University of Cambridge

Am I Too Old to Be Teaching English (TEFL) Abroad?

The issue of the age of the potential TEFL is one that rises again and again. It makes me fairly angry actually! I have heard again and again the question asked “I’m X years old… am I too old… TEFL is a young person’s game isn’t it?” No! It is not a “young person’s game”. True the young adapt very well to TEFL, and the entry level wages are often lower than a middle aged, professional, college educated person may be able to earn at home but you are not too old (unless you are on your hospital bed and the priest is reading this to you because he forgot to bring the last rites sheet with him). I have heard people ask if they are too old at 26!

The reason lots of people think they are too old is that most of the marketing of TEFL is aimed at gap year students. In actual fact most TEFL teachers are older, often a lot older. They tend to fall into two broad categories of 26-32 and 40+. This is a huge generalization and you will find a large number of teachers of every age including plenty that are 60+. Most people taking TEFL certification courses within the US, UK and Canada are 30+ and many are retired.

Some schools prefer older teachers, some younger. Age is not however a barrier to getting a teaching job in any country. Period. Schools often like the idea of an older teacher as in many cultures elder people are equated with wisdom. But being young isn’t going to affect employment either. Your main skill is that you speak English and can look reasonably presentable. Don’t be worried about factors like age!

As far as marketing to gap year students is concerned there is a very good reason. Most schools that teach English as a foreign language are on the other side of the world. They make a profit but are not huge (outside the big chains, which do often prefer youngsters because they feel they can pay them less and will do exactly as they are told), they can get teachers without advertising the industry and don’t feel that they need to reach millions of potential new teachers to fill the 10 positions they have a year, they tend to see advertising a job on an internet job board as a huge marketing campaign they may not have the resources or knowledge to pull off. Unless they also teach CELTA or a similar course for would be English teachers then there is no real need to advertise.

The big players money wise in the TEFL industry are not really the certification providers (CELTA the industry standard is produced by the world famous Cambridge University, although individual schools who teach the classes often advertise) but by companies offering gap year TEFL courses. They have access to a huge market (17 and 18 year olds about to start university), who want to see the world, have an adventure, do some good, don’t expect to get paid a salary yet, are willing to rough it and have parents who are willing to pay- especially if there is a big home based company they can yell at if anything does go wrong!

These kids are trained overseas in a TEFL course, then stay with a local family, get pocket money and have their parents pay up to $10,000 or more for the privilege! That works out at a tidy profit per applicant. No wonder the gap year firms advertise so heavily and get themselves into the press more than anyone else. I don’t blame them, it makes good business sense and I think it makes the kids who take the course grow a lot too. It’s just that there is no reason for these companies tell people that a graduate can get free flights to Korea, a rent free apartment, only pay 5% tax, live a very comfortable life and save $12,000 every year they are there. A graduate isn’t going to get his parents to pay the companies $10,000 for telling him or her this!

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