The Future of TEFL
2020 has been a challenging year for many industries, due to the Corona Virus pandemic. Teaching, and especially teaching English as a Second Language, has been one of the most affected sectors and it will bear more than others the sign of change in the future.
However, if at the beginning of the pandemic we were talking about a deep crisis, over the months we have begun to see new opportunities.
Right now, many are thinking about taking a qualification as an English Teacher, but they receive mixed opinions and don’t know if it would be a good investment for their future.
In this article, I discuss my opinion as a TEFL professional, explaining how to read what’s going on and imagine the future.
At the end of 2020 I talked to some fellow English teachers about the future of TEFL. Although we are all professionals of this sector, our ideas were very different, and this is because few industries (due to or thanks to COVID-19) have changed so much and in such a short time as that of teaching.
Right now, those who are considering to take a qualification as an English Teacher are bombarded with contrasting information: on the one hand, those who want to sell them a product claim that there has never been a better time to teach English.
On the other side, those who should be hiring argue that there is a crisis.
The situation is unprecedented, and there are so many variables to consider that the only thing that is truly certain is that no one can really predict what will happen.
Above all, no one can predict it solely on the basis of what happened in 2020.
TEFL AS SCHROEDINGER’S CAT
The first thing to keep in mind when imagining the future of TEFL is that every action has consequences, which become actions that produce other consequences.
Every small change can lead to different and unpredictable effects, especially when the changes are as rapid as the ones we experienced in 2020.
The teaching sector has been hit very hard, and it has reacted.
At the time of writing this article (January 2021) the World is still in survival mode, reinventing itself, and the actions we took in 2020 have not yet had time to produce long-term results.
Imagine you are a castaway: you were a passenger on a cruise ship that sank, and now you are on a raft.
What do you do to save yourself?
There are several behaviors you can adopt, and each of these can be a good idea and a bad choice at the same time.
Whether you’ll be successful or not depends mostly on your luck.
We could stand still and wait for things to fix themselves, saving energy and letting ourselves go to the mercy of the current and the wind, or we could use all of our strength to row madly in one direction, hoping that at some point we will find land or another passing ship (or more likely, we would go nowhere, faster).
We could throw the fluorescent dye into the sea and fire all of the rockets, to be found by the rescue, or wait to see some planes first, so as not to waste the few resources we have left.
We could eat all of the supplies, ration them, or risk losing the little food we have left, by trying to use it to fish.
And so on.
In this situation where we don’t know how things are going to evolve, staying calm and waiting for the storm to pass, or using all of our remaining energy to change our business model are both very intelligent options.
We are exactly in the situation of Schroedinger’s Cat, placed in a box with poison, and until somebody opens that box, that cat is to be considered alive and dead at the same time.
If we have a map, however, and we more or less know where we are, then that is a different story: we can think of navigating in a certain direction.
It may not work, but at least we have a plan.
So what’s our map?
THINK ABOUT TEFL WITH HISTORICAL DEPTH
If we imagine what will happen to the world of Teaching English as a Foreign Language starting from the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, then we will have an extremely limited, and wrong, vision of the future.
Most companies have changed their business models to face an emergency, by converting entirely to online, due to the inability to continue their activities in the physical world.
For this reason, many think that once the Corona Virus threat is over, everything will be as before.
In my opinion, this will not be the case.
There are things that will return to normal (for example, we will stop wearing masks), but others are meant to stay and create a new normal.
Online teaching will be one of them, because it is comfortable, and because it was already the direction we were heading to.
The only difference is that, without the Corona Virus, it would probably have taken us 5 or 10 more years.
The Corona Virus has been a catalyst, an extraordinary event that made it possible to do in a very short time what would otherwise have taken many years.
Using a familiar concept to us teachers, the Virus acted like an exam, because it forced us to face a deadline.
But in the end, Corona Virus or not, the conversion to online would have happened, and more or less in the way we are experiencing it now.
Corona Virus didn’t invent remote working.
It already existed, because the technology was there, and the only impediment was an old corporate mentality, according to which, the only real job is the one where you go to an office every day.
In the same way, online teaching has existed for many years, but most teachers didn’t take it into consideration, perhaps mainly for status reasons (a teacher who taught online instead of going into a school with walls was considered second-rate).
Teaching online was an activity that was often done in secret, confiding it only to a few close friends.
Less than a year later, it became the norm, and the intellectual charm of those who proudly boasted of not even knowing how to turn on a computer disappeared.
