Is TEFL a form of “gap year” or a serious career?

What is a TEFL teacher?


Is TEFL a form of “gap year” or a serious career?


By John Pritchard

(Teaching ESL in numerous countries for the past 15 years)




The TEFL industry/profession is different things to different people, but one thing I’ve learned from experience is that the attitude of management makes all the difference in terms of teacher satisfaction and long-run retention.


For teachers, TEFL at its worst is arriving in a new country with rose-tinted glasses only to find yourself exploited by a miserable boss.


At best, TEFL can be the time of your life and a rewarding experience or career.


In my opinion, the more the management of a school, and its Foreign Director, factor in the above three areas when organizing itself, the more rewarding the position is for teachers, and as a direct consequence, the more likely it is that those teachers will stay on for subsequent years.



There are two types of schools which I’ve worked for, one is full of career teachers who have stayed with one employer for many years because of the quality of management and the inherent challenges and rewarding nature the teaching position provides, along with its prospective job advancement opportunities.


The other is the opposite, teachers come and go with high frequency, management is cynical and the experience is not worthwhile. There is little empathy on both sides as the TEFL industry and teaching positions are viewed as highly transient, with little commitment from both sides – the school and the teacher.


 I also believe that the fulfillment you’ll get in a year of TEFL is driven far more by the quality of management than it is by the location or cultural appeal of the place.



I’ve had a miserable time teaching in some of the most beautiful parts of Spain, China, and Italy, and also had a fantastic time teaching in the far less popular locations of Poland, China and The Czech Republic.


When you feel valued as a professional and when a school goes out of its way to accommodate you, you feel far more motivated to put in the hours and deliver your best work for them. With such an experience, your time both working and social is truly a joy and as such drives you to be the best you can be – as a teacher and a person.


In contrast, when a school refuses to support you or fails in the aforementioned essentials of organization and of your working contract, you inevitably lose enthusiasm and become disenchanted, discouraged and as a direct result, your work effort decreases – a natural reaction for most people in such a circumstance.


The big question for a manager then, be they a Director of Studies/Foreign Teachers or an owner of the school, is this:


Are your teacher’s replaceable commodities with a one-year shelf-life, or are they assets to the school/business, capable of growing and flourishing over a long period of time, if carefully nurtured?



How this question is answered makes all the difference not only to the motivation and fulfillment a teacher will experience while working for the school, but also in their decision over whether to stay in successive years rather than move on.


Do you feel you are working for the school or with the school?


When schools treat teachers like expendable commodities then TEFL is treated as a gap year experience by teachers given little reason to stick around, but if schools go the extra mile to promote teacher satisfaction, then more and more of us will come to see English teaching as a viable career and loyalty to one school will be more widespread.


Is your school one a teacher can plan their life around? That’s a question worth considering for managers serious about building a team of dedicated and loyal long-term staff.


Please always keep at the front of your mind that we here at TEFL PDI are with you the entire way through your TEFL Journey.