Families and ELT

I’m no spring chicken but I’m no summer duck either. What I mean is that I’ve been about…Er. Let’s start again.

Is EFL suitable for people past 25 with families?

When I was young and full of youthful energy I seemed to be surrounded by similar colleagues although there were a couple over 25. But even the DOS was under 30. Then came summer schools where everyone was young. So this continued for a while and after a bit I felt old. There were a couple of older members of staff but in general the school culture was youthful. In fact, I think only 1 person was married and nobody had kids.

As life goes on you change too but I still know many people and places in EFL that seem stuck in a ‘youthful’ culture full of people who say “I’m not ready for…” or “I don’t earn enough for..” I was one of them for a long time but life eventually catches up with you and suddenly you have another half and more mouths to feed.

What I find interesting is why do some teachers and schools have this attitude? Is it not ‘cool’ to have a family? Does it mean you are less employable or actually more mature and reliable? Or perhaps it’s all related to the young culture associated with EFL and thus why it does not always feel like a ‘serious job’ to some.

I know that the international jetsetting life of a contract EFL teacher is a heck of a lot more difficult with people to support and move around and some employers do ask about your situation. I got turned down for a couple of jobs just because of my ‘family situation’ as they put it. Whereas, other employers said “we do accept people with families too, sometimes”.

The other issue is age. Many schools advertise with young teachers/models to show how cool they are or trendy. Does this mean that after 30 you have to work in a college or uni? I recall 1 Italian student who didn’t believe I was a teacher because I was only 24 while others preferred teachers over 60 due to their ‘world experience’.

In Asia, I used to see a type of advert that went something like this:

English teacher wanted

Male below 25 from California

Come on! You might as well put something like this:

English teacher wanted

UCL male college English literature graduate who wants to ‘experience the world’, born between 2nd and 4th of 1987 in central California and who lives on Roosevelt avenue between the bakery and the hairdresser’s, who has a dog called Bob and parents called Anna and Jerry. His name is Johnny Smith but his girlfriend Sarah calls him John.

Come to think of it, why don’t they just go to California, kidnap the person they seem to know they want and then clone him?

My only conclusion is that for some countries the male 25 year old Californian English is the new RP.


Is EFL only for young people?

Does a family suit an EFL job/career?

Why do some places only seek young men from California?


26 thoughts on “Families and ELT

  1. Hi Phil,

    My workplace has certainly changed in the ten years I’ve been there. When I started, it was full of 20-somethings who were at the start or in the middle of some kind of ‘world teaching tour’ with a couple of ‘long-termers’ who had kids and had been here since the early 1990s.

    Now, it’s full of ‘long-termers’ (I guess that includes me now!) with spouses, kids and all that. Nights out at the pub on Friday have now been replaced by afternoon teas and Sunday brunches…. I think my employers prefer people who want to settle down and stay awhile but without kids. I say that because there are always whoops of delight and as much time off as you want when a wedding date is announced but there are grumbles and ‘I suppose you can have the day of the birth off if it’s absoloutely necessary’ comments when babies are on the way.

    College and uni work suits a family life due to its Mon-Fri 9-5 nature but I’m not so sure about the evening and weekend courses… must be tough to spend time with family and work those hours.

    As for the young men from California, I’m sure most employers also have ‘white’ on their list of criteria. Racism is an issue that still needs to be tackled in many parts of the EFL world sadly.

    • So, we are coming out of the EFL closet Dave and announcing we have families.Hurrah!!

      When I said I was getting married quite a few people said “why?”.My ADOS had a heart attack as I quit too. He said that just because I was getting married it didn’t mean that I couldn’t teach there anymore.

      I do some early evening classes at the moment but rush back. Last year I was at a place that expected m to work late and go in on my days off and the odd weekend. Well, I didn’t want to and had family things to attend to. Any boss should understand those things. The one in question was fine about single guys leaving early to go get drunk though.Hmmmm.

  2. Funny you have written this post right now Phil. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. Although I’m a relative newcomer to this teaching lark, I am the grand old age of 36. Believe it, I feel old. I think it is partly to do with the fact that I work in an environment where most ‘teachers’ are about 10 years younger than I am. Most come here straight out of university to pay off students loans. They are still of the uni mindset, so party hard all night and turn up for work in the day. As I am way past the ‘party’ stage of my life, I am like the local grandfather. I think it is very much a ‘backpacker tefl’ environment here.

    I think certain places are only for young people. The schools that want trendy, young, shiny people with a certain accent (american). In fact many (most) private academies in Korea seem to want relatively young and less qualified teachers. No qualifications means lower wage, will turn up and ‘teach’ the book that is put in front of them. Just turn up, look pretty. As I have a face for radio, I’m fighting for the right of uglier, older teachers to teach.

