Professional life: five considerations

If you follow discussion threads on social media, you have probably noticed that from time to time teachers – either new to the profession or people who, like me, have been on the road for many years – have concerns about our professional life. It is not uncommon to read questions related to the real importance of having a certificate, of doing this or that course or sometimes questioning if being an EFL teacher is really (or maybe still) worth it. This kind of comment led me to think of five aspects of teaching as a career and if teaching in the not so distant past is that different from what happens today.

  • Is it worth doing an MA (or a CELTA, a DELTA, etc.)?

Whenever I read a question like this, I have the feeling there is something wrong with the question itself. Being worth it can be such a personal thing. What does it mean exactly? Maybe doing a course won’t bring you an immediate raise in your salary (maybe it won’t mean a raise in your current job at all), but it can give you a lot of personal satisfaction and it will certainly lead to more and better work opportunities. Of course we can study on our own, but doing some courses can give us a clearer direction (and a certificate). As a teacher, I believe studying is always worth it and I find it completely bewildering when I read comments by people who said they have not learnt anything in courses. This leads me to my second and third considerations.

  • Being patient and realistic

A few days ago I was reading a number of comments on a post about millennials. At some point, the discussion seemed to assume that teaching was so much easier (and better paid) some years ago. There certainly was less competition, but there were also fewer people interested in learning English.  I believe that we all know that teaching, in general, is not the best paid job in our society. This doesn’t mean, however, that we should be glad and grateful for working under appalling conditions. Teachers who began working when I did will also have some awful stories about work to tell. The way out, I believe, is to keep working, investing in our career and looking for better jobs. Or better careers.

  • Being humble

We don’t know and never will know everything, and this is just brilliant. Not knowing, or not knowing enough, is the key to learning, thus the key to life. It is not uncommon to see students and, unfortunately, some colleagues, who seem to believe they know everything and do not need anybody to give suggestions, to guide them, to mentor them. Being humble and open-minded is not easy. I would say it is a daily exercise.

  • Being prepared before the opportunity arrives

Professional life equals professional development. Many bloggers have mentioned the importance of professional development here in RichmondShare and it seems to always be a relevant topic. There is a vast array of opportunities, paid and free, for professional development, and it is essential (though often very hard) to find the time to keep learning and growing. Some years ago I was in a conference and the speaker said she needed to hire an academic consultant. She interviewed many candidates and the one she considered best for the position could not drive. I remember her saying that the man promised to learn quickly, but unfortunately she couldn’t wait and had to hire somebody else. My point here is, we cannot wait for the right opportunity and then get ready for it. We can’t guess what skills we’ll need to have, so being prepared is more than essential.

  • Being honest with yourself

From time to time I see people who say teaching is too much of a sacrifice for very little money. It can be true, and not only for teaching. When I talk to some doctors I know I think the same: medicine involves huge sacrifice for very little money… Again, this is such a personal matter that there is no right answer. I was lucky enough to have had good jobs and excellent opportunities, but there were times when I was disappointed and thought of having another career, too. For a number of reasons, I decided to stick with teaching, but also looked for other related work. I am glad I stayed, but had I chosen to pursue a different path I am sure I would have been equally happy. There’s no harm is asking yourself if you’re doing the right thing from time to time. As the saying goes, ‘honesty is the best policy’.

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Elaine Hodgson is a freelance teacher trainer and materials writer, as well as a supervisor on the Distance MA in TEFL at Birmingham University (UK). She holds an MA from UECE and a PhD from UFC in Applied Linguistics. You can read more about her work at Email:

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