THE BENEFITS OF A CRISIS
As economists know, a crisis brings advantages. We can see this historically: after every plague, after every war, it comes a moment of rebirth.
The reason is easy to understand: with the crisis, many competitors shut down.
Those who have the strength to remain open take all of the customers and become the big fish in their sector when the economy restarts (The winner takes it all).
However, if we can see immediately the negative effects of a crisis (a street that used to be full of restaurants now has only shutters down) the positive effects are visible in the long run, because the economy takes longer to recover (only some of the restaurants on that street will have enough strength to reopen, and only after a long time will others find the courage and resources to open, too).
That means that these positive effects are not due to the end of the crisis, but to a progressive change in the collective mentality and a widespread optimism.
To understand this better, think about the Skype paradox.
Skype was the first company that allowed us to talk on the phone for free using the internet globally, and the platform we used to use to give online lessons before the pandemic.
Skype started a revolution. Without this company, Whatsapp wouldn’t probably exist, and Facebook would also be very different.
Skype was the first company to make cell phones that used the internet to communicate.
We have used Skype for years, both privately and at work, yet, when a worldwide pandemic arrived and forced us to work from home using exclusively the internet in order to continue teaching, Skype practically disappeared, and a new sheriff arrived in town: Zoom, the real winner of 2020.
This makes us understand that, in order to prosper, waiting for the crisis to finish is not enough.
We need a plan, and action, because the choices we make today, which may or may not produce immediate results, will have great consequences in our future life, and if we want those consequences to be positive, we must continue to work on our plans.
But what should be our plans, in the great confusion that we are experiencing, where no one understands where we are going?
The problem is that we look at this crisis as a single fact, instead of interpreting it as a path.
Before the 2020 crisis, there has been the 2008 financial crisis, and before that, the terrorism crisis that began on the 11th September 2001, with the attack to the Twin Towers in New York.
Among these three major crises, there have been an infinite number of other little ones, so many that we don’t even remember them anymore, but that have built 20 years of constant crisis, in which our spirit has been continuously hit, without us realizing that.
They have made us more fearful, more passive, more inclined to follow the authorities and isolated, distrusting others and taking refuge in a virtual world.
We could not do anything to face the terrorism emergency, and we could not do anything to face a financial crisis brought by the largest banks in the World.
We can’t even do anything against a virus that we don’t see, yet this crisis, which is the worst of the last 20 years, is also very different from all of the others, because we can react, we can fight, we can invent a way to survive.
Symbolically, we can put on a mask.
In reality, we can study how to make a website and open an online business, or we can convert our restaurant to become a take away, instead of keeping it closed.
This gives me a lot of confidence for the future, and it makes me think that the 20 years of crisis are ending.
Even if, as they say, It’s always darker before dawn.
DEFINING YOUR SITUATION WITHIN THE TEFL WORLD
One of the most significant aspects of the Corona Virus crisis is that not everyone has suffered equally.
Worldwide, many have lost their jobs, but others have thrived.
Those who play on the stock market have seen that, airlines risk bankruptcy, while Google, Amazon, Facebook and many others have earned frightening figures, with increases in the value of their shares of up to 150% in just a few months.
Without thinking about these giants, when English schools in England were giving up on their traditional summer schools (which account for most of their earnings during the year), the schools based in the countries where traditionally the students came from hit jackpot by opening local English camps that could comply with the local safety regulations and did not have the problem of international travels.
The teaching profession has changed, too.
At the beginning of the crisis, many teachers lost their jobs, but soon, the most entrepreneurial of them realized that they could continue their activities online.
This meant an increase in the hours they could work, managing themselves independently.
No longer being tied to a single job they had to attend, they were able to work for different agencies at the same time, choosing the ones that paid the best or offered the most favorable conditions.
For the first time, you no longer need to be in London in order to work in London.
We can stay in our village and with the equivalent of what we paid to rent a room, we can now live in an apartment with a swimming pool (I’m talking about me, but I know teachers who now live happily near a wood and start every day admiring nature with their coffee).
This crisis has meant a huge blow for some, but a rebirth for many others, and it is precisely from this balance between good and bad that the future of teaching will start.
EXPONENTIAL INCREASE ON THE NUMBER OF ENGLISH TEACHERS
As they could no longer teach English face-to-face, some schools have specialized in teaching online, others have worked to run courses that give a TEFL qualification, generating an unprecedented number of new English teachers.
