How it happened…
There I was, sitting in my flat and fast approaching my thirty-fifth birthday an out of work solicitor and wondering what I was going to do with the rest of my life. A friend in Galway had suggested ‘the TEFL idea’ and I scoffed it off at once and returned home to applying for jobs in law that I really had no interest in and suspected would make me miserable. ‘The TEFL idea’ was lingering away at the back of my mind. We were at the start of getting our Irish Spring which meant a few days of sun burn, driving rain for six months and some arctic conditions thrown in for good measure. One afternoon I started googling TEFL. This is where the confusion set in. There is such a huge swathe of information out there, some bits of it more useful than others. I found TEFL Courses Ireland and called them up. I spoke with Tom who really knew his stuff and told me how many hours study would be expected of me by foreign employers for jobs abroad. He also answered the rest of my stupid questions patiently. After that I gave it a bit more thought and it just seemed like the right thing to do. I logged on again and applied for the course and got my ‘on-the’dole’ discount. I chose my course being the 120 hour course which included a 20 hour intensive weekend module in Dublin. That was pretty much how it started. I was emailed a username and password and started almost straight away. Having been the perfect student of English at school and having years of legal letter and report writing behind me meant that I was going to sail through this course and could even teach them a thing or two. The reality was a bit different. Here are some tips that I would recommend when it comes to the whole experience.
- take an online TEFL course thinking it’s going to be easier than a fully taught one. You are tested after each lesson and there are assignments to be submitted too.
- let any employer tell you that an online TEFL course is worth less than a taught one. In some ways it’s more challenging. In a taught course you can sleep away at the back of the room, whereas with the online one the computer programme won’t allow you to progress until you’ve completed and passed the module.
- think you’re going to be staring at a computer screen at 4am despairing at what a past-participle continuous verb is. By the time you get to the meatier stuff you will have been brought along gently through the lighter stuff.
- think you’re going to be on your own. There is great support there from your assigned tutor with online feedback, emails and the Dublin helpline. I’ve been on to the office a few times about different questions since I arrived in Thailand.
- take this course if you want the flexibility to work at your own schedule and pace. I was reviewing some of my lessons and some were completed at one and two in the morning.
- take the course if you think you might enjoy teaching.
- give it a go if you enjoy other cultures, experiences and seeing the world.
- approach it with an open mind. There is going to be stuff on the course you know already. Everyone has some of the skills that are required to be a teacher. Parents have already learnt how to encourage yet discipline youngsters. Graduates know all about what works and what doesn’t in a classroom situation to get a point across. Everyone has some experience in people-management skills and the likes. But there is going to be a lot of stuff you don’t know too and be prepared to go over this stuff a few times until you do. Some of the stuff will come back to you from school but some of the stuff just needs to be practiced again.
Once I started the course I started looking at the various TEFL employment sites and uploaded my CV. You will need to re-do your CV and include a recent photo. TEFL Courses Ireland had some good advice on this aspect of the industry too. I did some Skype interviews for a positions in Korea, Japan and Thailand. Then an agency in London contacted me and offered me a position in Thailand. I liked what I heard and that was it. The agency took care of everything. All the paperwork was done quickly and efficiently. A start date was set and all I had to do now was finish my TEFL course. This involved a few late nights and this was another benefit of the course being taught online. I was able to do it quickly when I needed to. I got my visa, my shots, packed my bags and I was off.
Some people will tell you to look for jobs directly and yes, you can do this. As this was my first time doing anything like this I wanted the support of an agency behind me. I know they take a chunk of my wages but they are always there, 24 hours a day to answer queries and deal with the sometimes challenging Thai authorities.
So, can you teach abroad without your TEFL?
In many countries, the answer is possibly. I’m working in Bangkok and the standard varies greatly from school to school and from teacher to teacher. Legally, you don’t need your TEFL to work here, you just need your degree (in any discipline). But, in the same way, you really don’t need a licence to ride a motorcycle in Bangkok, you can probably get away without it. But having the training behind you will make things a lot easier. Doing the course will give you more of an idea as to whether you want to teach or not. You’re better off trying the course and finding out that it’s not for you whilst you’re at home rather than 10,000km away.
What’s it like?
In a word, it’s great. The Thai people are amazing. They’re polite and friendly. The weather is hot and sunny all the time. The rains come and then stop. It’s not the constant drizzle we get in Ireland. The work is challenging but it’s fun. There are so many opportunities available here. Native English speakers are in high demand in Thailand. You can really teach anything from kindergarten to one-on-one business classes to Japanese businessmen and from anywhere from Bangkok to a remote island. I have a friend who teaches English to Thai hotel staff in Bangkok and I have other friends who teach five year old kids along the River Kwai.
I think when most foreign teachers come to Thailand they want to live in Bangkok yet most of the people who arrived at the same time as I were placed outside Bangkok. Many of them were disappointed with this at first but now we’re a month into teaching and I haven’t heard of one person wanting relocate
I plan to spend a few years in Thailand and then move on to somewhere else in Asia. I also want to see South America and possibly Russia. Thailand is part of ASEAN (2015) which is similar to the EU for some Asian countries. This is going to open up even more opportunities around Asia for English language teachers.
If you’ve any queries about my experience working in Thailand or doing the course, drop me a line.