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What Next? (What Happens When You Quit TEFL?)
By John Harrop | On 17 Apr, 2014
What does an award-winning make-up artist, a wedding photographer and a counseling psychologist all have in common? Well, they all spent time as TEFL teachers (and claim that their success is, in part, due to their teaching experience).
Maybe you’ve been teaching overseas for a couple of years and found that it’s not the life for you. Perhaps you’re getting cravings for Marmite. (If you’re a Brit. Perhaps it’s peanut butter, if you’re North American.) Or your parents are getting older and you want to come home to be closer to them.
On the other hand, perhaps you’re just considering dipping your toe into TEFL, and you’re wondering how future employers will view those years you traveled and taught English abroad before finding your chosen career?
So what happens when you come home? Do doors open for you, or do they get slammed in your face?
The short answer is most potential employers see TEFL experience for what it often is (assuming it doesn’t turn out to be your true vocation): an alternative to unemployment and endless job-searching, the desire for a change of scene, to travel, the chance to pick up a second language and learn about another culture and the kind of experience that improves your people skills.
Still have doubts? Here are six stories of successful people who used their TEFL experience to establish a career in a completely different field.
1. Helen Todd, Campaigns & Policy Manager at Ramblers Scotland
“Having spent four years backpacking around Asia, I fell into teaching English as a way of continuing my travels abroad – I ran out of money, but I didn’t want to go home. So I inquired at a language school in Bangkok and was welcomed with open arms.
However, it was a mixed experience. I loved the students and they seemed to like me, and I also enjoyed getting to know Thailand from a different perspective, but it immediately became obvious that my experience of French classes at school wasn’t very helpful in teaching my own language. Increasingly I felt like a fraud, bumbling around in front of a class of paying customers.
I signed up for a CELTA course in the UK, then quickly returned to Thailand with a lot more confidence and understanding of what teaching English was all about. For the next 12 years I taught in Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Hungary, Canada and the UK. I gained a Diploma and a MSc, became a teacher-trainer myself, managed language schools and then finally found myself teaching at Edinburgh University.
I felt my traveling days were over, but teaching in Britain wasn’t as exciting as being abroad, so I decided to change careers, starting by studying something else I was interested in – the environment. Now, ten years on, I’m the Campaigns & Policy Manager with Ramblers Scotland, a walking charity. And does my TEFL background help in my job? Oh yes! There are plenty of transferable skills I am grateful for: being able to present information clearly (written, spoken or on Power Point), managing and training volunteers, confidently speaking (and listening) at public meetings, chairing meetings and events, and being able to appraise my own work.
I don’t miss TEFL, but I did enjoy it and I learned a lot, which definitely helped with what came next!”
Follow Helen on Twitter @helenrambler and on the Ramblers blog site: www.ramblers.org.uk/what-we-do/blogs/meet-our-bloggers/helen-todd.aspx
2. Glenn Duffield, Novelist
“I began my working life as a lawyer and felt sure this was the path I would stay on. However, after a spell working in Chicago and Dayton, I decided on a whim to visit a friend who was teaching in Madrid. When I arrived I was dismayed to discover he had upped sticks and gone back to the U.K. Sitting in a bar, relaxing with a cold beer and enjoying the hustle and bustle of a beautiful September in Spain’s capital, I heard some distinctly English voices from a table behind me. Several hours later, I had a job and had decided that the next few months of my life would be spent teaching English and maybe learning a little Spanish.
Twenty-three years later, I’m still here, though in the end, I settled in the beautiful and historic city of Seville. Most of my years here have been spent teaching children and adolescents, although for six years I was the Center Director for the largest private language school in southern Spain.
I’ve changed a lot since my first days as a teacher. TEFL has taught me many things, especially patience and constancy. I now speak fluent Spanish, and the process of getting there helped me to empathize with my own students and their difficulties and frustrations. Being the Center Director of a school with over a thousand students was a challenge. Management skills are not easy to acquire and learning to balance the needs of teachers, students and — very often — the parents of students, in a business context was a process that required me to examine my own strengths and weaknesses.
This last year has been one of change as I decided it was time to move on. I left TEFL bursting with ideas for the next phase of my life. My experience working with young people has given me a unique insight into their lives and so I decided to write a novel about them and for them although, ironically, the book seems to be popular with adults, too. I’ve also adapted and translated it into Spanish, a kind of homage to all those kids I’ve had the privilege to teach. I’m now working on the second book and enjoying every minute of it. TEFL not only opened many doors for me but it also gave me a perspective on life I would not be the same without.”
To find out more about Glenn Duffield’s book “The Sciontree,” visit his blog at www.blogglehole.com.
3. Avril Solomon, Writing Coach
“A couple of months ago, I found myself in a huge board room in the head office of a finance company in Scotland. I was there to deliver a writing course. The aim? Well, in short, it was to teach this group of customer service letter-writers how to respond to complaints in a more human and conversational style. Though they are native English speakers, I was also there to iron out any grammar and punctuation problems.
As I glanced round the room, I took in the various characters. I instantly recognized the puffed-up manager, the joker, the terrified woman trying to make herself invisible, the yawner and the hostile glarer. I had my work cut out. People are unbelievably attached to their own style of writing and my job is to persuade and cajole them in just one day’s training. It’s not cheap for the company and I’m training under the shadow of the dreaded feedback form at the end of the day. How do I juggle a roomful of people with wildly different educational backgrounds so that everyone grasps the concepts and leaves the room with enough confidence to put them into practice? Let the battle commence.
