Some people think teachers are born, not made. Okay – maybe that’s dramatic. We’ve certainly heard from people who just don’t think they can become teachers, though, despite already having all the skills they need.
Or, some people realise later in life that they were meant to teach, but haven’t had the opportunity yet, for whatever reason. Teachers aren’t just created in a lab, it turns out.
Plenty of people change career to TEFL. That can be because of a variety of factors, whether it’s a vocational calling, or something that someone has just always wanted to try. When it comes to TEFL, the allure of working overseas and settling elsewhere just cannot be overstated. And you might not realise that you probably have teaching skills already.
If you’ve ever worked in an office, you’ll have gained important attributes. That is, if it went well. Patience with colleagues, experience training people, communication skills, empathy; these things all matter a great deal, and are easily transferable. Some administrative feathers in your cap and enthusiasm will go a long way.
Whether it’s going into TEFL teaching or coming out of it, there are vital transferable skills that future and former teachers alike can utilise. According to Indeed, some of the most sought-after abilities employers look for are communication skills, emotional intelligence, teamwork and organisation. We don’t want to second-guess you here, but we’d say those are skills that TEFL teachers have in abundance!
So, let’s break it down into sections, and discuss which transferable skills you can build either from, or in preparation for, a career in TEFL.
Perhaps the most fundamental skill you can use in TEFL, communication really is absolutely vital. Being able to hold the attention of large groups is a must, so making your communication style both informative and entertaining is an attribute.
Can you remain on-message? That’s very important, whether in TEFL or in a different career. This is especially important for different audiences; being clear and respecting who you’re communicating to is vital. Whether you’ve got experience working one-on-one, or, for example, you have experience giving presentations at work, knowing who you’re catering to and adapting the message is one of the most important parts of communicating.
It’s about clarity of message, and about performance. You don’t need to be able to perform Shakespearean soliloquies by heart, but for teachers, it’s important to remember that teaching is an art form, and performance is a key cog in that. If you’re excited about the way you’re projecting a message, chances are the recipients of that message will feel the same, whether it’s in the classroom, or going over performance indicators at a business.
If you hold these communication skills, and you’re interested in teaching, good news: you’re already a good fit. However, if you’ve developed these skills in a TEFL role, and are looking for the next opportunity, you may want to think about public relations, training services or cross-cultural work.
Talking of cross-cultural roles…
If you’ve worked for an international company, or with stakeholders, colleagues or customers from across the world, then congratulations: you’ve had to use your instincts and relate to people from different cultures. That’s a big thing.
If you’ve got some experience from travelling, and weren’t chased back through customs, then chances are you’ve got some knowledge of how things work around the world. Understanding how people operate, the societal expectations around the world and how people wish to be treated is a major skill. The ability to read situations that require cultural sensitivity is so important in today’s globalised economy, and having empathy and knowledge of practices and business in other countries is a significant feather in anyone’s cap.
You can certainly add language skills to this, by the way. We talked before about communication, and those communication skills are doubly important if there’s something of a language gap in play. Even better if you have knowledge of other languages, and for TEFL teachers considering a different route, there’s every chance that you’ve picked up some phrases, or even become fluent, in another language.
If you have these skills and want to get into TEFL, then you’re going to be a great fit. Otherwise, these skills are great for business and international relations roles, cultural ambassadorship, and communications.
We had “organisation” listed as a key skill in our introduction, so you’re going to hear more about it. This, like everything else in this article, works both ways: you might wonder if you’re organised enough to put lesson plans together as a teacher, or if you’re a teacher, you might wonder how those skills come in handy elsewhere.
How could organisational skills not be helpful? Whether it’s in your personal life or your professional life, being able to manage tasks and having systems in place to keep yourself organised is a good thing.
When it comes to lesson planning in a teaching context, there are definitely transferable skills. You need to understand levels of ability when you plan, especially if you’re teaching younger students. Progression isn’t always linear, and keeping everyone busy and productive when they’re learning at different levels is a skill.
Understanding different audiences, too, isn’t just a communication skill, it’s an organisational once. Being aware of what different students or colleagues need from you? That’s priceless.
Organisation and initiative actually go hand-in-hand. If you’re organised, you can use your wherewithal to generate ideas, and create time for yourself to experiment with different tasks. What’s more, being organised is a gigantic advantage if you’re in a researching position – most of us remember having notes scribbled somewhere when studying for exams, or researching for school, college or university. Organisational skills would’ve made all that so much easier!
Again, let’s put this in a TEFL context. If you’re travelling around the world, all sorts of issues can come up: visas, budgeting, finding accommodation, time-management, you name it.
So, if you’re an aspiring TEFL teacher, the chances are you’ve had to negotiate sudden problems and find solutions. The exciting news is that if you do become an English teacher, you will have to problem solve at some stage. Hurray!
Remaining cool and calm under pressure is a significant plus for any employer. There’s nothing wrong with needing help from a superior, but if you can handle an issue yourself, everyone wins. In the TEFL field, this can include dealing with language barriers, or with technology in another language. Finding ways past these problems will prove invaluable, whatever you do next.
Whatever you do in the world of work, you will encounter big problems that need quick solutions. Being a TEFL teacher, you’ll encounter all sorts of day-to-day puzzles and inconveniences that you’ll have to master.
If you’re already good at problem-solving, and you have designs on being a TEFL teacher, make sure to note that in any application you do. Trust us on that. If you’re a TEFL teacher now and looking for work in other fields, the details of how you overcame obstacles will almost certainly come up in any job interview. Use that!
The skills you need for management in an office scenario are very similar to what you’d need to successfully teach.
The fact is, they’re extremely transferable sets of skills. If you’re in a management position, you’ve got to designate tasks, understand workload, show leadership skills, delegate to those who are equipped to handle tasks, maintain a positive attitude and, once again, be organised.
Is this sounding familiar, teachers? If you’re leading a classroom, you’ve got to have all of those skills and more. You’re managing a class, after all. If you want to manage in another industry, all those attributes are hugely valuable, and will set you up well for the rest of your career, whatever you do.
If you’re in a management position and want to take a teaching job abroad, then stressing these exact elements of your role will impress any employer. Being able to lead, understanding the abilities of those around you, and being organised enough to make sure everyone’s motivated and task-focused? It’s vital stuff.
It’s important to note here, there are loads of career paths within TEFL, it’s not a one-or-the-other affair. For example, you could find yourself going from teaching English to running an English teaching department, as exemplified by Daniel Gillard, our first guest on I Taught English Abroad. He’s a great example; as someone who worked in both politics and social care prior to teaching, Daniel combined communication, emotional intelligence and organisational skills to thrive as a teacher.
Our podcast has plenty more examples of this: we’ve spoken to people who have worked in PR, on cruise ships, as professional dancers, and so much more!
What we know for certain is that a TEFL certificate and experience in teaching will help you find jobs, with its litany of transferable skills. Equally, the experience you already have from your working life will bode extremely well for a successful career in English teaching.
Don’t think because you don’t do it now that you can’t ever do it. TEFL really is about opening doors; doors to the rest of the world, to a more expansive CV and, most of all, to your own potential. Your journey starts with a TEFL certification – but who knows where it’ll end?
Interested in finding out more about TEFL? Check out or Teach Abroad and Teaching Online guides!