We ask Katie Levey – can working as an EFL teacher inspire progression into a permanent teaching career?
“I think, if you have done your CELTA, and taught abroad, or at home, and enjoyed it, then going into teaching seems like a logical next step when you return home. It’s a great way to explore the world and decide whether teaching is the career for you.”
Katie Levey is TEFL teacher from Saffron Walden, UK with years of experience in various countries and institutions. After university, Katie began her first job as a teaching assistant in the UK, then went on to take the CELTA at our Cambridge University Hospital centre and from there has adventured across the globe! Her travels have taken her to Spain, Argentina and Palestine, however, she now has set her goal on a more permanent teaching career. Katie explains to us how her experiences as a TESOL teacher around the word has given her the insight and knowledge she needed to begin studying a PGCE to become a primary school teacher.
Have you always wanted a career in teaching?
I didn’t always want to be a teacher, but I started working at a secondary school when I left Uni and enjoyed it. At that time, I didn’t want to go straight back to Uni to study for the PGCE plus I wanted to work outside of the UK, so I decided to do the CELTA as it seemed like the best of both worlds. I knew that the Cambridge CELTA was the most highly regarded TEFL qualification.
How did you prepare yourself for taking the CELTA? Did you have any previous teaching experience?
I had been working as a teaching assistant in a school for a year. Although this was really different from the CELTA, I did gain some experience teaching the EAL children in the school there.
“I was lucky that someone in my department had done their CELTA and gave me loads of information about it.”
I had also been working at summer camps in the UK for a few years as a sports teacher. This was where I got most of my experience as I was working with children from around the world who had come to England to learn English.
What was your first TEFL job and how did find it?
“My first job was in Barcelona; it was a steep learning curve.”
I was teaching in primary schools around greater Barcelona which was tough. Luckily, my boss and colleagues were great and became my best friends in Barcelona, so I could lean on them for support. After my first year teaching I became much more confident and relaxed. Plus, I was in Barcelona, so I was having the best time.
Why did you decide to make Barcelona your first travel destination?
I had originally wanted to go to Argentina first, but I realised that it was so far away, and I didn’t think I wanted to be so far away at the beginning. So, I decided on Barcelona because a good friend of mine told me that he would like to live there, as he had visited and loved it. I hadn’t actually ever been there before I arrived to live and work.
How easy was it to find a job there?
I was really stressed when I first arrived; desperate to find a job. I made sure that I arrived at the right hiring time and began searching as soon as I got there. In Barcelona there is plenty of work for EFL teachers, however, the market is becoming over saturated and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find well paid work.
What was the pay like? Did you manage to save any money?
I was usually saving about €300 euros a month; but I was frugal with my money. Rent was more affordable then and the food is still much cheaper. However, there is no work in Barcelona between June and September (sometimes October) so you have to save during the year in order to survive over the Summer.
Are you interested in taking teacher training in Barcelona, Spain? Click to view CELTA and Delta courses.
You then travelled to Argentina, that’s a big move! What were your motivations for working in South America?
I had always wanted to go to Argentina, and it felt like the right time. I had been in Barcelona for 2 years and was looking to ‘move on’.
Was it easy to get a visa in Argentina? What was the process?
I didn’t get a long term visa in Argentina, I worked on a tourist visa. I was in the processes of getting my working visa when I decided to leave; it was a really long process but would have been worth it in the end.
What are the peak hiring period in Buenos Aires?
The academic year in Argentina begins in March and so there is more work around this time however, there is a really high turnover rate of EFL teachers so there are always some people looking for employees. However, you have to be careful because some places pay really badly.
What aspects of your CV do you think makes you stand out to employers?
Because I got a CELTA, I found it easier than people who only got a TEFL qualification. I also studied and got two additional TEFL qualifications which helped me when applying for work in Argentina and later in England.
For more information on writing an international resume, see our blog post here.
Do you still get nervous on your first day teaching a new class? How do you overcome this?
“I always get nervous the day before teaching a new class, it’s impossible not to!”
So, I make sure my lesson is well prepared, I usually try and teach one I have taught before, so that I know how it is going to go, more or less. Also, I have a coffee and a good night’s sleep beforehand! I get more nervous teaching adults than children, but the nerves usually dissipate 10 minutes into the class.
How did the students compare in Spain and Argentina? Did you need to adopt different teaching methods?
YES! In Spain, classroom management is much harder, the children in general are much louder and are less used to behaving well in the classroom! In Argentina the children were much more well behaved however, they expected a lot of written work and copying, which isn’t something I liked doing at all. I don’t think that’s how people learn a language, so I had to try and balance those two things. Ideally, I could have had the well-behaved children from Argentina and the methodology and pedagogy of Spain.
