TEFL/TESL teacher: job description

Discover what a TEFL teacher actually does day to day, what TEFL stands for and how to become qualified.

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What is TEFL, TESL and TESOL and what does a TEFL teacher do? | Typical employers | Salaries | Qualifications and training | Key skills

TEFL is an umbrella term for teaching English to students of any age as a short-term job for new graduates who want to travel, but it can also be a long-term career option both in the UK and elsewhere. Jobs in the UK tend to be based in urban areas and involve teaching students – often adults – whose first language is not English. Overseas, you could be teaching students of any age, some of whom may have no English language skills.

Typical responsibilities of the job include:

  • planning, preparing and delivering lessons
  • preparing teaching materials
  • helping pupils improve their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills in individual and group sessions
  • checking and assessing students’ work, and providing feedback.

It’s important to understand how different terms are used in this area of work, as this will help with your search for training and jobs.

  • TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) is an generic term for teaching English to students of any age whose first language is not English.
  • TESL (teaching English as a second language) refers to teaching students who will be using English instead of their native language after moving to an English-speaking country.
  • TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) covers aspects of both.

Typical employers of TEFL, TESL or TESOL teachers

  • Primary and secondary schools, both in the UK and overseas.
  • Language schools.
  • Further and higher education institutions.
  • Community and adult education centres.
  • Voluntary organisations.
  • Prisons.
  • Organisations providing extra literacy support for staff.

You can also work as a freelance TEFL, TESL or TESOL teacher, particularly if you have teaching qualifications.

A number of organisations recruit students and graduates for English teaching jobs outside the UK. These include the British Council and the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) programme. Other roles are advertised via careers services, on local authorities’ websites and specialist education job sites.

If you’re planning to work overseas, be aware that many opportunities aren’t advertised widely and are best found by local networking.

Salaries for TEFL teachers

These vary widely depending on where you teach. JET programme participants can earn around £21,000 in their first year; teaching in the Middle East will command a higher salary and accommodation could be included. Pay for English teachers is much lower in South America, but living costs will also be less.

In the UK, TESL teachers are paid around £14,000 initially. You may be given an hourly pay rate rather than an annual salary if you’re employed on a casual or contract basis.

Qualifications and training required for TEFL, TESL and TESOL

It’s possible to become a TEFL teacher without a degree, though many employers, including JET and other higher-paying ones, expect one. Many also prefer approved TEFL qualifications and teaching experience.

There are two main internationally recognised TEFL qualifications: the Cambridge CELTA (Certificate in English language teaching to adults) and the Trinity College London TESOL course, commonly referred to as CertTESOL.

Discover more about how to choose a TEFL course and how to find teaching work after qualifying .

Key skills for TEFL teachers

  • Excellent spoken and written English language skills.
  • An understanding of how students of different ages learn.
  • The ability to think on your feet.
  • The ability to be flexible.
  • The ability to support immigrants, refugees and other learners in difficult situations.

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