As the saying goes, you make your own luck in life. Is the same true of the EFL industry?
Many teachers get into EFL to fund travel plans or to fill a gap period in their lives, others may fall into it by accident. While there are indeed those who enter the industry with clear career ambitions, given the pay and conditions compared to equivalent areas of the education industry I think it is fair to say that the daily grind of classroom teaching alone is not what most ELTs would like to be doing long-term.
I hesitate to expand further on this, as I know that for teachers being in the classroom is absolutely the best part of the job, and many couldn’t imagine their working lives away from it. I totally get that, and this post is in no way attacking that idea.
What I’m really concerned with is more what opportunities there are for ambitious, career-focused teachers who would like some form of progression implied commensurate to the years of service and hours of dedication they put in. It’s about making sure that young, bright, capable people who become EFL teachers after graduating are not lost to the industry because they don’t see how they can develop in the long-term.
The question of how valued ELTs are, especially when compared to teachers in mainstream schools, is an age-old one and is not something that I’m trying to rage against here.
Fundamentally, it comes down to supply and demand, and unlike high school teachers who need to undertake a whole-year college course at least to get their status as teachers, there will always be a steady stream of green hopefuls fresh from a 4-week CELTA course ready to be downtrodden for 40 hours a week (evenings and weekends included) if it means they can spend a year living in Italy or Thailand.
Sure, the ambitious can take a some form of TEFL-Q course, but there are still only so many Director of Studies positions available, and university teaching tenure is still relatively difficult to procure.
So what can be done?
For me, the very things that demotivate many entrants to the profession should be motivational factors. If there are so many others just like you, then that means you need to differentiate yourself from the rest.
In essence, I’m talking about entrepreneurship.
Experimentation has always been one of the heartbeats of this industry, and for me is one of the great things about working in EFL is the general willingness to try to new things: whether that be a methodology, material, a new cultural experience or piece of technology.
Teachers should see diversification as a way of enhancing and developing their skills, and should not be afraid to take risks when they have a great new idea.
This could be something inside the classroom, like developing new materials or contributing to methodological discourse. It could be professional, such as setting up online courses or starting out as a freelancer, even opening your own school. Perhaps it could be product based, like developing an EFL app or learning aid.
Whatever it is, EFL teachers should divert their hunger to get on into creating new opportunities for themselves, and hopefully not automatically look to go to pastures new.
What examples of entrepreneurship in EFL do you look up to? Leave me a comment and let me know!