The number of people taking up English teaching as a foreign language in recent years has risen dramatically. This could be due to the worsening job market in the UK, US and other English speaking countries, or perhaps it reflects a natural process in a maturing industry. For those who are interested in TEFL, this is the key question: Is now a good time to teach English?
The increase in the supply of teachers raises some inevitable questions. Is the demand for English teachers sufficient? Where is the demand coming from? Is it sustainable? What other issues are at play, and where is the industry heading? These themes will be discussed in this article, as well as an analysis of where the supply is coming from and some ideas on how to find a job as an English teacher in this crowded market.
Where is the demand coming from?
At first glance, it might seem like an ideal time to begin a career as an English teacher in another country. One source states that ‘over 20,000 ESL jobs are listed each month'. That is an incredible amount of jobs. Indeed, finding adverts for TEFL jobs in almost any country seems to be effortless, particularly if you are looking in hotspots such as Korea, China and other Asian countries.
Focusing on Asia, some cite globalization as the cause of ‘the surge in demand for English language schooling [in Korea], not just for students but also for everyone from toddlers to taxi drivers'. The demand comes from community and private schools, dedicated English schools, universities and businesses. In Korea, though, the largest demand is from ‘Hagwons', English schools catering for young students. In Japan, ‘Eikaiwas', English communication schools, are commonplace.
Universities across Asia and the world still demand English teachers for degree programmes and extra-curricular English courses. TEFL.net perhaps stated it most brazenly: "Rightly or wrongly, the whole world wants to learn English."
Furthermore, Ajarn.com, the authority on teaching English in Thailand, states that ‘the demand... has never been greater'. The need for qualified English teachers seems to be coming from all corners. Can the supply keep up with it?
Where is the supply coming from?
At the outset of this article, it was stated that TEFL job applicants are increasing. In fact, there has been a ‘record number of applicants' for English teaching jobs abroad recently. An article in the Globe and Mail reports that one English teacher recruitment firm saw applications for jobs quadruple in the six months following December 2008. This makes the '20,000 jobs a month' figure seem much smaller.
Moreover, Internet forums are littered with stories of people who haven't been able to find teaching jobs, despite being willing and qualified. Many companies are reporting that vacancies are being filled almost before they have been advertised, while placement programmes are finding themselves overwhelmed with applicants.
Who are the teachers?
Reportedly, the type of candidate is changing. Whereas TEFL applicants were once largely new graduates looking for experience and adventure for a year, applications from people with experience in various sectors of the job market are now turning to TEFL. Teacher recruitment companies state that applications to teach English abroad are coming from those with experience in the financial sector and even the education sector within the UK, among other industries.
For example, Scott Daley graduated with an Honours Degree in History. He worked within a few roles at his local city council, gaining experience in public administration and immigration law. Despite being promoted a few times, he found things weren't really going as planned. The opportunity to live in a new country, learn a new language and take on a fresh challenge as an English teacher was all too appealing. Scott put in his application to teach English in Japan, and has been enjoying his role for over a year.
Beyond the variety in applicants, another hindrance to newcomers is that the demand is being met by those who already in positions. It seems more teachers are renewing their contracts and staying for longer periods of time. Those who are already living and teaching in the country are also in a prime place to snap up any new vacancies, something that happens a lot in TEFL.
How things are changing?
The effect of the increasing supply of teachers is higher and stricter standards on newcomers. Many are finding that jobs that could once be attained with basic qualifications now require more advanced training and vast experience. This is particularly true when it comes to teaching at HE level. Universities in Asia and across the non-English speaking world generally require their English teachers, lecturers and senior staff to be qualified with either a DELTA (Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults) or an MA in TESOL .
Even entry-level teaching positions have become more demanding. Thailand and Korea have famously tightened their standards in recent years, demanding that teachers meet certain legal requirements in order to be qualified. Countries such as Thailand and Korea were once known for being havens for unqualified English teachers, but new laws have put an end to that.
Things have changed dramatically for English teachers in the last few years. The successful applicant today is the one who ticks the right boxes: the most qualified, most experienced, most readily available and flexible job hunters get the roles. Abandon the image of TEFL as a failsafe if you can't find your dream job in the UK. TEFL now requires a lot from you.
Supply vs. Demand: The result
In an attempt to make sense of the conflicting stories that have been circulated, this article has tried to summarise what is happening in terms of supply and demand. It seems Asia, in particular, still has a large demand for English teachers. Conversely, the supply is growing thanks to a disappointing job market in English speaking countries, graduates keen to travel and work at the same time, as well as an increasing number of teachers who are renewing their contracts.
However, reports from the front line paint a positive picture still. First hand reports from Japan show that teaching jobs are still easy to come by . Thailand and China are also seemingly unable to meet the demand for English teachers.
Teaching vacancies, then, are definitely still out there in plentiful number. Getting accepted as a teacher in a crowded market means things are somewhere more taxing on potential English instructors, though.
What does this mean for you?
Many recruiters and TEFL experts recommend being more flexible with your job hunt, particularly for new jobseekers. See what there is on offer and put in your application. Make sure you are qualified for the position, at least with a teaching certificate such as TESOL or CELTA, but preferably also with a Bachelor's or Master's degree.
Thoroughly research the country in which you want to teach, including living costs and recruitment laws. Comparing the average living expenses with salaries on offer will give you a good idea of what standard of life you will have.
As it has been said, the supply of teachers is currently greater than it has ever been before. Don't let that put you off. The demand is still there, and continues to grow. The following articles will help you to distinguish yourself as a job applicant, and make your attempt to teach English more successful.