“What image do EFL teachers have?”
“What is your real job?” I have been working in the English teaching industry for nearly twenty years now, and during this time, I have heard this peculiar question several times both by native-speaking acquaintances and by the students I teach. The first time I heard that, I was rather surprised, as I couldn’t understand why people didn’t see teaching as a real job. However, I soon realized that it’s not unusual for the status of the profession to be questioned, basically because of the prevalence of stereotypes and misconceptions about the language teaching profession in society.
The English language teaching profession became associated with young backpackers travelling to exotic countries, or young people wanting to work abroad for a short time. A perception that led many to assume that English language teaching is not a “real” or long-term career choice. In reality, a lot of language teachers specialize in business English, carving out their own professional niches. Unfortunately, this has not been not rewarded with the same prestige and respect that other business professions are.
Teaching English requires much more than just an ability to speak English
A second reason is likely to be a lack of awareness of the complexity of language teaching. For example, students do not think about the planning, the creation of material, the marking of assessments, and the continuous professional development needed to teach languages.
The question makes also makes me think that English teachers are not valued enough in society. People think that we are just “talking in our native language and getting paid for it”. We certainly do more than that, as we help students improve their lives, and can positively change their careers by giving them the opportunity to learn English. In the end, people automatically assume that we’re just doing this because we can’t find something else. This is reflected in the low levels of pay that language teachers receive.
Impact on TEFL teachers
What affect does this have over teachers? The number one issue is a feeling of inadequacy and self- doubt and can lead to low levels of self-esteem. Some teachers, particularly those working in language schools rather than for themselves, will over compensate, develop imposter syndrome, and spend a great deal of their time trying to prove themselves. The constant overplanning and the spending of one’s free time on professional development, can increase stress levels and even to teacher burnout.
To counteract this, it is important to raise awareness about the importance of the language teaching profession, and the vital role language it plays in both personal development and business. For example, a successful language course can increase worker retention, increase productivity, and contribute to growth in international business.
We can also work on ourselves, recognize the useful role we play – not just as teachers, but also as business coaches, life coaches, amateur psychologists. Especially if you work abroad, teachers can have a whole new life packed with interesting cultural differences. TEFL is also a lifestyle, and if you manage to keep your hours down and bring in some extra money through private tuition, it can be a very enviable job.
Finally, language teaching is as real a job as any other, and should be treated as such.
Ruairi Braddell is a CELTA-qualified English trainer. He was born in Cobh in southern Ireland, but spent a large part of his childhood in Donegal. After completing a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music in 2001, he moved to Germany in 2003. He has worked for corporate customers in various economic sectors, such as plastic and steel production, pharmaceutical, finance, and insurance. Ruairi started working full time for Learnship as a content writer in 2021 and became Business English Editor in January 2022. Ruairi has also taught business English at the University of Applied Sciences in Düsseldorf, and specialized in English for the Fashion industry at the Mode Design College Düsseldorf. Check out his blog: www.englishexpert.de