If you’re looking for a cut and dried answer as to whether you’re too old to TEFL abroad, it’s – no. TEFL is a part of the teaching industry which is only ever going to get stronger. There are an estimated 2.2 billion people who speak English across the world – and they need someone to teach them! There are a whole host of companies and organisations to work for and a variety of roles. Different pupils want to learn English for different reasons. Before we go any further, let’s look at what the possibilities are out there for the mature person. Summer camps are probably not going to be that attractive to you!
- Teaching freelance online. This gives you maximum control over your working life and you get to keep all your earnings rather than having to pay a commission to anyone. BUT you also have to find your own students and prepare your own materials – both of which can be time-consuming.
- Teaching in a private school abroad. This is a good place to start if you’re newly qualified, it gives you support, security, benefits and a sense of permanence in your role. However, it doesn’t come with the best wages so if it’s maximum earnings that you’re after, you’d be better off looking elsewhere – there are plenty of opportunities.
- Teaching in a language school in an English-speaking country. This will probably pay the highest wages, but as you can imagine, it’s competitive. You’ll need a lot of experience as well as your TEFL cert., and probably a Master’s degree, or a BA degree at the very least.
So teaching English abroad as a more mature adult will come with challenges, but, honestly, what job doesn’t? It’s very far from unusual to not feel confident about securing a job in the teaching industry if you aren’t bouncing out of University as a 20-something. But let’s look at the realities:
Unfortunately, in certain countries age will matter and will be a restricting factor. It’s not the age on its own, very often it’s down to cultural norms, societal behaviour or even a mandatory retirement age. Compulsory retirement at 60 is found in most Asian countries so unfortunately if you’re skating close to it then your eligibility might be in question. Luckily, there are plenty of other countries where you will be welcomed as a mature English teacher so you don’t worry that you’ve hit the end of the line.
Strengthening my position at interview.
Firstly, make sure that you are properly qualified and that you’ve achieved this through a reputable, established company with recognised accreditation. The minimum requirement is the 120 hrs TEFL qualification. Do not be tempted to cut corners and go with a cheaper company simply because it will save you money, something through Groupon, for example. These courses are cheap for a reason – they won’t be recognised by accrediting bodies and they often have hidden costs, like charging a lump sum at the end to get your certificate.
If you’re a mature student, brand new to the teaching world and studying for your TEFL qualification then make sure you prepare yourself for in depth learning and quite intensive training; things like:
- Class discussions among multiple students
- Completing and submitting assignments
- Completing tests
- Be prepared to concentrate during long lessons
Alternatively, you could try to get some volunteer work in an educational setting – this will definitely give you a step up and boost your chances of becoming successfully employed as an English teacher abroad.
As mentioned above, there are countries where age restrictions apply – in both a cultural way and on an administrative level. For example, there are mandatory retirement ages of 55-60 years old in some Asian countries, so it will be exponentially more difficult to find work there as a more mature teacher. Unfortunately, these countries are also more prone to being very narrow-minded about what constitutes the ‘perfect teacher’ which is basically youth. Or youth is a very large component of it anyway. Therefore, the older teachers – and even minorities – will suffer trying to find employment as a teacher there so don’t be disappointed if you can’t have your first-choice country. If they don’t want you, why would you want them?
Choose your country carefully.
Even with the Asian countries probably ruled out, it’s important to choose where you want to teach carefully because some countries have distinct advantages over others. For example, Latin America is a good bet because they have a preference for older teachers. Age is seen as a positive factor as it often brings the experience, a good work ethic and stronger authority in the classroom that young teachers might lack. Mexico, Nicaragua and Costa Rica also have excellent job markets for more mature teachers. Plus they have warm weather, beautiful sceneries, fascinating cities, a low cost of living and basically no age restrictions – ideal!
There are lots of positives in being an older teacher. You’ve got the life experience, for one thing, plus:
- Enhanced professional skills
- Being serious about committing and settling down in a new country, rather than a recent graduate who might just be looking for a way to earn some money so they can move on. Passion about teaching is a must and that should come over in your interview.
- You’ll have the maturity and experience that someone straight out of college might not have. These are things that can’t taught, you have to learn them along the way through life and that makes them very valuable skills.
Additionally, if you have any background in education or teaching then that’s a very strong plus in your favour.
Don’t give up! Being an older English teacher abroad is not a barrier to having a successful and fulfilling career. You just have to bear in mind that the opportunities open to you won’t mirror those of recent graduates and younger teachers, you might have to tread a slightly different path. The chances are that you’ll be able to find your dream job, in a country that you love.