Tourist TEFLers vs Career TEFLers – #ELTchat Summary 27/07/2011

A PLN for ELT Professionals

Tourist TEFLers vs Career TEFLers – #ELTchat Summary 27/07/2011

ELTCHAT summary 27/07/11


This summary was contributed by Ty Kendall – @TyKendall (Twitter).


Chat topic:

“Tourist TEFLers versus Career TEFLers”


After suggesting this topic, I was thoroughly disappointed to have missed it due to the Satanic forces of my internet service provider who deemed it entertaining to pull the plug on my internet for the better part of a week. The silver lining here is that I managed to get the opportunity to write the summary….


The inspiration for this topic came to me when I took a new class and during the customary “getting to know you” phase, the students were interested in my academic and employment background (that seems to be the norm here in Turkey to be quizzed about your qualifications by the students- I guess they want to check you are suitable to teach them – fair enough). Anyway, the dialogue went something like this:


Student:                So, what is your job?

Me:                        Erm, a teacher.

Student:                Ok, no, what is your job in England?

Me:                        A teacher.

Student:                No, what is your REAL job?

Me:                       A teacher.


To cut a long story short, it took about 5 minutes to get them to understand that teaching English was my CAREER. They were so used to people of all backgrounds and specialities just teaching because of the virtue of being a native (or near-native) speaker (usually funding travel plans or something similar)….

And this got me thinking that traditionally, the EFL profession has divided itself by the native/non-native speaker dichotomy. However, the Career/Tourist EFL teacher dichotomy has been somewhat overlooked and less discussed. I thought that the ELTchat forum might be a good place to investigate this more….


Firstly, here are some tentative definitions for the terms in the chat topic:


“Tourist TEFLers come into the industry for a year or two and want to see the world rather than teach English” (mcneilmahon)

“Career TEFLers are those of us who teach English as our careers – long term, CPD, dare I say professionally?” (ibid).


However, the distinction is not quite so black and white. The rest of the discussion investigates the shades of grey…


Here are some of the main themes from the discussion:


  • Many Career TEFLers started out as Tourist TEFLers.
  • The EFL profession hasn’t always been professional enough.
  • Tourist TEFLers can often bring fresh air and new ideas to the profession.
  • Is the idea of a Career TEFLer redundant in an age where “jobs for life” are a thing of the past and many people have multiple careers throughout their lifetime?
  • The labels “Career/Tourist” are less relevant than the teaching ABILITY and SKILL of the individual. It’s possible to have a lousy career TEFLer and a spectacular Tourist TEFLer and vice versa.
  • Some debate about training issues (the necessity of TEFL training). Consensus was that it is a basic requirement of ANY teacher, both career and tourist.
  • Perhaps the years of accumulated experience of Career TEFLers is something which eludes the Tourist TEFLers and puts them at a disadvantage?
  • The real difference is between teachers who take their teaching seriously and conduct it professionally and those who don’t, regardless of labels.


The discussion digressed somewhat into a larger debate about the validity and necessity of qualifications and training and into the existence of “natural born teachers”. But since I am not a fan of innateness theories myself, I have decided to merely mention it here and let those who are interested refer to the transcript.


The moderators herd the flock back to the topic though and a few more interesting points are raised:


  • The two types of teachers should not have an adversarial relationship; they can co-exist and support one another.
  • Tourist TEFLers may have created a perception problem for career TEFLers. (A denigration of the EFL career itself in the eyes of non-teachers).
  • In some contexts, tourist TEFLers have affected market forces, i.e. schools preferring to hire tourist TEFLers because they command lower salaries than more experienced career TEFLers.
  • The general level of animosity towards tourist TEFLers is quite low, the blame is more placed at management level who hire based on “cheap labour”.


Not many links shared this week, but here are a few:

“In praise of backpacking English teachers”


Not sure the next link is 100% pertinent to the topic, but its nice all the same: 


Here is a selection of some of the comments:

“I know in Korea – it may work against you, to not be a backpacker. Because it is a business driven by salaries” (ddeubel)

“Tourist TEFLers at least create a perception problem for careerers – When are you going to get a proper job?” (mcneilmahon)

“I’ve been asked numerous times by friends and family when I will get a proper job. Problem is I love my career!” (ELTExperiences)

“I don’t mind someone helping me fix my car, but only charge me if you’re really a mechanic ;-) “ (AnthonyGaughan)

“I guess my only comment would be that the best teflers I’ve seen were not travellers” (jobethsteel)


New to ELTchat?

If you have never participated in an #ELTchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Wednesday on Twitter at 12pm GMT and 9pm GMT.  Over 400 educators participate in this discussion by just adding #eltchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please check out this video, Using Tweetdeck for Hashtag Discussions!


What do you think? Leave a comment!

3 Responses

  1. ChristinaMadrid says:

    Thanks for the summary! Very clear and it’s interesting for me to see what the perceptions are and how there can be a difference in salary too in other parts of the world.
    Only one thing to add – where I work, some teachers’ prior experience in a different field (e.g. law, marketing, IT etc) is often tapped into for the purpose of tailored courses for clients – whether the teacher is or has started off as a ‘tourist TEFLer’

  2. Ty Kendall says:

    I notice the same situation that ChristinaMadrid describes above in Turkey. Ex-Law students and lawyers are given legal English to teach, and Business graduates are given high-end business classes.So the tourist TEFLers definitely have a niche and there are definitely a demand for them and their individual experience in the market, irrespective of one’s personal opinions about them.

  3. Mark Bain says:

    Great summary for those of us who missed out. TEFL is a broad church, and there’s room for all; however, I think it’s up to the professionals within TEFL to promote themselves, their experience and their qualifications. How many learners have heard of the CertTESOL? Or the CELTA? I’d guess very few. Ditto the DipTESOL and DELTA. In my experience, students often assume all teachers need to gain the same qualification in order to teach, as they do in the public school system. So one teacher is much like another (or rather, the difference is down to personality, rather than training or experience). It confuses them when I reveal that I have a degree in History.

Comments are closed.