    The point you raise about family is currently dominating my thoughts. I’m at the stage where I’m discussing settling down, having kids etc with my girlfriend. It certainly makes it very difficult. As a single guy, or just a guy in relationship but no kids, it’s easy for me to pick and choose countries, jobs etc. Pay is normally quite a bit above what local teachers get paid. When I think about my career after I get married, my options have suddenly dwindled. The freedom to just pack up and go to another country is not easy with kids to consider.

    In a final bitter, grumpy old man comment I’d like to say…. maybe it’s because I’m getting older, maybe it’s because I’m bitter about my lost youth, maybe it’s because I need three days to recover after a mild night of drinking, but I can’t stand the ‘youth culture’ in teaching in Korea (and apparently most of Asia).

    There are amazing young teachers and amazing old teachers but I have a feeling in many parts of the world, it’s a young person’s arena.

    • Ah, music to my ears.

      Yes, you can’t just do a midnight runner anymore. You also start thinking of long term plans and further ahead than a 1 year contract.

      Ah, yes, it is probably a young pêrson’s game at most levels. Why? Because of low level jobs and an image of a ‘cool EFL teacher’.When I was in China students loved those teachers even though they weren’t really teachers. Good student FB=Good boss FB. Nobody gave such marks for working hard, being pushed and developing.

      All this does bring up whether an ELT career has a lifespan. What I mean is that after CELTA you do a few years then do DELTA, maybe become a senior teacher but then few people can get a uni job and I unless you want to move into management what can you do? stay in the same job and hope they put up your salary every year? If I had taken some of the jobs I was offered during my postgrad I’d be on over 30k now and long holidays. Here in France local teachers get guaranteed nursery places and school ones too for their kids, not to mention no problems getting a flat. From another angle, a lot of those teachers, the same in the UK, seem to become a teacher just for the perks. I studied with quite a few who just wanted to have the same holidays as their kids. I understand them now because financially childcare is expensive and maybe more than 1 person’s salary. Perhaps I’m going off into another….

      • Definitely feels like bad but ‘entertaining’ teachers are rewarded. I like my school but professional development is definitely a lone pursuit. Some teachers are interested in developing but most would make fun of someone else for doing so. A bit juvenile I suppose. It’s another reason I hide in the shadows in my city. Thankfully I decided to open a twitter account and came across many fantastic and inspiring teachers.

  3. I suppose this boils down to “What can you do in ELT when you’ve got a bit of experience?”. That’s what curbed my globe-trotting instincts… there aren’t a huge number of options, and it’s just been easier to stay in the UK…

    • Yes, I think the main ‘real jobs’ are there in ESOL, a FT language school contract (if they still exist) or the dram EAP tutor job at a uni who who will then fund a PhD and you can be considered as a real teacher.

      I know a lot of people who seem frozen in time. What I mean is that every time I see them they are the same. Like the ones who do summer schools. 30,32,40 they are still acting like kids, not married and just having fun. I met one who was 60 like that and the site of him drinking and dancing with teenage students just seemed weird.

      • Glad to know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I see older teachers here acting like the young ones and I cringe. Each to their own I suppose.

        I do feel right now that it’s a choice between an ELT ‘career’ or having kids and settling down. Don’t know if the two are compatible.

  4. Hi Phil,

    I think there are many reasons why it is a young person’s game; wages (low and not likely to get much higher), travel (great, but tiring after a while), looks and enthusiasm (usually better the younger you are).

    Also, the fact that ELT is the entry level you can pretty much start when you are 21. Not many people find the job they want to do at 21 and do it for the next 20 years, or more. I still love teaching, but I have found out that I also love training teachers, writing materials, doing the odd translation…

    When I started I only had time for teaching and drinking, now I have to find time for teaching, training, writing, wife, kid and the odd beer or two.

    • Cheers for the comment Stephen.

      Yep, I have been lured away many times with promises of this and that. Jobs always seem better abroad but sometimes aren’t. Or they have the ‘promise and switch’ where you turn up and things are not quite what was told.

      Translation? Hmmm. It seems half the teachers I know (only CELTAs’) also do translation but I don’t think any are qualified.It seems to be something teachers move into, especially abroad. I know some qualified translators who claim the others bring down the cost in the industry (quality too maybe). I guess this is the same for teachers but can we stop it, especially when there aren’t many jobs higher up or ones that are worth the investment.

      I feel a teaching revolution coming on. I do wonder if someone set up a ‘quality EFL school’ with DELTA/MA very good teachers and really taught professionally then how popular would it be, given high salaries and course fees. Any thoughts??

      • I would love to agree with you about a teaching revolution where quality teachers are paid a decent salary. Here in Brazil, though, it isn’t going to happen any time soon.

        The market is totally dominated by franchise schools who spend double the amount on marketing than they do on anything else. They keep the costs as low as possible and so have to pay their teachers a pittance. This obviously means poor teaching and learning experiences, but there are always new students and teachers to replace the disillusioned ones.

