What Do You Know?
Many Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) transition into teaching from a totally different line of work. Before I began teaching, I was a social services administrator/social worker and had worked in a variety of roles. I know other people who were business people, stock brokers, marketing agents, scuba divers, military personnel and who held a whole range of other jobs before they decided to live the good life abroad as an English teacher. There’s no one right way to prepare for being an English teacher, and, in fact, having skills from another job or field can add a lot of depth to your lessons.
Here are 10 jobs that have transferable skills to TEFL. Can you think of any more?
As a parent, you learn a lot about teaching, perhaps without even realizing it. You know about organizing groups of people who depend on you; you have experience with convincing people to do something that they might not see the need for; you are used to occupying a position of respect. Also, you know that feeling of achievement when one of your charges does well.
Like a parent, you’ve learned a lot about patience, compassion, solving arguments, and the value of occasional silence. If you’ve dealt with young children, you also have an idea what it’s like to communicate with someone who might understand you perfectly, but has a hard time making himself or herself understood verbally—just like an ESL student.
Service is your goal, and you know how to put on a bright face and communicate with people in a positive manner. You understand the importance of being well groomed and prompt, and about making your students or customers feel valued and appreciated. You also have experience explaining complicated products or services to customers, which directly correlates to being able to answer students’ questions.
You are familiar with important of details and orderliness, both of which help when teaching difficult concepts to students and when designing lesson plans. Teachers who can lead lessons in business English are sought after in many markets, and with an accountancy background and some understanding of general business concepts, you’ll be a natural choice for those jobs. Plus, if you can explain tax laws, you can probably explain anything.
Food and beverage staff
You know how to draw people out and get them talking to you. You know the value of patience and when to be firm but polite with a customer who is talking a bit too much. Many people who have worked in the hospitality industry find that they enjoy teaching English because they get the pleasure of working with the public without the hassle of late hours and tipsy customers. The biggest skill, however, is that of being able to work well with a variety of people.
Call center employee
Communication is key, and you know just how easily misunderstandings can occur in verbal English. Having a pleasant, well modulated voice and being able to follow a script (or lesson plan) will work for you in ESL as well. You’ll also be able to give great examples to the students of polite, professional English as it’s used in the real world.
You can take charge and make important decisions quickly and without regrets. You’re also used to putting your patients’ needs before your own, just as you’ll do with students in the EFL classroom. Having a background in health care will also help you if you decide to teach English for specific purposes. Many foreign medical students and medical professionals need help with their English language skills.
You’re good at drawing people out of their shells, and helping them realize the best in themselves. You’ve developed a demeanor that people who are feeling stressed or overwhelmed (traits you’ll recognize in some English students who expect results too quickly) feel comfortable with. In addition, you’re good at remembering details from what people have told you and analyzing those points—just as you’ll need to do when you assess someone’s language ability and help them set and achieve their goals.
You know how to put the best face on things and put people who are uncertain at ease. You also have an eye for creating a pleasant atmosphere, for example one suitable for learning. Realtors also need a certain professional confidence to do well at their jobs—similar to the teaching persona you’ll want to have in the classroom.
Super-organized and on the ball, you’ll do well at leading large classes or designing curricula to help students achieve their long-term goals without much stress. You also know the importance of notes and clean reports, and are ready to help as much as you can and to expect the unexpected in your working life.
Tip #1: There’s no one career path or educational background that creates the best English teacher. No matter what your background, if you have a passion for teaching and the desire to improve, you’ll be a great teacher.
Tip #2: Patience and organization are key character traits of a good ESL teacher, but don’t worry if you’re not the most patient or organized person—these skills can be learned!