By Simon Harrison

Director: UCT English Language Centre

You’ve finished your course and got your certificate (congratulations!) - but now what?  You’ve probably got plans to travel abroad for a few years and teach.  Maybe you have signed up with a programme like EPIK in South Korea or JET in Japan, or maybe you’re going to hop on a plane to Brazil or Columbia and try to get a job in the local schools there.  That’s great - I’m sure you’ll have an amazing time!  But what about in a couple of years’ time when you’ve got some teaching experience and have more options in front of you?  What’s your next step - in other words, what are your options for a long term career in EFL?

Be an EFL Teacher

Before you move onto anything else in the industry, you need a solid base of teaching experience.  Most teachers will spend about five years in the classroom honing their craft before they are ready to move up, or sideways, into different parts of the industry.  There are lots of different kinds of classrooms where you can get this experience (some of which are not classrooms at all!).  The most common is to work in a private language school, where you will have regular classes with groups of adults, teenagers or children.  If you are in an English-speaking country these will be multilingual groups, whereas in non-English speaking countries they will likely be monolingual, all speaking the language of the host country.  As well as private language schools, you could find work in a primary or secondary school, or even a university - more on this later.

Another possibility is in-company business teaching, where you will teach employees and business people in their place of work.  In-company teaching is often one-to-one or small groups and often better paid than other teaching.  Teachers who have previous non-teaching work experience are particularly suited to this.

A growing field of EFL is online teaching, using virtual classroom platforms like Skype or Adobe Connect.  The advantage to students is they can do this from anywhere in the world and can schedule lessons any time of day.  To do online teaching you’ll need a decent internet connection and an appropriate device and be willing to be flexible with your teaching hours.  Usually you’ll be working from home so this can be great if you have young kids or are combining it with some other kind of private work.

Become an Academic Manager

After you’ve got some teaching experience, you can be considered for positions in Academic Management.  The usual career path here will be to first become a Senior Teacher, then an Assistant Director of Studies (or ADoS), and finally a Director of Studies (DoS).

Senior Teachers spend most of their time in the classroom, but also have a responsibility to mentor and support less experienced colleagues.  They may be involved with continuing professional development (CPD) programmes and inductions for new teachers.  An ADoS also usually has a teaching schedule, but supports the DoS in their duties as required, and will be asked to step in and cover if the DoS is unavailable or taking a well-earned break!

The Director of Studies is tasked with managing the academic side of a language school, which involves hiring, managing and developing teachers, level testing and classing incoming students, making sure the school has all the materials and books it needs, and dealing with any student issues that come up.  Being a DoS is a tough job and not for the faint-hearted!  All sorts of problems and crises will land on your desk and you’ll need to be dynamic, hard-working and able to make quick, confident decisions on the fly.  The best Directors of Studies are well-organised and can keep their heads in a crisis, as well as having a wealth of teaching and industry experience to draw on when carrying out their management tasks.

The final step on the EFL management ladder is a School Director or Principal.  A School Director is responsible for the overall management of a school, and for managing the business side of the organisation.  Not all School Directors started out in EFL teaching, as the main criteria is experience in organisational management, but it is a great benefit to have a broad understanding and extensive experience of the EFL industry.

Train other Teachers

One of the most sought-after positions in EFL is being a Teacher Trainer, and only the most experienced and highly developed teachers are eligible for these roles.  Teacher Trainers teach on TEFL courses, such as the CELTA or the Certificate in TEFL course we run at the University of Cape Town.  To get into teacher training you will need a higher TEFL qualification, such as a DELTA or a Master’s degree in TEFL, as well as plenty of classroom experience.  You will also need to be knowledgeable on the various EFL teaching approaches, techniques and pedagogies, and keep up to date with the latest developments in English language teaching by reading industry journals such as English Teaching Professional and ELT Journal,and attending conferences and seminars.

Another related field is becoming an ELT writer, producing and developing teaching materials for large schools or publishing companies.  This can be one of the most lucrative jobs in the industry, but opportunities are few and far between and only for teachers and trainers at the top of their field.  The most common route into materials development is to be invited by one of the big publishing companies to contribute to their coursebooks or other teaching material on a freelance basis.  This means that you need to have industry contacts and networks and get yourself known, and the best way to do this is to attend or even present at conferences and industry events like IATEFL conferences and EQUALS events.

Become an Academic

Just ten years ago, TEFL was little known as an academic discipline, but now many universities in English-speaking countries have whole departments dedicated to the study of English language teaching.  The best way to get your foot in the door is to teach on a University Pathway, International Foundation or Pre-sessional programme.  These programmes are run by universities to prepare their international applicants to study in an institution where English is a medium of instruction, and you will usually only need a recognised TEFL certificate and a few years of experience to be considered for a position. 

To progress further and become a fully-fledged TEFL academic you will need at least a Master’s degree in TEFL or even a PhD.  As an academic you will spend your time doing your own research and teaching on degree programmes.  If this is something you are interested in it is a good to identify an area of specialised research as early as possible, so you can develop your knowledge and expertise as you progress in your teaching career.

Start your own School

A large proportion of private language schools are small-to-medium sized, independently owned businesses and most of them were set up by former teachers.  Like starting any business, the risks are significant, and you’ll spend your first few years struggling to get off the ground, but the rewards for success are huge. 

As the owner of a small school you’ll have work long hours and be hands on with every aspect of running a school - hiring teachers and admin staff, finding and managing your school premises, doing the marketing, and balancing the books.  You’ll also need to learn about business regulations in the country where you’re setting up and be able to develop an international network of agents to send you students.  It takes a special type of person to be able to set up their own Language School, but a grounding teaching experience is indispensable in understanding how the industry works and what is required from this type of business.

There are a range of other jobs connected with the EFL industry where experience of teaching is a benefit, including EFL marketing, running social programmes and tours for language students, managing student accommodation and developing language learning software.  Whatever path you choose, there are options out there to progress your career in what is one of the fastest growing and most dynamic fields of international education.

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