Where TEFL Can Take You: Jacqueline’s story

Wondering where TEFL could take you, if you choose to do a TEFL qualification? Well, there are so many different paths you could take! TEFL will help you develop skills that you could use for a number of different career paths, with the main one being TEFL teaching of course! Want to find out one possible career path? Then read on to learn more about South African TEFL teacher Jacqueline’s story! Find out where TEFL has taken her, and where it could take you too!

Can you introduce yourself?

Hello everyone, my name is Jacqueline Mchunu from South Africa and I currently work in China as a primary school educator, at an international school, teaching a wonderful Grade 5 class!

What was your background before TEFL?

Before working as a TEFL teacher, I had completed my Honours degree in Psychology and taught IsiZulu (my home language) online to adult students through the EasyZulu Language School.

What made you decide to TEFL? And why did you pick i-to-i?

During my undergraduate year, there was a talk for final year students about different career prospects and that’s where I first learned about teaching English abroad as a viable route to take, with the added incentives to travel, meet new people and explore different cultures. While I was teaching IsiZulu online, I spoke to a friend (her name is Lucy) who was teaching in South Korea, to get her insights on teaching English abroad. I was also looking for TEFL institutions that offered affordable TEFL courses in line with what the TEFL job market required for its candidates. i-to-i seemed appealing, there was loads of information on different countries and they had specials running, so I went with them!

Which course did you choose and why?

I chose the 140 hours TEFL course, which is 120 hours of theory and a practical 20 hours in Durban. The reason I chose this course was to supplement the theoretical learning from the 120 hours with live learning and teaching with people I had never met, which would mirror the experience that I was to have when I would teach a class in a foreign country.


Why did you decide to teach in a classroom in China? And how did you land your TEFL role there?

To be completely honest *laughs*, China was not my first choice. I was looking to teach in either South Korea or Spain and did several Skype interviews for South Korea – but at the time, many South Korean educational institutions were looking for experienced candidates and having seen an ad by EF Education First to teach in China, Indonesia, or Russia, I applied on a whim, with nothing to lose. In hindsight, I don’t regret going with China :)!

How long did you TEFL for?

I taught English as a Foreign Language for about two and a half years at a training centre, before moving to being a mainstream teacher in an international school.

What were your favourite aspects and what were some of the challenges?

I enjoyed teaching English as a Foreign Language because of the students! I taught children as young as 3 years old all the way up to teenagers and having that variety (from quick-paced games for younger learners, to in-depth discussions on different topics with older students) sharpens you as a teacher. It’s also rewarding when a learner that was either shy or at an elementary English level at the beginning of a course, develops to read, write, and speak the language – all while showing confidence in what they have learned over time.

Other than teaching, the social teacher events that were hosted on our days off were also a personal favourite. These events afford new teachers the chance to interact with more seasoned teachers from around the city at an organised event; unwind and enjoy an experience or learn something new. I tend to stay indoors out of habit, but signing up for those events religiously gave me the chance to see what the city had to offer, as well as neighbouring towns and cities. Eventually, I became a Teacher Ambassador (that helps onboarding teachers acclimate to their new environment) and a member of the TRT Events Team, that organised the events I enjoyed!

The challenges that come with being a TEFL teacher include working at a different day and time schedule compared to other regular jobs. I used to work from Wednesday to Sunday, weekdays were 3-9pm and weekends were from 8.30am-6pm; we also had Winter and Summer courses to teach. To be fair, training centres tend to operate like this because they’re providing an additional educational service to general schools and often open to teach when children have left their schools and come in for their extra English classes, or during the school holidays. So, it might be different if you’re teaching TEFL in a school.

What made you decide the education sector was right for you, and that you wanted to progress to mainstream teaching?

I had initially planned to give myself a year to teach in China to gain TEFL teaching experience before heading off to South Korea, but I ended up really enjoying my time in China. Other than that, I strongly believe that giving yourself a year to teach abroad is enough to either continue teaching because you find it fulfilling (or venture into other aspects of education i.e. educational management, curriculum planning etc.), or to know enough after one year that teaching/education is not for you and pursue something different. My experience was the former and having accrued a series of TKT certificates, I wanted to add to my teaching qualifications and the challenge of earning a PGCE.

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Where are you at the moment? And what is your role?

I am currently teaching at an international school in China, as a Grade 5 teacher. I have been teaching at this school now for close to two years and it will be 3 years by August 2023. I’ve completed my PGCE and I’ll also be starting my Masters degree this autumn.

How did TEFL prepare you for your PGCE and mainstream teaching in an international school?

I would say that TEFL is a great way to get a foot in the door of formal education; you secure a good job and experience different places and cultures. You learn a lot about yourself from it. The theoretical and practical aspects of TEFL (planning lessons, teaching an actual class – live or online etc.) have transferable skills, and I felt that there was a lot that TEFL learning and teaching had exposed me to, that it would make the transition from training centres to teaching in a regular school easier, than if I did not have the TEFL teaching experience at all. The two are markedly different, TEFL teaching and standard teaching. They mainly differ with regards to curricula, classroom sizes and numbers, teaching more subjects, different professional expectations, and of course, the pay, but, again, if you have little teaching experience yet would like to know how to get into education, TEFL can give you a good idea of whether education is for you or not.

What advice would you give to others considering a career in TEFL and education?

I would encourage TEFL as a career route to explore; education is not without its hang-ups but, overall, it is an incredibly rewarding career choice, and TEFL is a great way to get into the education sector. It’s also very important to be open minded, respectful of other cultures, seek to humbly learn from others as they learn from you and stay on the right side of your host country’s laws when you’re TEFL teaching.

You should also do as much research as possible into where you want to go and TEFL – use social media to join groups and find and chat with those who have gone ahead of you to get balanced and realistic insights before you commit to going somewhere.

Unless it’s unbearable, give yourself a year to truly experience teaching in a foreign country and in that time, also ask your colleagues from your host country to recommend interesting recreational activities and sites; join trusted social groups or go sightseeing to maintain a good work-life balance.

Avail yourself to career growth opportunities (i.e. additional courses, leadership roles within your school, certifications, qualifications etc.), especially if your school pays for them.

Moreover, share your experiences online through social media or a blog. As soon as I found my footing here, I decided to reach back and share my experiences and give helpful information (freely) to South Africans that were also looking into teaching English abroad. It’s helped alleviate the travel anxiety for a number of the people I’d spoken to and some have since secured teaching jobs abroad as well. Pay it forward!

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I have been traveling and teaching ESL abroad ever since I graduated university. This life choice has taken me around the world and allowed me to experience cultures and meet people that I did not know existed.

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