Gallery Teachers produced its online TEFL course, too, but it was not an immediate response to the English teaching crisis: Gallery Teachers have been in teacher training for 25 years, the largest TEFL organization in Europe, and we worked on our online course for more than a year and a half before making it available, with nearly 1,000 TEFL professionals contributing, from teachers to school staff, from managers to salespeople, from students to multimedia communication experts.
We aim to make it the most comprehensive TEFL course that ever existed, with over 100 in-depth webinars per year, and it will represent a new standard in quality for this sector.
On the other hand, there are those who sell you a TEFL qualification for $ 10.
This has led to a problem that the industry of Teaching English as a Second Language will soon have to face:
How valid are the Qualifications that are not recognized by any institution, issued quickly and without regulation by companies that have appeared and disappeared in a matter of minutes?
Teaching English used to be officially a profession open to both native and non-native teachers.
In reality, once inside, you understood that when you were a non-native teacher, the situation was much more difficult, especially in English-speaking countries.
It wasn’t impossible to land a job, but very often, being an English native speaker was the basic requirement (even more important than having a teaching qualification), because schools used the nationality of their teachers as a marketing tool.
Now, with the need to sell their TEFL courses, schools have generated an unprecedented number of new teachers, and most of them are non-native speakers.
All of these freshly qualified people will massively enter the market, therefore they will change the basic requirements, that were already outdated and had no reason to be there in the first place.
The new teachers will be many, enthusiastic and with little to no experience.
This means that the salaries will drop for everyone, following a trend that has been going on for many years now, with increasingly precarious economic situations for teachers.
Nonetheless, my personal opinion is that we should keep an eye on how the situation evolves within the world of CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning), meaning teaching English through another discipline.
Many of these new English teachers are reinventing themselves, looking for a part-time job or a side income to increase a salary that comes from a sector in crisis.
They will be less academic than the kind of teachers we had so far, because they are more experienced (and more passionate) about their field, rather than teaching English.
For example, one of the Authors of our blog is a professional sommelier in Mexico who organizes very interesting English lessons, teaching people how to appreciate wine and food, in English.
These types of teachers are able to better capture the attention of the students, because instead of giving general English lessons, they talk about specific topics for which they have a strong passion.
The next step, in my opinion, will be to go to these teachers on purpose, to learn English through food, or to take a course on web design, or yoga, or music, and so on.
These hybrid teachers will be able to make a name for themselves and attract new customers, who will be followers rather than students.
Because they will already have a large audience, they will find it easier to be hired (and negotiate higher salaries), compared to the academic teachers, that are more passive and less interesting for students, even if they have greater teaching skills.
This, coupled with online teaching, makes me think that in the future, the question may no longer be IF you want to learn English, but WITH WHO.
I believe that another area to keep an eye on, especially in the immediate future, is local English camps.
England is going through a bad period of time, because it faces two monsters who have practically arrived together: on the one hand there is the Corona Virus, which only temporarily prevents the welcoming of new foreign students.
On the other hand, the finalization of Brexit has arrived, which will lead to similar results, but in the long run.
Even if students are given temporary permission to stay in the country for study purposes, an increase of bureaucracy, and some hostility towards foreigners, will certainly lead to a drop in students.
These students, however, will not disappear: they will be redistributed, first in local English camps in their own countries, where it is easier to manage their safety and security for the Corona Virus emergency.
Once they will understand that there is no need to go to England to learn English, I believe they will choose any other country they want to visit and which offers them what they are looking for, combining learning English with a very pleasant tourist experience.
The study of English, therefore, will acquire a less academic and more touristic dimension.
Right now, I’m in Tenerife (Spain), and I find that doing a camp here, with more affordable prices than England and no rain, would be great.
You could study English in the morning and ride a jet ski in the afternoon, maybe with a dip in the private pool during breaks.
As a Teacher as well, if I was offered an English camp in China, I would leave immediately, much faster than for a camp in England.
In periods of strong change in a very short time, understanding what will happen in the future is very difficult, and the opinion of one is as valid as that of all the others.
Understanding history and watching what happens with the eyes of a scholar, attentive to grasp the small signs that have already occurred in the past, helps us to imagine a possible future of TEFL that could be close to reality.
As for me, the two aspects that I find most interesting at the moment (beyond online teaching, which more than the future, is now the present) are CLIL and local English camps, which in my opinion will have a strong increase starting from this summer and will revolutionize this industry in the coming years.
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