To the long-term dreamers (like me), teaching English abroad as a second language (TEFL) may seem like a pretty reckless option.
In terms of immediate consequences, you have to move internationally! This comes with a whole host of problems.
What You’re Probably Worried About…
First, you’ll have to purge your belongings—sell what you don’t need, store what you don’t need now, pay to ship what you do need… it’s an expensive process.
Second, you’ll have to leave your current living situation—break your lease, rent your space while you’re away, or even sell your house!
Third, you’ll have to learn a new culture’s customs, get settled all over again in a new work environment, worry about setting up things like a foreign bank account and a new cell phone plan, and you might have to learn a new language!
But, if you’ve come this far in the hunt, you have certainly already considered all of those immediate struggles.
And yet, here you are—scrolling around on blogs, reading about people that have gone through all those terrible things because, ultimately, it’s not that bad when it comes to the adventure your exchanging everything for.
However, the long-term thinkers might still be cautious because they’re already thinking of what comes next.
What happens when you come back from spending the best year of your life teaching in Taiwan?
How is the unpredictable behavior of quitting your job, selling your belongings, and moving to the other side of the world going to look on a resume?
How will you explain a year’s worth of empty space on a resume in your future job interviews?
How can you still remain a competitive option against all those the who didn’t take a year off to travel?
I get it.
And I’m here to tell you, in today’s world, it’s really not like that.
For the same reason that schools will pay to fly you in and teach, companies will pay to have you afterwards too—because today’s economy is international, and you jumped into it.
What You Should Be Thinking Instead
You proved that you had the guts to do something not many other people would attempt.
This advertises a whole host of personality traits that employers find attractive—initiative, risk-taking, ambition… and even calculating. (It’s not like you moved there without a job!)
Aside from just the personality qualities that TEFL experience can vouch for, being a teacher requires a ton of high-level skills that transfer well across many different fields.
First and foremost, a teacher is a leader.
Weather it’s in a kindergarten gym class or a high school calculus course, it’s still you in the front of the room.
Instructing a group of people, telling them what to do, how to do it, and what will happen to them if they don’t.
You have to lean to be creative in using “behavior management” to essentially manipulate people into doing what you need them to do.
If someone is squirming around in line and being a distraction, tell the person next to them they’re doing a great job—the other one will feel guilty and adjust!
If you need homework to start coming in on time, display a sticker chart and whoever earns the most stickers gets a free homework pass.
These are the same types of “leadership-manipulation” techniques that adult managers use—they’re just less explicit when you grow up.
Instead of passing out stickers and timeouts, your boss will probably punish you with a yellow slip and reward you with praise at the next meeting.
If you’re not performing up to your ability, you might get called into the office for a talking-to, it’s just your parents won’t be there too.
When you work as a teacher, you are forced to learn the same leadership skills, behavior management techniques, and professionalism that is required to lead in any other field.
Demonstration of Responsibility
A teacher is responsible for everything that goes on in a classroom—from the safety and success of the students, to making sure the grades are in before report cards print, to trying to remember that so-and-so has inside recess.
Essentially, you are given a curriculum book and a set of standards and then left alone in a room with 20 moody children. And if anyone gets hurt, or cries, or fails, you are responsible for it.
As a teacher, you’re responsible for moving through the curriculum at a rigorous pace, while still making sure the kids genuinely understand the material.
You’re responsible to analyze the report card requirements and then plan a series of lessons that will accumulate to a coordinating grade.
You’re responsible to be the polite and professional face of the school while a parent flat-out tells you their child is a genius and is only failing because you’re a terrible teacher.
Being a teacher comes with a mountain of responsibility, both spoken and unspoken.
If a future employer wants to make sure an assignment is done correctly, is completed with an attention to detail, and delivered on time, they can be sure it will be taken care of when in the hands of a teacher.
Planning and Organizing Experience
To be a teacher, you need to be organized—you don’t have a choice.
If you want to have a relaxing, work-free weekend, then you better make sure your lesson plans are done when you leave work on Friday or you’re the one who’s going to pay when the kids are out of control because you didn’t plan anything.
If you need to take a sick day, you better have a clear lesson plan already outlined for that day so you can send it off to a substitute. If not? No sick day.
Teachers need to spend so much time planning and organizing, that it’s actually legally supposed to be built into their day (in certain states) as “prep time.”
You will need to plan around things you never even thought of—like renting out the computer lab, trying to schedule in standardized assessments, or having an IEP meeting.
And still, after all this planning, you’re still expected to just roll with the punches.
Boom! You got a new student who doesn’t speak any English.
Boom! So-and-so’s parents are getting divorced and now he’s an emotional wreck.
Boom! You have an observation on Wednesday and need to hand in a lesson plan by tomorrow.
Teaching is all about planning every little detail of the day, while still being prepared to throw everything out the window at a moment’s notice.
Experience Communicating and Working as a Team
Most schools will have more than one teacher (I say “most” because I know of some schools out here in Alaska that literally only have 1 teacher who is also the secretary, janitor, and cook…).
If that’s the case, those people are automatically your team.
They’re the ones who are going to fill you in on the changes to the new curriculum.
They’re the ones who are going to vouch for you when a parent accuses you of singling their kid out.
They’re the ones who will print out your sub-plans and leave them on your desk when you can’t make it to work.
When you work in a school that doesn’t have that sense of teamwork or community, it can literally ruin everything.
Even if you are working at a state-of-the-art institution in Dubai, if you can’t have a lunch break without someone being “amazed at how low your kids’ test scores are” (hinting that it’s your fault), you will never feel like you belong.
You will always feel like you need to defend yourself, and you will always be on edge.
On top of that, a teacher needs to be a good communicator.
Parents don’t want to hear that their precious Sammy is a goof ball who doesn’t produce any work in class, but sometimes the only way that’s going to stop is if you let them know.
You need to know techniques like the “praise sandwich” to politely say that they need to whip their kid into shape.
And still, if you want anything to be done correctly in an elementary class, you need to know how to say it clear enough that even a 5-year-old could understand, literally.
Demonstration Of Being A Lifelong-Learner
Finally, being a teacher abroad shows that you’re not afraid to learn new things.
Your future boss will know that you’re not afraid to accept a project spontaneously, to ask for help, or try a different approach.
You know that hard work is the only thing that’s going to pull you out of a bad situation, and your willing to learn how.
In fact, being a life-long learner seems to be some new trendy job requirement for nearly everything nowadays.
Employers want to know that when the next generation of technology rolls out, they have a team of people willing to learn how to use it.
That’s basically the definition of a teacher.
Every couple of years, a school district will spend a bunch of money on a brand-new curriculum that no one voted on, and teachers will be expected to receive a box full of textbooks and use them to sculpt little masterminds out of rowdy 7-year-olds (sometimes even without any training).
Teachers can do this, because if you can’t, you’re not a teacher, you’re on the next flight home.
So Now What’s Your Excuse?
As you can see, taking some time off from the “real world” to teach English abroad isn’t as reckless as it seems! In fact, in a lot of ways, it’s more of an investment.
It’s a way of saying that you can be a qualified, confident worker even when you’re dropped in the middle of the desert.
It will show proof of a host of parallel-skills such as leadership, responsibility, planning and organizing, communicating, and being an active learner.
The thing is, you just need to know how to market all those things to employers who might initially think otherwise. So, to help you out with this, I’ve included a free download of copy-and-paste resume skills to help you better explain exactly how being a short-term teacher makes you a perfect long-term investment for a company.
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