Running towards TEFL

A long time ago I had a conversation with a 'normal' school teacher who said TEFL teachers are all weirdos, people who are running away from something...

running with the seagulls

It gave me pause.  When she said it like that, so bluntly, but then I forgot until it came up again last week.   The view being that if you chose to live an international life, something must have been wrong with the world you were from originally.

Yes, for some of us, that's probably undoubtedly true.

And yes, probably, some of us are freaks, criminals or people on the run.


some of us simply ran from the drudgery of an office life.

Some ran towards the drudgery of an office life.

Some ran away from low-paying jobs.

Some ran towards low-paying jobs.

Some ran away from hard familiar circumstances.

Some ran towards new lovers in new countries.

Some ran towards the risk of the new.

Away from safe nests and towards challenges and growth.

Some stayed at home to live life through their students' lives.

Some explored the world in order to attain a certain level of global understanding.

Some felt guilty and wanted to give something back, to pay for the sins of their ancestors.

Some felt disappointed and ran on home.

Some hate our profession and want to run....


the rest

of us?

We just want a life whole-lived.

Where do you fit in?  Walking, jogging or doing a marathon?


11 Responses to “Running towards TEFL”

  • Anonymous says:
    October 12, 2010

    after all,

    "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans" said John Lennon, who would've perhaps turned 70 last Sunday if he hadn't been shot dead.

    Quite an irony, this life...

    some people could be said to have done 'a lot' when they're only 40, whatever 'a lot' means; some others are still underachievers when they're 80.


    A neglected burden lies in having to justify the course of our lives to others; to justify why we're moving to another country or to justify why we became teachers, which are usually easy to say. In other cases, to justify our sexual inclination or why we don't spend time with our children.

    I feel the whole tell-me-why culture is an oppresive weight, one that hinders realness, motivation and for some, sociability.

  • Richard says:
    October 12, 2010

    Well, let's face it, there are a lot of tefl weirdos! As well as the gap-year travellers.

    I think it's amazing that you've only been forced to think about this a couple of times, how lucky! I shall quote a few comments I recall:

    A UK secondary school teaching friend, every time I visit, 'I thought you'd have become a real teacher by now.'

    Various 'teachers' at summer schools, (incredulously) 'Do you do this thing full-time?'

    Other teachers I've met, including one this summer, 'You can't make a career out of this, can you? So I'll do a year and then get a proper job'.

    A new colleague to a friend who started state school teaching in the UK a few years ago, 'Five years in tefl? Waste of time, you can start teaching properly now'.

    Student to a teaching colleague at summer school this year 'What's your real job?'

    I don't know about anywhere else, but in the UK, TEFL is not regarded as a long-term choice, or even a 'proper' job by many people.

  • Greg Q says:
    October 13, 2010

    Some stay for the drudgery of an office life.

    Some stay for their mortgages.

    Some stay for fear of new things and new ideas.

    Some stay to avoid challenges and growth.

    Some stay because it's just easier.

    Some just stay!

  • Anonymous says:
    October 15, 2010

    Sometimes it feels like a marathon, because we 're running to do everything we want to (which in many cases is an unrealistic lis) but we have to remember it's not a sprint, and keeping a pace is important. Others it feels like a stroll, because it flows naturally, it feels right and brings so much pleasure. There are times it feels like running, juggling classes, a home to run, kids to spend time and care for, staying atuned with what's going on, keeping up with the reading, preparing different activities.

    Let's face it, there are weirdos in all areas.

    I used to have a very different life. I was a graphic designer, a professor at a big university in the design department - English teaching was my "hobby", on weekends. When I decided it was what I really loved doing, I heard many of the things Richard mentioned. I had people say I was insane for dropping a good job at a prestigious ad agency to teach English, earning less than half of what I did there.

    That, Karenne, was when I walked. I walked, taking my time and admiring the view. I walked home. And I found myself there.

  • Tara Benwell says:
    October 15, 2010

    I ran away from a terrible job at a bank and into a world of letters, words, sentences and paragraphs. It was like coming home.
    Great post and fantastic photo, Karenne.

