Career Paths for TEFL Teachers

By Armando Pannacci

As an English teacher, you may be wondering what career avenues are open to you in TEFL.  As in any profession, most TEFL teachers want to progress in their careers and apply for higher-level positions within their industry.  Here are some ideas for TEFL teachers seeking to advance. 

Useful Qualifications

Gone are the days when being a native speaker of English was a passport to the world. The most basic qualification for teaching English “abroad” is a TEFL certificate. But beyond that, there are steps you can take to improve your chances.


First things first for ESL teachers wishing to upgrade their qualifications is to complete a CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), which is administered by the University of Cambridge and is highly regarded among employers. This is a circa five-week intensive course. It is also quite costly, anywhere between three to five times the cost of a regular TEFL course.

Upgrade to DELTA

The more advanced option is the DELTA (Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, also by Cambridge), which is similar to the CELTA but instead of being a five-week certificate course is a somewhat longer diploma program. It can be taken by ESL teachers who have experience in the field and are seeking to advance their careers. 

Graduate with Masters

Another great option would be to apply for a masters degree in TEFL. Having a masters is definitely going to open doors that were not even ajar before. The biggest advantage of having a masters is that it allows you to teach at a university. You will also be able to market yourself more effectively when applying for any other job in the ESL industry. The education gained from the TEFL masters program itself will be very valuable. Although it will not allow you to teach as a certified subject teacher at an international school, it will give you advantages in almost all other TEFL areas, for example a masters can open doors with publishing companies, allowing you to work on curriculum development and course design. Having an MA will also usually result in a higher salary and all-round better prospects in the industry. 

Possible Positions

As a TEFL teacher your options are not limited to “teaching English”. Beyond classroom teaching there is a growing world of TEFL employment opportunities that require a touch more than the ability to teach English.

TEFL Teacher Training

Becoming a teacher trainer can be a very rewarding and challenging job. Teacher trainers are hired by many institutions that offer a TEFL certificate. Whether online or in person, this opportunity can be both lucrative and enjoyable for an experienced teacher. Although you do not necessarily need any further educational requirements beyond your standard TEFL or TESL certificate, most people get into teacher training with a TEFL Diploma and/or MA in TESOL. In all cases it is extremely important that you understand the ins and outs of the English language. The English language is a broad and complex subject. Not every teacher will know everything about the language. However, as a TEFL trainer, you will need to have a very strong grasp of not only grammar but also phonetics and phonology.  An experienced teacher may enjoy this position. These positions are usually long-term positions, with benefits that few trainers want to give up. That is why it may be difficult getting your foot in the door in this area, but one that is highly rewarding and challenging.

ESL School Management/DoS

Try taking on more responsibility as a manager or Director of Studies. Some English teachers with experience and the required willpower choose to apply for managerial positions within a school. Typically, these roles requires managers to be responsible for day-to-day operations; including overseeing the recruitment and hiring of teachers, mentoring other staff, supporting students, and maintaining successful program delivery for the school. If the school is a private school, marketing and sales initiatives may be another big responsibility. Also, if the students are children, counselling with parents may be required. These extra responsibilities can be a handful, but the pay and the job stability are often better for the right candidate.  

English Language Testing

A great option is to go into testing. Jobs in testing could be as an examiner for a testing center, getting into evaluation, or writing questions for testing companies, such as ETS or IELTS. ETS is the publisher of the TOEIC and TOEFL tests, and IELTS provides both academic and general testing services.  These are very lucrative positions and they lead into all kinds of opportunities in TEFL that are challenging, interesting, and well-paying.  The way to start is to land an entry-level job, usually as an examiner, with either ETS or IELTS. There are many other testing companies also, but these two are the best-known. They both have a careers section on their website where you can easily apply direct.

ESL Publishing

If you enjoy lesson planning, another option worth pursuing is a publishing position for websites, textbooks, or ebooks. These positions often involve creating interactive lessons that are engaging and educational for ESL students. There are a range of publishers in the industry and the market is very broad. The most well-known publishers are Pearson Longmans, Macmillan, Oxford Press, and Cambridge Press, although for these well-known publishing companies a masters degree is usually a basic requirement.

Information Technology

The boom in educational technology is already happening; why not take advantage? Not only apps, but many private and public school programs now require educational experts in the field of technology. Upgrading your education to include a certificate, diploma or masters in educational technology can land you an IT position in the ESL industry. If you wish to diverge slightly into the field of education technology, there are plenty of ESL and other educational institutions interested in someone with expertise in educational technology, especially in the post-covid era. This education will help you learn about technology-supported instruction, give troubleshooting advice, plan and maintain learning technology platforms, and develop digital curricula. As the world is globalizing, this may be an interesting and growing field with strong potential.  

Public School Teaching

Public school or state school jobs are much more stable and lucrative compared to standard TEFL teaching jobs. However, you will need to get an extra qualification. Upgrading to a teaching certificate is usually required. A teaching certificate allows you to teach at a public school in your home country or international school abroad. Certified public-school teachers do not teach ESL, but rather they teach a public school curriculum, such as science or math. Obtaining the certificate takes 12 months of full-time study. It is usually a post-graduate degree offered by universities. There are often prerequisites you must complete before acceptance into the program. Also, an undergrad in a teachable subject is required for high school positions.  Teachable subjects include sciences, math, English, history, physical education, visual arts, drama and social studies. A teacher’s certificate program includes both classes and a practicum where you gain experience teaching in a public school. This certificate would allow you to teach at home or overseas at many international schools as a certified high school or elementary school teacher. The real advantage to these jobs is that the salary may be double or triple that of an ESL teacher working in a language school.     

The ESL industry is growing fast, and so are the opportunities.  It is one of the most overlooked fields that has a very healthy future for teachers willing to take on the challenge. I hope these ideas shed some light on how to stay ahead of the curve and get that advantage to boost your career in the TEFL field.

Written by Armando Pannacci for TEFL.net November 2020
Arm is an ESL teacher with over ten years of experience teaching English in Thailand, Korea and Canada. He has a bachelor's of social work degree and received his certificate in TESOL from TESOL Canada.

One Comment

  • weranthika says:

    I certainly feel elated to see the benefits of having these qualifications. Looking forward to hear more on the advantages.

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