Classic Articles: When is it too Late to Get out of TEFL?

In celebration of the upcoming release of the fifth edition of Horizons Journal, I’ve decided to revisit some of the classic articles from the first four issues. In this article, I when is it too late to get out of this profession with the help of members of the ELT World forums:

Changing careers after a number of years is no easy feat and takes a lot of courage. Is it any easier or more difficult for TEFLers than those in other jobs though? A poll ran on the blog and on the forum discussing this issue.

The first obvious theme in the responses given by forum members focused on the concept of time. Obviously, any substantial length of time spent in one line of work makes it more difficult to leave and start something new. Gaijinalways notes, ‘ any post held for a longer period of time will possibly make it more difficult to change gears and careers. Returning to your home country after many years abroad can cause an additional strain. So I really think there is no limit, only what limits you place on yourself.’ MELEE reiterates this theme, ‘like others have said, at this point I’m not interested in getting out of TEFL. But like others have said I also think a long time in any field makes it hard to change to something else.’

While this concept of being established after a number of years seems obvious, it appears that, generally, maybe it isn’t something that is necessarily only connected to TEFL. Markle suggests that, ‘I think you could apply it to any career path, I mean when is it too late to get out of the military, IT, insurance, banking, prostitution? Any reasonably specialised job is going to leave you less equipped to enter into another line of work.’

Another factor mentioned regarding having done a job for a number of years is that you might well have financial reasons for sticking with it. Sheikh Inal Ovar describes:

‘for me, it became too late to get out when I started a well paid job… but now I’m stuck in TEFL until I’ve filled my boots with enough cash to be (semi) financially independent … Why? Because I don’t think I could guarantee the same sort of savings if I were to try my arm at something else… so I’m in the absurd position that I cannot afford to quit TEFLing … at least not for the next few years.’

Another theme that became evident, clearly related to spending years going in one direction, is that of developing a skill set specific to your profession. Are you equipped to move into a different career? Chimp Guevara states, ‘I don’t think it’s possible for it to be “too late” to get out of ELT, but don’t expect the career switch to be massive – ELT to Investment Banking is a bit of a stretch for someone with a French Lit degree and a DELTA, for example.’ So, if you want to change careers, where can you go? Chimp Guevara continues, ‘education administration or even retraining within the education profession is clearly a possibility. The most important thing is the qualifications you hold and the transferable skills you have.’

Having noted that many of the factors TEFLers would become faced with are also faced by anyone trying to change careers after a number of years, some comments indicated that there may be additional factors affecting English teachers. For example, Sherri asks, ‘I think a question that many ask is when is: When is it too late to start over in a new country/ home country?’ In addition to starting over in terms of work, many involved in TEFL would also have to start over in a new country. Sherri further develops this notion, ‘for me at least, my standards have changed since I was in my 20s. Then I would be happy with one bag and sharing a room. Now I would never dream of sharing and I have a family to think of. If you stay too long in one place, you can get “stuck” and like it or not, you have to stay because your options become limited. This is especially true if you have not upgraded your qualifications or you have not broadened your skill set.’ Jerry takes a somewhat different stance, suggesting other motivations for remaining in TEFL, ‘It’s never too late to do anything in your life….. if you genuinely think something will be better, go for it. However, if you are kicking the arse out of something (like many TEFLers) you will have few choices in anything you want to do in life, and TEFL offers an easy life for a limited period of time for the shyster.’ 31 notes the long-term effects, indicating why it may become more difficult to leave TEFL than certain other professions, ‘TEFL makes you bitter, alcoholic, unemployable and a joke back home.’

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. che1959 hints at why one or two respondents possibly indicated that one year might be too late:

‘I don’t think you can ever really get out of it. TEFL changes you. As much as I hate to admit it, there is adventure in TEFL. Some of us are literally living the lives that many people dream about, think about it for a second.’

Many people considered this to be quite a negative poll to run on a website related to TEFL. My intention when asking this question, however, was for people to consider whether or not they could leave TEFL if they wanted to. I’m pleased that so many of you seem to agree with the sentiments of che1959.

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One Response to Classic Articles: When is it too Late to Get out of TEFL?

  1. Troy says:

    One of the pearls of wisdom I gleaned from teaching BP employees in Azerbaijan is that in their company it is mandatory to completely change departments every 7 years (could have been 8).

    As they currently rule the world, this will probably become an axiom amongst professionals.

    So what does changing departments mean for the average TEFL hack? Well you could always do your DOS a big favour and say yes to all those Young Learner classes that everyone else avoids like the plague. Or you could specialize in 1 to 1′s, keeping near comatose business people awake after long work days. Better yet, you yourself could take on a DOS position and find yourself squeezed between moaning teachers and blood-hungry school owners. Doesn’t seem too appealing, does it?

    Changing countries might fit under the heading of a “department shift”, but beware…if you’ve been teaching in say, Saudi Arabia for more than 3 years, many a DOS have told me that you are about as attractive as a Nuclear Power plant.

    Best bet to get out of TEFL after 10 years yet not have to return to your place of birth? Difficult question but I have heard that freaky missionaries are always hiring.

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