The moment you have been waiting for has finally come. After hours of memorizing confusing grammar rules and learning to teach in front of a class without butterflies, you are ready to share your newly minted skills with the world. Except there is one question that has been doing somersaults inside your mind: how long should you teach English abroad for?
Have no fear. The dreaded-duration-dilemma is a plight that affects all TEFL-job-bound-folks at some time or another. There are many important factors that should be taken into consideration when figuring out this weighty decision including financial means, past experience teaching abroad, and motivation for wanting to teach in the first place. Read on to understand the pros and cons of short versus long-term stints teaching English abroad and how you can decide which path will bring you the most teaching bliss as well as a meaningful experience abroad.
First up: Long term TEFL jobs
Why not pack up your bags and move abroad for GOOD? Long term English teaching jobs tend to entail teaching abroad for at least a year. We’ve heard rumors that the longer you stay, the more profound the experience.
The BENEFITS of longer contracts for TEFL jobs abroad
For those teachers deciding to stay for the long haul (more than 3 months, such as 6 month TEFL jobs or full-year TEFL jobs), this may seem like a heavy decision, but it comes with a lot of benefits.
Most importantly is the invaluable teaching experience that you will have under your belt. Future employers will see this dedication as a sign that you are willing to commit to an endeavor long term. Having at least a year of experience teaching English will also make you stand out in a sea full of newbies. It can also get you that coveted teaching position in the future, if you are planning to continue teaching afterward, either in your adopted country or a new one.
Another benefit of teaching long term at a school is being able to establish a meaningful relationship with your students and have a lasting impact on them. As with anything, it takes time to ease into the rhythm of a certain classroom. After a year, the school will feel like a second home and the students and teachers like family.
The DISADVANTAGES of long term TEFL jobs
One major disadvantage of teaching English abroad for more than a year is that you can become jaded and indifferent to your surroundings.
Going to class in the first few months seemed exciting and new, but as the months wear on, it seems more like a daily routine that you are just going through the motions of. This worn outlook can affect you as a teacher, where your lack of enthusiasm and dedication to your lessons will definitely reflect on your students and their motivation to learn. Losing your purpose for teaching is one of the most dangerous ailments that affects teachers abroad, so in order to have a meaningful experience careful pre-trip planning is key.
You might start to focus more on the negative things that make you resent your adopted country. The public transportation that you take to work everyday that once was engaging and new (not to mention perfect for people watching) now seems inefficient and crowded. You start to get a new wave of longing for the little things back home and begin to romanticize about how life was “perfect” back at home.
Another common issue that might rear its ugly head is money. Teaching abroad is not always the most lucrative of careers, where ESL teachers often cannot put away a lot into their savings. After a year of teaching abroad, money issues can become very real. This is the time where you silently curse yourself for eating out so much or taking that long weekend trip to the South of France. Remember though in these situations that sometimes experiences are worth it, despite living from paycheck to paycheck. Do not beat yourself up too much about it.
More resources for long term teaching contracts
If you would like to pack it up, pack it in, and globetrot as an ESL teacher for longer than 3 month TEFL jobs—maybe even a whole YEAR of teaching abroad?!—then read these first!
- What to Look For in ESL Teaching Jobs
- Free Ebook: The Best Advice for New Teachers Abroad
- These ESL Games for Kids Will Make You Their Fave Teacher
Next up: Short term teaching jobs abroad
Not everyone has the time or interest in spending months and months, or years and years, as an international ESL teacher. Lucky for you, there are plenty of short term jobs for teaching English abroad, such as summer teaching programs abroad. If you leaning more toward a short-term stint, here’s what you should consider:
The BENEFITS of short term TEFL contracts
On the other end of the teaching abroad timeline spectrum, one of the major benefits of choosing a short duration (three to six months) is that you can dip your toe in the (often unpredictable) TEFL job waters to see if a particular experience fits your needs. This is especially helpful if you are a first-time teacher and do not know what to expect.
Teaching abroad can be tremendously rewarding, but it can also be a nightmare if your experience goes sour and you are contractually stuck there until the promised end date. Anything from the cultural teaching standards of a country to despicable school management are reasons you could be wanting out. Waiting it out for a few months is a lot more reassuring than if you were to have to endure it for a whole year or longer.
Another advantage of a short teaching job abroad is that you have the opportunity to gain just enough experience before coming back home and resuming both your professional and personal goals without getting out of the swing of things. This opportunity gives you a brief moment to switch up the scenery, before you head into your next step in life, whether it is school or a new career.
The DISADVANTAGES of TEFL short term jobs
One main issue of having a shorter time frame when teaching English abroad is that just as you begin to get the hang of things it is time to pack-up your bags, turn around, and go back home. It takes time to adjust to a new country, and the continued process of adaptation is quite common after a few months. Coming back home, you will also have to deal with possible reverse culture shock shortly after getting over culture shock. Emotionally, it can be a lot to handle, even for those who are world-class adapters.
Another potential pitfall for short term teachers is not having a wide selection of places to work, since schools prefer hiring teachers who are willing to stay over a year, instead of those who plan to be gone in a few months. Some schools even have a strict policy of a year contract for their teachers to make sure that they will not be left hanging.
More resources for short term teaching overseas
If you are heavily considering 3 month TEFL jobs or less, these additional articles, pieces of advice, and resources can help you understand the undertaking more fully.
- Make the Most of Your Break: Summer Jobs for Teachers Abroad
- What Does Teaching Overseas Look Like?
- 4 Easy-Peasy-Lemon-Squeezy Activities for ESL Students
So, how do you know which TEFL contract length is best for you?
Don't worry if you're still confused about the length of time you should teach English abroad—it's completely understandable. Create your own list of pros and cons for short term teach abroad programs versus longer. Make sure that these are applicable to your particular situation; having it written out is helpful to people because it helps visualize the scenario better.
It is also important to look at how you personally adapt to new situations. Do you take long to get invested in something, but once you are adjusted do you thrive? Do you get restless after a few months and need a change of scenery? Look at your past examples of traveling, whether it was studying, volunteering, teaching, or traveling abroad to gauge how you adapted to being abroad.
How you personally engage in a new situation is important for both you and your students, because it will reflect how you can be most effective as a teacher.
Look also at your employment history and study your work patterns. What have you struggle with in a work environment in the past? Have you not been able to keep a job for a more than a year? These are some examples of questions that are important to ask yourself before making a teaching commitment abroad.
Congrats! You've figured out the answer to "How long should I teach abroad?"
Deciding the duration of your teaching job abroad is no small feat, but no matter the length of time that you decide to stay, teaching English abroad will be an invaluable experience for both your professional and personal life in the future.