        Each city does have a few quality schools, depending on their size, but they tend to be very expensive and are niche schools that supply the rich.

        • Oh yes, willy has said the same.I feel it’s probably the same everywhere.

          Yes, I know the franchise places with huge budgets but not for teachers or rather ‘material handerouters’.

          But what options do we have?

  5. Hi Phil,

    Interesting post, especially since I’m at the point where my husband regularly asks “So when are we gonna have kids?” and my regular response is “not yet!” Partly because I’m not the kid-type and partly because I just don’t see where I could fit kids (and all the fixed time constraints) into the floating world of an ELT teaching schedule.

    I like your idea of creating some sort of high-range school, with highly-qualified teachers (and higher salaries!). I think there may be a market for it. Just look at places like private and prep schools. They charge high tuition rates and people are dying to get into them because of their great reputation, quality education, and prestige that comes with going through their classes. I’m sure an ELT establishment could do the same thing, but it would have to be a legit place, not just another one that claims “diploma recognized worldwide” when they know fair and well that it’s not true.

    I also think that the old farts (term of endearment, of course) of ELT have a place. Just look at some of the top names at conferences–they’re not under 30! But they have moved beyond just teaching ELT. They work in publishing, teacher training, etc.

    IMHO, that’s where the future of serious ELT teachers lies. You have to get the classroom experience, but then to advance, begin writing and speaking about it and helping that younger crop of teachers make their first steps in the field. This is where I plan to go, because I just don’t see a normal career advancement path in just teaching.

    Some people may be happy to just teach for all of their career and there’s nothing wrong with that, but for me, being able to write, publish, speak at conferences, and train other teachers is where the real career advancement will be.

    Not sure if that’s any more kid-compatible though…

    • Thanks for the comment Christina. Sounds very familiar but that was usually my wife saying it.First for getting married then kids now just for taking the bins down but god knows what’s next.

      Teacher training ie CELTA/DELTA may work but it means making more competition and I do wonder how those courses are doing. Has intake gone up or down.

      Publishing always seem attractive but how popular will it be with more e-books and crowdsourcing? There are some great jobs going in publishing companies though that want people with teaching experience.

      How about going into EFL management or being a senior teacher?

      It’s socking how many people have said this same thing which would imply a definite shelf life to ELT.

      I met a women in France who said something which stayed with me. She basically said that teaching was “soul destroying” as she taught classes who just didn’t care and never learned anything. How familiar does that sound?? So, she jacked it in and went to teach refugees. Now, I did that and it was pretty tough and ESOL can be too but I think Mike Harrison can probably explain that better than any of us.

  6. Hi Phil,

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately given I’m pushing 37, married and about to give birth to twins. This post really struck a chord with me. I’m afraid to ask…Am I too old and too settled for the TEFL world? What happens now?
    In similar keeping with the above a friend of mine recently said she was sick of being a ‘TEFL whore’ after finishing her MA and was ‘retiring’ to EAP and a steady income.
    Is that the natural progression? DETLA, MA, ‘reitre’. Does the fact I no longer get drunk make me unworthy and no fun in the classroom? Does owning my own wardrobe mean I’m not longer part of the gang? I’m scared!

    Thanks for your post and on a completely unrelated matter sincerely apologise for taking SO long to reply to your email. (Maybe that’s the problem with us ‘old’ folk with lives? Too much stuff getting in the way of our beloved TEFL!)

    I’ll write soon to explain and provide you with the promised post.

    Thanks again,


    • Hi Kylie,

      Cheers for the comment. Oh yes, a few of us at around that age. Twins??? Wow!

      I asked myself the same question.I tried getting into the EAP world a few times but the competition is fierce in the UK and there may be a lot of internal connections at work too.

      I definitely don’t feel suitable for working in an average language school and am happier teaching uni students but then again I do some 121s in a school and the environment is very supportive. Completely different to my ‘turn up 5 mins before,teach,leave’ thing at uni.

      Whilst applying for EAP teacher/tutor jobs I was always surprised that many current employees only had an MA or DELTA or older versions but now unis demand a doctorate. That seems unfair. I was also surprised about ‘assistants’ who were hired to mark papers and lead some discussions. When courses cost several arms and legs you want the best teachers ie people with high qualifications and experience.

      I did teach EAP for a bit on a foundation course and I loved it but I don’t think the students valued the courses. Compared to their statistics and management courses mine seemed less academic. I think for some Asian students it’s vital to learn how to do an essay, presentation etc but just working on those skills didn’t seem to be important to the students. Perhaps having those courses in the uni run side-by-side content courses may be better. I had a similar experience doing ‘English support’ though where we taught English for maths, engineering, electricians etc and it had relevance but involved a lot of translation. It also was pretty tough for us ELT folk who couldn’t answer many technical questions. The solution to the EAP/CBI issue is a tricky one me thinks.

