Can I take TEFL seriously?
If supporting yourself while living overseas, living well, and experiencing another culture is a goal, then yes you can consider TEFL a “real” job.
If the possibility of saving substantially more money over a year than you could “back home” is your goal, then yes again.
If you would like to live overseas for extended periods and travel extensively, all while making a decent living, then yes, yes, yes, you can consider TEFL a “real” job.
Like any real job
Just like any “real” job back home, you can expect to start out at the bottom in EFL teaching. You will need to learn the ropes and should plan some study to improve your skills.
You will probably also need to network to improve your job possibilities and can expect periods of frustration and a difficult boss or coworker from time to time. The “real” world doesn’t go away overseas.
You can expect that your employer will want you to make a serious effort at providing quality instruction for your students (get some TEFL training!) and will want you to represent the school/company/institution in a positive manner.
Employers will not see your job as a “lark” or a chance to see the world, they will want you to produce in the classroom.
You will be expected to groom yourself and dress and behave in a professional manner. An out-of-the-ordinary personal appearance such as tattoos, piercings, oddly colored hair, etc. may make getting and keeping a job more difficult, but is becoming more acceptable. Most countries where you will teach English are much more conservative than our Western culture.
Unlike jobs back home
You might be hired without meeting your employer, might do just a telephone hiring interview if you do one at all, might have shorter work hours, fewer work days, longer vacations, free housing, airplane tickets to your new location, transportation to and from work and other “perks” that are not common back home.
Some things that are common in overseas hiring that you might not like include the need for a photograph accompanying your resume, interview questions about your marital status, age, family members and/or other non-work-related issues. Every country will be different in this regard, but you can certainly expect some surprises. Just smile and get on with it.
Just because . . .
Just because you might be saving more and working less, and traveling and enjoying your life far more than those people “back home” – that doesn’t mean that TEFL is not a “real job”. It surely is.
Tip #1: Expect to work just as hard as you did “back home”. Take pride in your work and provide a good service for your students.
Tip #2: Let people back home know that what you do is work. This may well be important when/if you return home looking for work. Giving the impression that you are only playing while overseas will lead friends and employers to hesitate taking you seriously when you return.