Did you manage to save money working in Argentina? What is the cost of living like?
Argentina was really expensive and this was one of the main reasons that I left. I couldn’t afford to save and I worked much longer hours in Argentina, and I was a ‘well paid’ EFL teacher. I couldn’t make a TEFL career here.
Have you met a lot of EFL teachers on your travels?
Most of my best friends from outside of England are EFL teachers! We are still in contact now.
Interested in taking a CELTA or Delta course? You can see the full list of locations here.
Whilst you were travelling, you would often come back to the UK to work in the summer, what were your reasons for this?
There is little work in Europe during the summer and that which exists is really badly paid. Whereas, in summer you get paid really well in England, so I could come and work for a month in a residential camp, spend no money and earn enough to live well for the rest of the summer/go on holiday.
You’re back in the UK for good now, after many years teaching overseas. What were your motivations for returning home?
I want to get my PGCE qualification so that I can return to Spain and work in an international primary school; the pay is much better and the work is more reliable.
How did you manage to bag yourself a job which paid for your further training?
My experience and qualifications meant that I was able to take on a primary class from day one, although it has been harder than I imagined it would be.
Is it easy to find work in the UK with just a CELTA? What made you stand out to the employer?
It isn’t that easy to get work in the UK, outside of Summer.
“I managed to get work with the primary school because of my experience working in primary schools in Spain.”
There is some full-time work in England for EFL teachers, but this is mainly focused in larger cities, or popular tourist cities (Cambridge, London, Oxford, Bristol, Brighton).
How does teaching native speakers differ to teaching international students?
The work is very different to how I had imagined. With larger class sizes and much more workload, it has been a stressful change, however, my experience meant that I did have the basics of teaching. I understood classroom expectations and what I wanted the children to achieve. It meant I was confident in teaching Spanish (from learning the language when I was teaching abroad).
What does studying a PGCE involve?
The PGCE is run by the University of Derby. They run three sessions per module, and there is 3 modules in total. Each module is assessed with an essay, of around 4,000 words. It is basically a more academic look at the pedagogy behind teaching. It is optional for trainees who are being paid (like myself) but for trainees who are unpaid, they have to do it as part of their training. I chose to do it as it will help me in the future.
Is it easy to fit it around your teaching work?
At the moment I am able to fit this in around my work, but it does mean that I have to work weekends as well. Monday to Thursday I am also working 10 hour days. On Fridays I go to a training course in Basildon which is usually shorter. The training days in Basildon are to help me to work towards gaining my QTS status (qualified teacher status; necessary to work in schools in England). The PGCE is to help me to get jobs abroad in international schools in the future.
Do you have to have a PGCE for a teaching career in Spain? Or is there a different route you can go down while living in Spain?
“To teach in an international school that teachers the UK curriculum (private schools) you will need to have a PGCE, they also usually ask for at least 2-3 years’ experience in a UK school.”
This is not the only route into teaching in Spain, but it is the only route into teaching the UK curriculum in a private school. Some people opt to do the IPGCE (PGCE from abroad through distance learning) this however, limits the number of people who will hire you after as you have no experience in an English school and you are not QTS qualified.
For people who want to work abroad in Spain, and would rather do so more quickly, they can get jobs teaching English as a foreign language, with a CELTA. These jobs are usually less well paid and can involve some travel however, it is a relatively quick way to work abroad. In Spain there is a lot of work for EFL teachers, however, people usually need to supplement their income with private classes with individuals.
Where do you see your PGCE taking you career-wise?
I am hoping to return to Spain to make a teaching career in a private school. Failing that, I would like to work in a private school in England; class sizes are smaller!
Do you prefer feeling more settled back in your home country?
There are pros and cons to both. I have fewer friends here now, and I love the coffee culture and nightlife in Barcelona. However, it is nice to be surrounded by people who speak the same language as me and to have my mum and dad just down the road. Of course, the weather in England sucks.
Do you still use methods you learnt in the CELTA today?
“My CELTA was extremely helpful for me and my career and I don’t think I would teach at all the same if I hadn’t have studied for it.”
I use many more physical teaching methods and try to grade my language for the EAL students in my classroom. I also run a EAL intervention class every week; where I teach the four EAL students as though I were still an EFL teacher.
Are you looking additional teacher training certificates? ELTcampus offer online TEFL Preparation and Young Learners online courses. Please see here.
What advice would you give to those looking to make teaching a career after travelling?
I think, if you have done your CELTA, and taught abroad, or at home, and enjoyed it, then going into teaching seems like a logical next step when you return home. It’s a great way to explore the world and decide whether teaching is the career for you.