      • I really don’t enjoy teaching EAP so I guess I’ll just have to stick to daydreaming about what it would be like to get paid like an EAP teacher at a language school…..

        • I was always a bit scared about it but tried for a couple of years and enjoyed it, probably more than the students.I’ve done ‘essay/dissertation writing’ since and liked that too but I’ve found you really need to make it practical and relevant which can be hard.

  7. Hi Phil,
    Well, I write this as a 36 year-old father of two (a 2 year old and a six month old) professional ELT teacher who’s been doing this for ten years, so I guess I started in ELT after your cut off point, and quite frankly at this stage I have no intention of changing out of ELT.
    It’s not always easy. The rest of the world refuses to work to an ELTers schedule. I’m up early every morning to take my daughter to pre-school and I don’t finish work until 9.30pm, so I get home by ten and I miss out on all the post school colouring and playing in the garden, and the bed time routines and story telling and the like. That said, it’s probably tougher on my wife, who has to pick up all the slack.
    But I’m not the only one at my school who works this way, most of my colleagues are “settled”, in that they’ve chosen to make their lives here rather than just visit for a season.
    So to answer your questions: (1) No. (2) It’s not ideal, but it’s workable (3) I have no idea, maybe because people who are only in a job for a year are cheaper to hire than people who have families to support?

    All the best,

    (PS – have been cogitating over your “manifesto” post – will come back to you on that one later….!)

    • Hang on, are we all 36? This is weird!

      Sounds like the life of many fathers, not just in EFL. Here people drive and drive in traffic so yes, they may finish at 5 but get home at 7 while most at 8+. I work some late classes and get home later than I would like, my family aren’t happy about it but that’s the industry. there are day teaching positions but mainly for primary schools. A high school teacher was moaning yesterday about not having anything to do as she only works 2 days a week and finishes at 3.Huh!

      I did the whole ‘man work, provide for family get home late’ thing and it was manageable but my wife was nacked and I didn’t feel useful.Now we have sort of half half but as the man I think I’m expected to be the provider. When I go to play school I’m the only dad surrounded by 30 mums who give me the ‘why are you here in the day time? look’.Well, they don’t see me up early at 7am or at 8pm teaching or sleeping at 2am preparing ideas or marking. Even worse, some relatives think I’m not doing anything as they see me shopping in the afternoon.Well, that’s the only time I can do it.

    • Cheers for the comment ‘young’ Mike!

      Wow! Maybe ESOL is for more experienced people?? I had a friend who changed jobs to that and went to teach unemployed and refugee students. She said it was very tough and had problems due to being a young woman. She quit and went back to EFL. Does this kind of thing happen?? Would you say it is career for young or older people?

  8. I bet it’s been mentioned by one of your many commenters, but I think this attitude tends to stem from private language (visa) schools, at least here and for backpacking schools like in Asia. The clientele that use these schools largely do/did it for short-term vacation English. Additionally, when I taught in one of these types of schools in Korea, I thought I’d shoot myself if I were still doing it at 30. Because of the contract nature and purpose of teaching English abroad, this industry did/does value youth, at least in that sector.

    Having said this, once you step outside that bubble, I see the rest of the industry with more experience, more age and more dependents.

    • I agree to an extent but I still see adverts for unis in France that say ‘under 26 PhD student’ or only offer hours and many don’t have a proper contract. Teachers seem to be hired on part-time contracts or just as entrepreneurs. Some do stick around to do another year but many don’t and this is why there are so many adverts in October and November for quick starts.

      I think many people would love a ‘proper job’ as many of us call it ie a uni FT/permanent position where you would get family benefits and just consideration. 2 of the unis I’ve worked at as a FT contractee had people of 40+, one even had 67 year olds. 70 seemed to be the legal limit. However, they were all either single, widowers or just on a gap year.

      I see quite a few ‘visiting scholars’ too and people doing doctorates but they are all on limited contracts. Having a family in these situations means serious choices ie leave them or relocate temporarily.

      I’ve always been on contracts but usually 1 year renewable ones which were always renewed but some employers (unis) said either they can’t renew them or it depends. When I asked on what there was just no tangible reason except (if they like you). Well, 25,000E+ sounds like a great incentive but for what might only be 9 months it’s a risk. with a wife and kids too it’s not just ‘stick some shirts in a case and off’.

      I asked my uni professors the same question about careers and even they are on 1 yr renewables so don’t know if they will be employed again until enrollments are done in August. And these are 50+yr old academics.

      As my wife says “life moves on” and it’s true. People move in together, get married, have kids, get a dog etc. For many of us we come from cultures that place work as the priority and I recall some tutors who were just obsessed about teaching and so never had a family. Whereas, other countries just say “a job is a job” and for them having a family is far more important.

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