Why I am Afraid of Teaching English Abroad: 3 Reasons TEFL Never Interested Me

Teaching English has always been something I hoped to avoid. I studied a degree in  Chinese and International Business for four years and I am about to complete a master’s in international communications in the middle of next year. After 12 years of secondary and six years of third level education in two to three areas that have nothing to do with English teaching, I plan to hopefully never make a living teaching English.

I hope you don’t feel too offended by that statement, but I’ve never wanted to be a teacher, in Asia or in my home country. My education, experience and my own direction in life has never lead me to want to teach English and I get the feeling that a significant number of teachers in Taiwan never intended to be teachers either. With that said, when we all look back on what we intended to do in life and what we are doing now, it is usually never the same. But teaching in Taiwan is 100% not something I want to consider.

1. Organizations offering TEFL courses and placements (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) are just marketing a product

You should check out some TEFL websites and witness just what shopping for your perfect teaching experience might be. It isn’t a career, but an enlightening experience that will grant you the ability to work abroad and find yourself!

Many organizations in native English speaking countries market teaching as an experience, and not as a profession or job. As long as you tick the boxes of having a TEFL certificate and probably a degree, you’re only barrier to entry might be paying the cost of a placement from salesmen who will get a commission for every TEFL teacher they send abroad.

It is telling in the numerous blogs of teachers out there that people want the experience of living abroad, and maybe not just being a teacher abroad. Teaching is a means to support the lifestyle to travel and explore and they are marketing together very well. Funny enough, a lot of these blogs feature the word “orient” or “orientalist” in their titles.

Taiwan TEFL explore travel and teach

To me, it is all a load of fluff that helps these organizations fill quotas for people that want an adventure. Teaching isn’t their prime concern, it is hitting numbers and marketing to as many people as possible, so they can fill an already saturated market in Asia that crazily still has a huge demand for more teachers. I know, calling it saturated and saying it still has a lot of demand for more doesn’t make sense, but that is the best way to explain the situation of English teaching in Asia.

Here is an extract from a TEFL website that tells you all the benefits of teaching in Asia.

“Asia is by far the largest and often the most lucrative region of the world for teaching English abroad. If you are looking for a fantastic international experience and opportunities to make and save great money while teaching English abroad, Asia is a region you need to consider.”

There is nothing wrong with teaching for a few years abroad and saving some nice cash, but I find it wrong for organizations that profit from finding placements for teaching English abroad to market mostly to people who care more about traveling and exploring than teaching.

2. There might be great benefits teaching, but I cannot see a future or promotions

Teaching English can be quite lucrative if you land a good job. You can cut yourself out a nice gig in Asia and work few hours for great benefits. This is illustrated below.

Teaching Benefits in Taiwan
Teaching Benefits in Taiwan

This can catch the attention of a lot of people who like the idea of earning a decent wage in a country that would have a lower cost of living than their home nation.

The short-term gain of teaching English is substantial and it is easy to save and travel if you work between 25-35 hours a week. If you work 35 hours a week on $650 NTD an hour, your earnings could be nearly $3,000 USD a month, or around $36,000 USD a year in Taiwan – a country with an average yearly income of $12,666 a year per capita.

In Taiwan, that English teaching salary is no small lot in life to have and it trumps what a lot of people earn. However, I cannot see where a TEFL teacher can be promoted to. Unless they work in an international school or open their own school, they are going to be stuck in Buxibans or small schools that will not allow them much mobility to get past teaching or perhaps expand to other subjects, though language is another issue in that regard.

For people teaching, this might be ideal. They might enjoy the stable income and the high pay for teaching the same lessons day in and day out. Teachers in native English speaking countries certainly do it and there is also nothing wrong with not wanting to climb a ladder.

But for me, I want there to be a place above me that I can reach. If I was a teacher, I am not sure I could satisfy that need.

3. Teaching skills are not transferable

If you are set on being a teacher, good for you. It is a profession and you love and I’ll congratulate you. However, for many people that are teaching because it is an income and not an interesting career, teaching might be a waste of time.

Many of us have parents who worked blue-collar jobs that were difficult and didn’t fulfill them and coming to Taiwan and teaching might end in tears because down the line, it might not be the profession that makes you feel the most fulfilled with.

You can turn around and tell me that you can’t always get what you want and you have to settle for what comes down the line, but I don’t think sticking to teaching if you want to try your hand at something else that would fulfill you as being anything but a waste of time.

For one, teaching skills are not very transferable and over time, you might find yourself stuck in a situation where your teaching skills are all you have, even if you never intended on being a teacher for very long.

I know this might all sound very hypothetical but this is what fills me with worry whenever I consider the idea of teaching for my career because careers outside of teaching are quite difficult to find in Taiwan and other parts of Asia for non-nationals.

Again, I am not trying to look down on the choices that people make in life. Some people genuinely enjoy teaching English and it is a calling for them. But some people obviously never intended to become teachers in the first place and they end up jaded and angry at the country they call home because their skills in teaching in Taiwan are not transferable in their home country or for other possible professions in Taiwan.

What makes a person special to teach English in Taiwan is a given right to everyone in a native English speakers home country, their citizenship. The qualifications and experience you need to teach in Taiwan are not entirely transferable to teach or reach into many other professional roles in most English speaking countries.

Closing thoughts

Don’t get me wrong, I understand why a lot of people teach English out here. The money is good and the lifestyle afforded for English teachers in many parts of Asia is very comfortable. People graduating college might think a year abroad teaching English is a great idea for a gap year. They usually just need a degree and a TEFL. You don’t need a background in teaching, but just a background check to make sure you aren’t going to mess around with kids.

However, I find myself worried that if I tried teaching – even for some extra cash – it might lead to myself becoming too comfortable with teaching because the money is too good.

I have met people who loathe the fact they live in Asia and teach, and I have met many great people who teach out here and have made a difference, but I know for myself that teaching is not a viable option because I simply do not have the interest or the desire to be a teacher.

I still respect people who make it their life’s work, but I don’t respect TEFL organizations who are there to fill quotas.


Nihao's It Going?

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