Most of the information here will be geared toward British graduates, unless stated otherwise. There are a wide range of different routes into the TEFL industry, but it can be hard to know which ones won’t take advantage of you. My failed experience in TEFL in Italy has not taught me to give up, but to pursue alternative (and more structured) routes in. The options below cover year-long teaching posts, as well as summer work and volunteering within the TEFL industry.
Graduates without qualifications, part I
Most of the British Council assistantships will be closed off to you, except for the ones in China where you don’t need any knowledge of Mandarin. Everywhere but China you need a language A-Level to even be considered for applications.
To work in Asia at all though, you won’t really need qualifications. Many countries just want graduates with a degree, but beware that there is a racial bias and some south east Asian countries will prefer white graduates over other races, as they see this as more of a ‘guarantee’ that they’re a native speaker. It is possible to work straight off the bat without qualifications, but it could be quite a risk, as schools who are willing to take on teachers who aren’t qualified will be of a lower quality and therefore more apt to take advantage. These are known as ‘cowboy schools’.
There is also the JET scheme for those who are happy to spend up to a year working in Japan and teaching English-not neccessarily in the big cities either. You can apply to be an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) and can earn up to £25,500 per year. Not bad for a graduate starting salary.
Graduates without qualifications, part II
Having completed a degree and wanting to pursue a teaching career makes you eligible for the British Council’s Comenius assistant scheme. I prefer this to the British Council’s general assistantships as you can choose to work between 13- 45 weeks in Europe AND some wicked overseas territories.
The British Council covers the entire cost of travel, visas and allows a stipend for living costs and language tuition. The sole caveat is that you have to either have studied, be studying or plan to work towards a teaching qualification.
*As of July 2013, I’ve been informed that this may be the last cohort of Comenius Assistants, but that a similar programme is possibly being devised as we speak… I’ll be starting with Comenius in September 2013 in Rome, Italy.
Language Undergraduates/Graduates (A-Levels/ Modern Foreign Languages Degree)
If you have studied a language at A-Level then you are eligible to apply for British Council assistantships in Italy, Spain, France and even south America. Many of these places will be awarded to language undergraduates as this is a required component of their degree, but the British Council also consider graduates. You will be required to work for an entire academic year and have a working week of 12-16 hours and you will receive a tax-free grant to cover living costs. Most people will need to take on a second job to live comfortably, but this can be done tutoring students of English by the hour.
You will be based in one school and unlike many other teachers, won’t have to race around the city to make your next class. Lucky you.
Graduates with qualifications CELTA/ CertTesol and PGCE (and other general teaching qualifications)
You’ve heard me praise the CELTA at length, so I won’t bore you any longer. With this qualification, you will be able to target the better schools and command a much better salary-particularly in south east Asia. Be warned though, being fresh out of a CELTA can make job-hunting difficult in the Middle East and Europe, where they expect teachers with more experience.
Graduates and Non-Graduates with other TEFL qualifications
Weekend courses and other schemes don’t hold much sway in the TEFL world but may stand you in a better light in Asia, where even a weekend course is better than no previous experience. Unfortunately, in south east Asia they sometimes have a preference for Caucasian English teachers (even over Asian), so bear this in mind and some countries stipulate (Indonesia) that you must have completed a degree.
Graduates who just wanna volunteer
Whilst its all well and good wanting to volunteer abroad, be wary of organisations that will cost you an arm and a leg. Remember you shouldn’t have to pay for the privilege of giving away your time, but if you do want a shorter teaching stint then volunteering could be the option for you. Do keep in mind the impact you will have on your students though, if you decide to volunteer in an African village for a few weeks before touring the Serengeti, having signed away £4000 (not including flights of course) to a British charity. It’s these trips you should try and avoid.
If you want to break up your travelling, log onto Help Exchange and see if the areas you’re visiting need a hand for a few weeks to a few months. Its a great (free!) opportunity to help out in schools in need and can give you a fantastic opportunity to get to know the country and culture a little better. Some may ask for a minimum commitment.
Graduates who want summer work
The final option is for graduates who want to work in European summer camps helping students learn English through games, songs and other activities. The salaries are often decent and you’re usually based in a beautiful part of the country. For these, you often won’t need a qualification (as you won’t strictly be teaching) but experience with children is preferable. ACLE is one such company based in Italy and a google search will yield loads more.