Here is something that has happened to every TEFL teacher. You’ve moved abroad. You’ve gotten over the culture shock and missing things back home. Your students are great and the weeks are floating by. You’re not thinking about the future because today is full and bright. Then the director of your ESL program puts a TEFL contract extension in front of you and says, “Let us know A.S.A.P.” At first you think, What!? Already!? Then you realize that you applied and signed around the same time a year ago. The earliness suddenly makes sense. But now, you’re up against it. It’s should I stay or should I go with no time for leisurely reflections.
Don’t trap yourself. Consider the following. And do it sooner than seems necessary.
This sounds really obvious but are you happy? Did the reality somewhat match the dream? There are about a million deciding factors; friends, management, accommodation, money, time off and so on. But let’s make it simple. If you find yourself constantly perusing the job boards and wondering what it would be like to teach here or there, don’t sign on again. Follow your curiosity. Be happy.
What Are Your Friends Doing?
In almost every other walk of life this is a terrible way to make a decision. But for TEFL teachers it can be the deciding factor whether or not to sign a TEFL contract extension. Your fellow TEFL teachers will become your family. If your whole group is moving on to new countries and new adventures, you need to seriously consider what life abroad will be like without them. Yes, a new crop of teachers will be coming in. And yes, they may be a brilliant bunch. But do you love the job, and the town, and your new day-to-day enough to take that chance?
Growth or Stagnation
There is a lot of turnover in the TEFL industry. Signing a TEFL contract extension often means opportunities to move into a team leader/management role. Or at the very least the opportunity to choose the best available schedule. Before the director puts a contract in front of you, think about what you what. If there is no opportunity for growth, will you be excited about signing on for another year?
Typically, there will be relatively little turnover on the management team and it is unlikely that the program will make any drastic changes to the schedule, textbooks, extracurricular commitments, etc. But do be wary. Small changes can have a ripple effect. For instance, let’s say that your teaching day ends at 3pm. You have the afternoons and evenings to pursue your own interests. You value that time. But the new contract stipulates that all teachers are required to teach an evening class twice a week. Two extra classes, extra money; big deal, right? Well, yes actually. You will be working a split shift twice a week. That window of time between your final class of the day and your evening class will feel like lost time–limbo. You will start to resent that weekly loss and dread your evening classes. Your discontent will seep through and your students will notice. Your classes will become more struggle than joy. Your entire year will be scarred by that seemingly insignificant change.
Take Your Culture Pulse
You deliberately chose a TEFL destination. How is that destination holding up? Are you still curious? Do you still have more to learn and more to explore? Teaching English abroad is the ideal way fuse work and travel. If your culture pulse is still racing then sign the TEFL contract extension. Or don’t. Changing jobs doesn’t have to mean changing countries. If the factors above aren’t adding up but the destination is, look for other in-country opportunities.
Start the Conversation Early
You will be asked to sign a TEFL contract extension months in advance. The logic is simple: the program needs to know who is returning before they can determine how many new teachers they need to hire. Again, this decision sneaks up on everyone. It always feels too soon. What happens as a result is signers remorse. Teachers sign their TEFL contract extension because they haven’t considered their options. They stay because a known entity feels safer than a new risk. But within a few months they realize that they are no longer happy or curious. They miss their friends. They hate the new schedule. They regret not thinking ahead.
Don’t let that happen to you. Should I stay, or should I go? By the time you are handed a TEFL contract extension that should no longer be a question.