First of all, I know nothing about finance (nor do I want to) but my years of TEFL training mean that I do know about language. Years of teaching grammar and punctuation have certainly paid off. We all speak the language, we all write it – but to know ‘why’ and ‘how’ puts us in the position of specialists. Juggling different nationalities and abilities over the years in TEFL has honed my classroom management skills. I instinctively know how to keep the pace moving, change the pairs, vary the activities – and in this case – how to deliver potentially dry material and lift it off the page.
Later, as I stuffed the feedback forms into my bag, I knew that without my TEFL training, there’d be a lot more boxes ticked ‘OK’ rather than ‘Very Satisfied.’”
4. Mark Epstein, Wedding Photographer and Lecturer
“Having been in TEFL for over 20 years, I’ve found it to be an amazingly flexible profession that has allowed me to develop my interests and strengths within the job. Some of the highlights have been writing a coursebook and organizing an international Harry Potter Summer Camp in Hungary.
This gave me experience in web design, materials writing and graphic design; all skills that have been useful in subsequent years. The camp gave me experience in managing a project from the ground up. Also, my guitar skills have been put to good use over the years, leading to me and 50 Chinese students belting out Let it Be and Twist & Shout on the tiny stage of the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool, the home of the Beatles.
Lecturing to 200 people now holds no fear for me. This is another useful, transferable skill, as I also lecture on photography using the skills picked up at university. Organizing the layout of a class isn’t that different to organizing 150 people in a group wedding shot. The main thing is to communicate clearly and concisely, something many photographers can’t do.
Things TEFL gave me: Critical thinking, which allows me to take in the words of newspapers and politicians in an analytical way; teaching multinational classes has shaped my view of people from other countries; traveling has meant my best friends are scattered all over the world and I love pogacsa (and if you don’t know what that is, go and teach in Hungary).
I also have many friends that have gone from TEFL to other professions: law, environment, management, web design, computing – and even one friend who became a master puppeteer-cum-mindreader.”
To learn more about Mark and what he does, visit his site www.markepstein.co.uk.
5. Paul Brennan, Counseling Psychologist
“I spent 9 months in Osaka, Japan in 1993 and also a few months teaching Polish immigrants in Ontario, Canada around 1990. The Japan experience was the one that made a huge impact on me because I’d never been outside of Western culture before. I’ve traveled a lot since then but, unfortunately, never made it back to Japan. Nevertheless, I think about it a lot.
When I went to Japan, I didn’t actually have a job or any contacts – just a friend of a friend in Tokyo who let me sleep on his couch for a couple of days. I did soon find a job in Osaka and get set up, but it was quite an experience and one which, in the end, gave me a lot of resourcefulness and the confidence to know that I can go to a foreign country and get myself oriented.
After that, I worked in the software industry as a training manager, but I’ve recently re-trained as a counseling psychologist, and am just getting my license. In software, it was also mainly about international travel, which was fun for a long time, but eventually I did want to be a bit more settled in one place and get out of the corporate setting. So I went for a 180-degree change, and I’m very happy with it. As a counselor I’m also dealing with different perspectives all the time and trying to teach people how to communicate clearly and assertively, so that is also related to my TEFL days.
What transferable skills did I bring from TEFL? Mostly interpersonal communication, and, particularly, cross-cultural communication. This has been a great help to me in the software industry because there was a lot of business travel outside of the West. I’d recommend anybody in TEFL who fancies a change of direction to look at the software industry, because it’s a global business and there is always a demand for people who can stand up and give a presentation, communicate clearly, answer questions well, etc. Technical people are often pretty bad at this side of things and will do anything to avoid it, so communication specialists are in great demand!”
To find out more about Paul Brennan’s work, you can visit the web site for the Walk-In Counselling Society of Edmonton: www.walkinedmonton.org
6. Julia Francis, Professional Make-up Artist and Body Painter
“I completed my TEFL course 17 years ago and spent a few years teaching English in London and
Brighton, followed by stints in various language schools around Rome and Sicily. I then began my dream career as a make-up artist, and am still busy working for magazines such as Tatler, Vanity Fair and Cosmopolitan, and on advertising campaigns for beauty products such as Olay, Dove and Nivea. I’ve also created make-up looks for the stars of movies such as Star Wars, Wimbledon and Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy.
With my experience as a teacher behind me, I fused my two interests and found I had the confidence to teach make-up. This has led me to work in numerous schools and colleges around England, including Greasepaint – one of London’s most sought-after make-up schools. I have also taught Middle Eastern make-up artists in Saudi Arabia about the art of applying make-up in a more Western style, and have helped to improve the service they offer clients in one of Rhiyadh’s most prestigious health spas for women.
Teaching English to foreign students gave me confidence to speak in public in a way that gets the message across clearly and concisely. I have taken the experience I gained, both as an EFL teacher and as a make-up teacher, and now have my own business, called Good Foundations, which offers bespoke career advice to aspiring make-up artists to help them become successful in the career they dream of.”
So, if you’re worried that taking time away from your current career to teach English and travel the world will hinder your ability to find jobs in the future, don’t. More often than not, teaching EFL broadens your horizons and skill set in a way that is both valuable to potential employers in all fields and can open doors to career paths you haven’t even imagined yet.
So, what are you waiting for? You officially have no excuse not to get out there and start teaching!
Any other concerns? Go ahead and voice them here! John Harrop has done virtually every job there is, including teaching English and being a master puppeteer-cum-mindreader!
A small, freckled traveler from Liverpool, John never imagined he’d end up working in education. Then, one night in a British pub, he met some Spanish students, ended up moving to Spain and the rest, as they say, is history. Based in Seville, he now spends his time teacher-training, teaching, writing and performing interactive puppet shows with Bat-i-Burrillo Teatro de Títeres.
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