Thinking about a TEFL qualification? KCL alumnus John shares his experience!

Today we are excited to hear about how KCL alumnus John reflects his journey from deciding to undertake a TEFL course, what benefits and challenges the experience offers (that no one tells about!) and what it’s like to apply for roles in the field of TEFL after you have your qualification.  

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John Thornhill graduated from King’s in August 2020 with a degree in History. He is now a TEFL certified teacher and has recently accepted a teaching position in Hong Kong.

How did I end up as a TEFL teacher?

I first began to consider a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) course when it came up in conversation with a friend at the beginning of my third year at King’s. Throughout university, I had generally felt in the dark when it came to employment prospects. However, I became increasingly certain that I wanted to take a break from academia and embrace the lack of a concrete career plan by developing my personal and vocational repertoire as I saw fit. This primarily entailed spending time working abroad and learning a language. This was my reasoning before I started my 120-hour online TEFL course.


Unexpected benefits of my experience

Having now finished the course, I am beginning to think that doing a TEFL course was a smarter idea than I had at first realised. Although my motivations for doing the course have largely remained the same, I have begun to appreciate the potential value of this qualification in the fractured employment market that graduates now have to come to terms with.

The primary advantages seem to be the variety and flexibility of the work it can lead to. Depending on whether you take on an online tutoring role, a full-time role abroad or decide to do freelance teaching you ultimately have the opportunity to work almost anywhere you like for as many hours as you like. As the Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the value of having multiple incomes, “side-hustles” and fallback options, the prospect of having a TEFL certificate in your locker seems to be an increasingly valuable tool to have.


Realities of careers in teaching English

Now that I have started to apply to teaching roles I have had to face certain realities that I had not accounted for. Firstly, just like every other sector, competition for jobs is exceptionally tough and as a recent graduate, you may well be competing with people with more experience in the industry than yourself. Having said this, I have been relieved to have already received invitations for interviews and job offers after sending out a handful of applications.

Admittedly, I have had to widen my search. Despite hoping for a position in central or eastern Europe – which is still, by no means, off the cards – I have also sent applications to positions in Asia. Not only are institutions in Asia more willing to employ graduates with a low level of teaching experience, but the roles that are offered are considerably more lucrative.

Ultimately, I envisage that my TEFL qualification and the opportunities that arise from it will not only allow me to travel while earning money but it will illustrate to future employers that I am self-motivated and adaptable.


My advice for students and graduates interested in this field

Do your research. It won’t take long for you to gain an understanding of which jobs and countries you can realistically target with the experience and qualifications you have. However, you shouldn’t stubbornly stick to your guns – in such a competitive job market you need to be flexible. Based on my personal experience, although my overall objective is to teach in central or eastern Europe, it seems likely that the best way of securing a good position there is to gain experience in Asia.

I would also encourage those that are committed to teaching English as a foreign language to develop their teaching experience while they are at university, this could be anything from helping at the King’s Modern Languages Centre to online tutoring.

If you have found yourself (like most of us have) spending more time at home and are eager for an alternative avenue of progression and motivation, a TEFL course could be a very useful addition to your weekly routine. If you’re in a position to dedicate a few hours to it each week, you’d be surprised how quickly you can complete it.


What skills or attributes are important when undertaking a TEFL course?

Perseverance. The courses are not academically challenging, you just need to stick at it. Despite the lack of deadlines and external pressures to complete the course, one must be sure to consistently progress through the course.

Once you have completed the course and you are sending off applications, you must be brave and confident in your own abilities. You should be secure in your ability to thrive in an unfamiliar country and in front of a class. With this and a good dose of enthusiasm, you should manage to fulfil your TEFL related ambitions.


Interested in looking more into teaching? Head out to our Industry Guides on KEATS and read all about teaching English as a foreign language, and find out about industry associations and websites for your further research.