  • Sean Banville says:
    October 15, 2010

    My pre-ELT profession was accountancy - plenty of weirdos there :-)

    Ran a mile from them. Went to Thailand to do voluntary work. Had no idea what to do with my life - planned to travel forever. Thought about becoming a nurse but was talked out of it by some nurses I met in New Zealand. Back to Thailand and my traveling funds were low so I got a job as an "English teacher". Loved it. Left my job every evening smiling, so I became a "real teacher" and got my RSA CELTA in Izmir, Turkey. And then became even more real with a Master's in TESL/TEFL.

    My 17 years in ELT have been brilliant. Have met thousands of amazing, interesting students; shared with equally amazing and interesting colleagues (including lots of wonderful weirdos); have learnt loads professionally, have got into a fantastic area of educational technology filled with more weirdos (like Karenne) who have provided non-stop support, advice, friendship, collegiality and so much more.

    Am I a real teacher? Well… I do all the teachery things like carefully plan lessons with aims, integrate tech, read journals, observe lessons and be observed, attend PD sessions, give workshops, share ideas, be there for my students, help my colleagues...

    Would I like to continue in ELT and have lots more of the lovely experiences mentioned above? Yep.

    Would "normal" teachers think I'm a weirdo? Jolly well hope so :-)

  • Miguel Mendoza says:
    October 15, 2010

    I will just reply with a poem (Not mine; I wish).

    by Author Unknown

    To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
    To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
    To reach for another is to risk involvement.
    To expose your ideas, your dreams,
    before a crowd is to risk their loss.
    To love is to risk not being loved in return.
    To live is to risk dying.
    To believe is to risk despair.
    To try is to risk failure.
    But risks must be taken, because the
    greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
    The people who risk nothing, do nothing,
    have nothing, are nothing.
    They may avoid suffering and sorrow,
    but they cannot learn, feel, change,
    grow, love, live.
    Chained by their attitudes they are slaves;
    they have forfeited their freedom.
    Only a person who risks is free.

  • Mike Harrison says:
    October 16, 2010

    Sometimes it feels a little bit like one of those army assault course things which you do with a backpack full of bricks (note - I've never actually done one of those things) with all the extra baggage that can go with teaching (especially if you teach in the public sector.

    But that's really just feathers, as if you could weigh any of the other things that come out of teaching: the showing someone a different way of seeing the world, helping someone to fill in an application form for a travel card, to get that job. That would tip the scales so far towards the positives...

    I feel sorry for those people Richard quoted, for they have not experienced that which so many of us have - helping people. I feel the same as Sean - so what if others think this life weird. Sure beats stacking shelves. I've not had any other career but teaching so far (since I got into it straight after doing my undergrad degree in languages). I have done other jobs like barwork, lifeguarding, shop work - while sometimes I kind of miss the mundane simplicity of that, teaching always turns it round and makes me smile. Maybe that's a silly way to think about being a teacher, but that's definitely what I think. =)

  • Adam says:
    October 17, 2010

    I've had the same conversation more than once or twice. Said proper teachers have to shut up when they're unable to satisfactorily answer any of the following questions:


    -When did you last get any of your research published?
    -When did you present anything at a national or international conference?


    -When did you last have to learn another language to be able to live in another country?
    -Do you know all of your student's names?

    I could go on, but...

  • sendaiben says:
    October 25, 2010

    I ended up teaching English because it is one of the few careers available to non-natives here in Sendai.

    I wasn't planning to spend more than a couple of years here, but I met my wife and ten years later I am really enjoying my life as a university lecturer and language school owner.

    I would never have chosen this career, but I'm glad I fell into it.

  • TEFL Jobs says:
    January 21, 2011

    Good post, and rebuttle to what was a narrow minded over generalisation by your friend.

    There are a lot of people that go into TEFL only to escape with their head in the sand. However many more teachers go into it eyes wide open, and really want to make a difference to their life and those around them.


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