Volunteering is just one of the many options open to you after gaining your TEFL qualification. Once TEFL certified, you’re able to pursue thousands of paid positions teaching English both abroad and online. But there are lots of reasons why volunteering as an English teacher is also worth considering.
If you’ve just gained your TEFL qualification you might feel that it would be beneficial to get some practical experience under your belt before applying for full-time positions. You could volunteer locally or find short-term opportunities abroad, giving you a taste of what it is to TEFL and equipping you with some confidence before you sign a full-time contract and make a big move abroad.
TEFL volunteering can be a fantastic – and very rewarding! – way to put your skills to good use, as well as gain experience and confidence as an EFL teacher. But it’s really important to ensure that the volunteering programme you choose is beneficial to both you and the people and communities you work with. We’re going to take a look at volunteering as an English teacher abroad, at home, and online, as well as what you need to know and look out for.
You can find voluntary EFL teaching opportunities all over the world, particularly in developing countries in Africa and South America. Schemes can range from a few weeks to several months, so it can be an ideal option for students during the summer months or anyone looking for shorter contracts.
Volunteering abroad can be a life-changing experience, but it’s very important to do your research and understand what it means to volunteer abroad ethically. Unfortunately, there are programmes out there that actually do more harm than good.
Do you need a TEFL qualification to volunteer abroad?
Yes, you really should have a TEFL qualification if you’re aiming to volunteer teaching abroad. Presumably, if you’re considering volunteering you’re doing so because you have a drive to help others who may have limited access to education.
While you may speak English fluently you won’t know how to teach it unless you do some training, which is why it’s important to first get TEFL qualified. If you really want to help people you need to ensure you have the skills in place to do that, otherwise you’re going to be of limited benefit to those you’re working with.
For programmes that involve assisting a local teacher you may not be required to have a TEFL qualification, but it’s certainly going to be beneficial and help you secure a place on a good programme!
Can you get your TEFL qualification while you volunteer abroad?
Some volunteer or internship programmes will offer you the opportunity to gain your TEFL certificate alongside working. You do have to question how effectively those you are volunteering with will be taught English if you’re only learning how to teach on the job.
But another problem with this is if you have the ambition to go on to a career in TEFL, or at least pursue some form of paid work down the line. The first thing most employers look at when recruiting teachers is their TEFL qualification and if they took it with an accredited course provider.
Many of these programmes will issue the qualification themselves or use budget TEFL course providers, which, more often than not, means there is little to no accreditation. And the problem with a provider lacking accreditation is that the qualification may not be recognised when you start applying for jobs, meaning you’ll need to take another TEFL course – this time from an accredited provider.
TEFL and voluntourism
Voluntourism – a form of travel where (typically) young people participate in voluntary work they often lack the skills or experience to undertake – is increasingly being criticised for doing more harm than good. Jennifer MacKenzie, co-founder of The TEFL Org, has this to say on it:
“At TEFL Org we believe that ‘voluntourism’, where people pay to do voluntary work for a short period of time with a travel-type company, is intrinsically wrong and the benefits it brings to international communities can be very limited or in the case of TEFL volunteering in orphanages actually damaging to the local children who the teachers come in touch with. ‘Voluntourism’ is not the same as doing voluntary work for charities and people should always check thoroughly any charity and voluntary work they sign up to do.”
It’s important to bear in mind that many voluntourism companies are run for a profit and often require you to raise a lot of money. However, most of that money is then spent on your flights, accommodation, food, running costs of the programme and/or profit for the company, with little actually going to the communities and people these programmes claim to help.
We do not advertise these kinds of positions on our TEFL Jobs Centre.
How to find a good volunteering programme
It’s so important to do your research when looking into volunteering programmes abroad. Our advice is to find programmes run by charities solely focused on helping those in need, rather than providing a fun holiday.
If you find a programme you’re interested in make sure to ask questions. Find out what is expected of volunteers, what impact the programme has made so far, how the fees you pay are spent, and request to speak to current or past volunteers to get an insight into their experiences.
Below are a few good places to look for ethical volunteering programmes.
Global Volunteers is an organisation committed to ethical volunteering.
The British Council sometimes advertise voluntary teaching positions, often in summer camps.
You can find volunteering positions on UN Volunteers.
Projects Abroad run programmes around the world, suitable for anyone 16 and over.
Volunteer at home
If you’re not looking to move abroad at this point in time you can find volunteering opportunities closer to home. This is a great way to build up your TEFL experience around your existing schedule. Get in touch with your local council and organisations working with refugees and asylum seekers to see if they’re looking for volunteer EFL teachers.
Below are some organisations that work with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and USA.
Refugee organisations in the UK
Refugee organisations in the USA
Volunteer teaching English online
The coronavirus pandemic meant that refugees and asylum seekers had their opportunities for learning and improving English drastically reduced. Volunteer-run ESOL classes were unable to operate during various lockdowns, and social isolation meant that the opportunities to simply practice and use English in everyday settings were extremely limited. A number of organisations adapted to offer online English lessons and continue to do so two years on from the beginning of the pandemic.
If you’re interested in helping refugees and asylum seekers learn English online then the best thing to do is get in touch with local organisations working with refugees. Find out if their in-person English programmes have adapted to teaching online and if they require teachers.
RefuAid seek qualified EFL teachers with at least several months’ teaching experience to tutor refugees and asylum seekers for a minimum of 2 hours per week.
RefuNet match teachers with refugees learning English – you can sign up here.
CharityJob.org is a great place to search for positions – both abroad and online.
Conversation Over Borders connect tutors with refugees and asylum seekers.
To find out more about getting TEFL qualified take a look at our range of courses.