Obstacles Faced by TEFL Instructors Teaching Abroad A career in TEFL is one that many


A career in TEFL is one that many people could find attractive for different reasons – a passion for teaching, a passion for English, a desire to live abroad, or even a desire to meet people around the world. It is a career that offers many opportunities. However, what many big-dreamers who desire a career in TEFL may not realize is that there can be a lot of obstacles in such a career, especially to a native English speaker teaching abroad. This article looks at obstacles in three specific areas, professional, teaching, and personal obstacles, which TEFL teachers teaching abroad are likely to encounter.

A career in TEFL is not considered a “real” career by some, according to an article in TESOL Quarterly by Bill Johnston. Johnston supported this claim based on a lack of strong professional education and long term career goals and aspirations found in a group of TEFL instructors in Poland. He also noted a lack of respect by other professions, and the “permeability” of the profession, that is, the ease with which one can enter and exit the occupation. Johnston went so far as to suggest that some of the teachers themselves didn’t see their jobs as careers, but as “responses to external circumstances” which led them to their current positions. This view of their occupation didn’t seem to affect their enjoyment of it, however, which may support the conclusion that TEFL instructors choose the occupation without a career in TEFL in mind. Another professional obstacle TEFL instructors face is the conflict between teaching to educate students to speak and use the English language and teaching students to pass an English certification exam, like the Cambridge ESOL exams. Some teachers evaluate themselves, or are evaluated by others, solely on their students’ test scores. One test shouldn’t be a complete measure of the quality or effectiveness of a teacher, yet in the world of TEFL it seems to be the standard. Although TEFL may not be considered a true “profession” by some, TEFL instructors definitely face professional obstacles. Many obstacles that TEFL instructors face occur inside the classroom when teaching. Some instructors in impoverished or war- ridden countries lack materials with which to teach. Others lack the experience they need to efficiently teach in the classroom. Many education professionals harshly criticize one-month and online TEFL teacher training courses, insisting that they don’t provide enough or the proper kind of training and experience TEFL instructors who teach abroad really need. Albert Marckwardt, a professor at Princeton University, goes into detail about the difficulty of teaching English to a speaker of a non-western language in his article about the importance of training Peace Corps volunteers to be effective TEFL teachers. Culture can also be an obstacle to effective teaching in the classroom. In a study on a private language school in Japan, Patricia Duff and Yuko Uchida interviewed two American teachers, one who incorporated only American media in his class and another who incorporated only Japanese themes in her material. Both teachers felt very strongly about using culture as a part of their class, but many teachers might wonder whether it is appropriate to bring in the culture of the instructor (and the culture of most English-speaking countries) or that of the country in which the lesson is being taught. A third group of obstacles that TEFL teachers face are personal in nature. Many TEFL teachers must have more than one teaching position in order to make enough money to support themselves. Some work for more than one school, or teach classes and individuals. Some even do TEFL on the side as an extra job, or have a part time job completely separate from teaching English. A great majority of TEFL teachers abroad teach without job security or benefits, which can lead to holding multiple jobs. Another personal obstacle TEFL teachers face is finding teaching positions abroad while living in their native English-speaking country. It is understandably easier to find a job in a location where a person is present and can do searching in person, rather than via the internet, mail, or telephone, and arguably safer too. While a TEFL course graduate may have personal dreams of traveling the world and teaching English abroad, those dreams may be harder to make a reality than they might imagine because of obstacles like these.

There are many obstacles that TEFL teachers can and do face; professional, teaching-oriented, and personal in nature. It doesn’t seem, however, that these obstacles have kept the occupation from growing, as there are more potential EFL students in the world than ever, providing positions for TEFL teachers who are willing to face and overcome the obstacles that may face them. With enough drive and effort, TEFL teachers can make their TEFL career goals a possibility.

Articles referenced: “Do EFL Teachers Have Careers'” by Bill Johnston, TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 4. (Winter, 1997), pp. 681-712

“One-Month Teacher Training Courses: Time for a Change'” by Gibson Ferguson and Sarah Donno, ELT Journal Vol. 57, No. 1 (January 2003), pp. 26-33, Copyright Oxford University Press

“The Negotiation of Teachers’ Sociocultural Identities and Practices in Postsecondary EFL Classrooms” by Patricia A. Duff and Yuko Uchida, TESOL Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 3, Language and Identity. (Autumn, 1997), pp. 451-486

“Training the Peace Corps for English Teaching Abroad” by Albert H. Marckwardt, Copyright 2003 EBSCO Publishing

“One-Month Teacher Training Courses: Time for a Change'” by Gibson Ferguson and Sarah Donno, ELT Journal Vol. 57, No. 1 (January 2003), pp. 26-33, Copyright Oxford University Press