Gap year options: working as a TEFL teacher

A-level results day and clearing make this a stressful time of year for lots of university hopefuls. For those not successful in getting a university place this time around, a whole year can be a long wait. It is important to make the most of your time if you are reapplying to university. Many young people will use the time to travel overseas on a gap year.

Teaching English abroad is the preferred option for an increasing number of gap year students. The economic downturn means many have less spare cash to spend on costly gap year travels and backpacking. TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign language) provides a way for young people to gain travel experience and earn money at the same time, meaning that your travel budget doesn’t have to stretch to much more than a plane ticket.

The experience you get from living and working abroad is more than just travel experience. You learn self-sufficiency, self-reliance, organisational skills, working to deadlines as well as excellent communications skills.

But what options are there for the student who didn’t come out the other side of clearing with a university placement? In some countries, such as South Korea and Japan, finding teaching work without a degree is nigh on impossible. However, there are plenty of countries where you can find paid positions without a degree, particularly in Europe. Now is the best time to start looking for teaching jobs in Europe, with the main recruitment time in September and October.

The first thing you need to do is to get TEFL-qualified. To teach abroad for a year without a degree, taking a short 100-hour or 120-hour accredited TEFL course will train you in the skills you need to teach English as a foreign language. Your course provider should then be able to help you apply for TEFL jobs around the world.

While you won’t get paid a huge amount as a classroom assistant, you will get board and lodging included. Some positions will offer up to €150 a month for spending money. The British Council has been running a teaching assistant programme at state schools throughout Europe for many years but you can also find independent recruiters organising positions. With the start of the academic year fast approaching, now is a good time to get applying. You will find that placement lengths will vary from a couple of months to a full academic year.

Internships are also increasingly popular, particularly in countries such as China. You get paid less, but the placements are supported with free accommodation and meals, and you are quite likely to be able to get shorter-term placements than a regular teacher placement of 12 months. As internship programmes, you will also find there is more pastoral support such as free language lessons and airport pick-ups.

If you are looking for short-term positions, summer camps provide an excellent way to get teaching experience. Often, your day consists of teaching in the mornings and leading activities in the afternoon. You spend your time on camp for the duration of your two to eight-week placement, so you need to be sociable and have a rapport with young people. The pay can vary, depending on whether your role is a teacher or teaching assistant, but with your board and lodging included and little opportunity to spend your money, you can save enough for travel afterwards.

Volunteer teaching can be an option too. While this is a more expensive avenue, you can save a lot of money by organising a placement directly with a charity on the ground rather going through a costly third party agency. While you are not earning any money, your board and lodging is sometimes included and you get the chance to teach in worthwhile and needy environments where
you can have a significant impact on the lives of people. These placements, while rewarding, are perhaps for the more hardy and thicker-skinned.

Putting off university can be turned into a very positive experience and for some it will bring a fresh outlook on life and new skills to prepare them for university on their return.

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