TEFL:  people teaching under-privileged children in developing countries, a true form of altruism, travelling around the world making a difference to the lives of people who need it most by those who are truly altruistic.  No.  Teaching English as a Foreign Language consists of under-qualified teachers working in an impoverished nation teaching the top 5% of society a language that only the top 5% of their students will ever be able to speak properly, often working in schools more cut-throat and money orientated than your average US private hospital for less money than you would earn working in a bar at home.  And what about the people who choose to work in this farcical profession where a promotion actually amounts to a reduction in social status, a profession underpinned by the idea that if you just put a white face in a classroom then the students will miraculously learn to speak English – where to begin?

Many theories have been suggested as to why TEFL attracts some of the strangest cross-section of society outside that of a mental institute or the sex offender wing in a prison.   It’s almost as if the entire industry is a refugee camp for losers, or a pilgrimage for those looking to find the answer as to why their respective society just doesn’t like them.  “I just couldn’t find a job I wanted at home,” laments one, or “England has no culture, it is so boring living there,” bemoans another.  However, reading between the lines you will see that the truth is very different: nobody wanted to give you a job and you couldn’t get a girlfriend.

The vast majority of TEFL teachers are male – I will cite the aforementioned lack of a girlfriend as a main motivator – have a drink problem, are guaranteed to never have had more the 1000 pounds to their name at any one time and will probably be running away from something back home.  They will be society’s under-achievers, or just people who were lucky enough to be born in an age where degrees grew on trees and polytechnics counted as real educational establishments.   While the world’s economies are faltering, the TEFL industry is booming with an influx of cheap flexible labour creating a kind of economic ulterior universe, an unreality where-by a man with little or no qualifications, no discernable talent in anything, is guaranteed a job in some of the most exotic locations on the planet.  An economic model that philosophically underpins the disconnected and soul-less existence of a TEFL teacher.

The TEFL teacher is notoriously badly dressed, possibly a combination of a lack of money and self-esteem, being easily spotted by their baggy polyester trousers, over-sized short sleeve shirt and cheap rubber shoes.  They will be highly sexually frustrated and, depending on age, quite often a failure in their “true” path in life, whether it be a writer or a musician.  They usually have a wealth of stories about past adventures, many very interesting, yet all too often revolving around the excessive consumption of alcohol and a regretful sexual encounter. The more detached from his native society he becomes the looser his grasp on reality, resulting in a break down of the fundamental moral and social standards that he used to so tirelessly uphold.  It’s not his fault, he has simply succumb to draws of what in the industry is known as TEFL Madness – it can happen any time between 2-15 years after the first entry into the industry, but seems to fully manifest itself at around the 10 year mark.

TEFL Madness has many symptoms, some of them are often misdiagnosed as more well known personality disorders such as Bi-Polar or ADHD, but I assure you they were once pleasant, well adjusted people.  A person with TEFL Madness will often display an over-inflated ego combined with an intense air of self-righteousness mostly originating from a strong conviction that no matter how badly you do your job, no matter how many corners you cut and no matter how many people you manage to drunkenly offend, you are still vastly superior to the natives around you and pretty much everyone who still “stupidly” inhabits your home country – so what is essentially 99.9999999% of the world’s population – and you are most definitely sure that you have the best job in the world.  This delusional combination of feigned superiority and ignored failure can be fatal, leading the teacher down a path of physical and mental self-destruction often resulting in death, possibly from heart failure, depression or an incurable STD.  There have been no reported cases of anyone who has worked as a TEFL teacher for more than 15 years living into their 70’s.

So what is the outlook for one diagnosed with TEFL?  Well if spotted early then a person can go on to live a long and healthy life beginning with self-acceptance and a move back home.  Many ex-TEFL teachers are living happily back in their respective countries, however many have found the same problems with work and love have eroded their ability to resist the urge to TEFL and they have unfortunately re-entered the industry.  It has been reported that the first 2 years are the hardest, especially after new EU legislation banned anyone who has been a TEFL teacher from either owning a house or being able to vote for up to 6 years, essentially declaring them not just morally but financially bankrupt too.  This coincided with the launch of a government run initiative to create a national database of TEFL teachers to give employers and concerned parents the opportunity to find out if one is living or working in your area.

There are of course exceptions.  Those who are stupid enough to pay for TEFL tend to leave their short internship relatively unscarred, and it seems couples manage to retain a grip on reality – yet only ones who met before they were TEFL teachers.  If you’re thinking about becoming a TEFL teacher, then take the time to consider just to what extent you have right qualities to swap the comfort and security of your cosy developed country for the turbulent life of TEFL:  just how big a loser are you?