Fund your travels with TEFL?


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Many of you will know; prior to my life as a travel writer, I trained as a TEFL teacher and taught in Greece for over 5 years.

I recently read a really interesting article about “10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Teaching TEFL” and it raised some interesting questions in me, specifically points:

#3: “How much effort are you prepared to put into the job?”

#4: “What Kind of Commitment Can You Make?”

#8: “Do You Have The Patience?”

#10: “Do You Think You’ll Be A Good Teacher?”

There are a lot of articles out there that exult the merits of TEFL as a way to ‘help fund your way around the globe’ and being the #1 job in listicles for  “Best Travel Jobs”.   In fact, in my debut novel Girl Gone Greek (loosely based on my experiences in my first year teaching English in a small Greek village), the protagonist comments, as she is waiting to take her one month TEFL course:

“There was a part of me that agreed with Ugly Big Sister; that [this course] would be the ideal opportunity for me to bum around the world for a while before making up my mind what to do with my life…”

Source: Girl Gone Greek by Rebecca A. Hall

But should TEFL be viewed as just a way to find your worldwide travels?  Let’s look at the points about that particularly jumped out at me.

How much effort are you prepared to put into [TEFL teaching]?

I often wonder if people mistakenly think that TEFL doesn’t constitute a full day’s work (as a lot of classes -well, in Europe anyway), are taken after school hours in the evening (unless you teach business English).  So you could spend the morning on the beach, or maybe even after work the night before go out for a ‘late one’ with your newly formed friends.

But there’s marking to do – a lot of it.  There’s lessons to prepare for the next day.  There’s students to talk to and re-assure if they have anything they want to talk to you about.  It’s not really a job that you switch off from, you have responsibilities to your students.

What kind of commitment can you make to [TEFL teaching]?

This one’s a tricky one.  I’m coming from the angle of short term teaching, not necessarily basing yourself in a country and teaching TEFL long term.

Is volunteering to teach English in a developing country a good thing, to go in and do your three or four weeks, then come away feeling you’ve made a difference?   Who have you made a difference to; the students, or yourself?  No doubt it’s interesting for the students to be exposed to different teachers from different nationalities…but is the ‘drop in / drop out’ again nature of volunteerism really making a difference?  There are TEFL courses designed specifically for this purpose; weekend courses that are actually more about teaching cultural difference and life in a different country, not necessarily a full month’s course where you’re taught English grammar such as the different between Present Continuous and Present Simple.

A better description would be ‘Cultural Exchange’ – but how is it ‘helping’ to go to a developing country with postcards of your own culture and talk about life in England/Canada/USA?  Is it fair to drop into a country, talk about your customs and culture, then fly out again feeling as if you’ve gained meaningful insight?  I ask the same question as above; who are you really doing this for?

Again, I could be completely mis-guided so do feel free to correct me in the Comments if you like.

Do you have the patience [for TEFL teaching]?

Yes, this is a question I found I asked myself time and time again, even as I was teaching!  Kids in particular take it out of you.  Lessons never go to plan, so even if you’ve planned a super dooper lesson with all sorts of visuals, be prepared to have to ‘shoot from the hip’ and adjust to their mood on the day.  Kids deserve patience, understanding and to be listened to, irrespective of if you’re a TEFL teacher or full time teacher, irrespective if you’ve a headache, had a bad day or an argument with the Head of English.  Kids are special human beings; they’re malleable and sensitive to the environment.  We have a duty to them.                 OK, off my soap box!

Do you think you’ll be a good teacher?

I feel I’ve covered a lot of this above.  Teaching takes up your whole personality – whether a ‘proper teacher’ (as my character’s sister referred to herself in Girl Gone Greek) or a TEFL teacher.  Remember – we have a duty to kids (or whoever we’re teaching).

In summary, I feel teaching TEFL should be taken just as seriously as if you’re a full time teacher in a school in your home country.  If you were to stay in your own country and be a teacher of English, ask yourself these questions.  If you honestly feel you’re not suited to it, why should you be suited to it just because you’re in another country?

I guess I consider TEFL:

  1. As a vocation
  2. Yes, as a way to integrate into a culture – but taken very much hand in hand with #1

The minute I felt #1 started to disappear, I knew it was time for me to make a change…to head in a new direction (writing.  This was my hobby that then started to overtake my ‘day job’).

Would love to hear your opinions…and of course, I am prepared to be ‘disagreed’ with.

Featured image sources: Justin Vidamo on Flickr and Christine und Hagen Graf on Flickr


  1. You’re the first blogger I’ve read who expressed the doubts I have about short-term volunteering, whether it’s a few days in a classroom or helping build a schoolroom or whatever. It offers far more of lasting value to the person doing the volunteering than to the people who are meant to benefit from it. And it creates a dynamic of inequality with the local people accepting handouts. Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to spend the money instead on training up a local person to do some consistent, long-term teaching? Or to hire locals to build the school room, earning a living at the same time? At least Peace Corps and VSO commit to a two-year stay, providing some continuity!

  2. I think when teaching is just a “way to fund travels” for someone, then it shows. I am by no means a perfect teacher, i taught French abroad too and funded some traveling with it, however i deeply love teaching and used to give classes back at home as well so it was a natural choice of work for me. I’m now trying to transition to some freelancing, writing and teaching online or something of sorts, to have more freedom – lets see how that goes 😉

  3. Great observations Karin. Yes, it does show if it’s for purely selfish reasons. I have to say teaching merely to fund travels I don’t think benefits the children…as you will know, teaching takes a lot of patience, preparation and hard work!
    Good luck with your endeavours and thanks for your comment!