Let's be frank, ELT career opportunities are available to very few.
    Megan (in Australia)

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