It used to be. Ten or fifteen years ago the TEFL community was split into three categories; dedicated individuals with a real interest in teaching English abroad, backpackers killing time before the next long bus ride and people running away from whatever back home. The backpackers and the runaways were a minority but a consistent one. The TEFL industry has changed. The wildness of the early days has been replaced by quality, dedication and a universal understanding what we do is important.
Deciding whether or not to teach English abroad is a personal decision. However, consider the following as well:
Because we all had that one teacher
Never say, “I’m just an English teacher.” Nonsense. You are a teacher, plain and simple. By teaching English abroad you are introducing more than a language, you are introducing your culture and your unique world perspective. We all had a teacher growing up who could have taught any subject; history, math, science, and we would have happily attended their class because they were just that good. They inspired us to do more than study. They inspired us to learn and to continue learning.
Do your best to be that teacher. Because learning a new language requires a long-term commitment. If your students are not legitimately excited about learning English, they aren’t going to do the little things. They aren’t going to watch movies with English subtitles, or translate their favorite songs, or speak a word of English outside the classroom. But if you can inspire them, they’ll think of you every time they study. They’ll remember you when they are fluent and reminiscing about how they got there.
Because English might be their most important subject
You will hear people trivialize teaching English abroad. It’s an extracurricular subject. It’s just their fun class. Again, that is nonsense. There are currently more than a billion people learning English worldwide. They aren’t learning because they want to understand the lyrics of bad pop songs. They are learning because the ability to speak English as a second language opens up career opportunities and gives them the ability to participate in larger global discussions. Your students will grow up to be doctors, engineers, shop owners and maybe even teachers. Different subjects will benefit them differently but English is a common denominator; proficiency in English is beneficial no matter which path their lives take.
Because you are part of a larger TEFL community
Teaching English abroad is a gift. We get paid to live in exotic locations. We have travel opportunities that others can only dream of. And all that’s asked in return, is that we go about our jobs in a professional manner. Like compliments and criticisms, good teachers are expected and bad teachers are remembered. A runaway who shows up to class unprepared and disinterested often puts the entire program on edge. They are users. They are bad for the students. And they are bad the TEFL community. If we want to keep the dream alive, we have to hold the entire community to a high standard–no exceptions.
Because if we do this right, things will only get better
Things are getting better. The number of countries recruiting native speakers has increased, TEFL salaries have increased and new TEFL career opportunities are opening up every day. It is a great time to be teaching English abroad. If the TEFL community as a whole makes a commitment to fostering good teachers and weeding out those who don’t care or don’t get it, the gift is only going to get bigger and prettier.
If you are excited about a life of travel, adventure and education, WELCOME! If you are running away from whatever back home, or doing this for the visa, STOP! We’ve got a great thing going here. Please don’t tarnish that for selfish reasons. Teaching English abroad is not about escaping from, it is about escaping to.