Teaching English without a degree Ross’ Story

A lot of people ask whether it’s possible to teach English without a degree. While there is no doubt that there are more restrictions on you as to where you can go, there are many people having long careers in TEFL without a Bachelor’s degree. In this interview, Ross from Australia tells us about his experiences teaching English without a degree all over the world.

Teaching English without a degree TEFL no degree

Hello! My name is Ross. I am 32 years old from Adelaide, Australia! I have been teaching for 6 years now. I am lucky enough to have an Australian and British (UK) passport. However, I do not have a degree. This hasn’t held me back much though. I am a native English speaker and I use this to my advantage as much as possible, teaching English without a degree all over the world.

Teaching English as a second language has now become my career and I very much love teaching English to younger learners (age 3-8yrs). One day I wish to open my own bilingual-kindergarten in Europe, but for now, I am happy learning and progressing as an English teacher.

Where do you work now?

Currently, I am living and teaching English in Athens, Greece. I work for an international bilingual kindergarten which adopts the Reggio Emilia approach. I teach 4 and 5-year-olds. Teaching under a Reggio Emilia inspired school was one of the main reasons I came to Athens. It’s been really interesting learning a different learning approach and really fascinating to study and put into practice.

It was a little difficult settling into Athens, but once the dust settled it became much easier. The Greeks have been extremely friendly and hospitable to me. I have a rooftop apartment overlooking the sea, mountains and city. I love Greek food and have put on a few kilos! Overall, it’s been a terrific experience!

In Athens Teaching English without a degree 4

Greece is saturated with deep history. I love the fact you can get a metro into the city centre and visit an ancient Greek site that was built in 132 A.D. However, most of all I will miss the people and food. The Greeks are extremely welcoming and warm and Greek food has variety, flavour and great taste – I will miss it!

What is your current teaching situation?

In my current classroom I have 15 children and with a local co-teacher. Most of the children understand a little bit of English. Some more than others. I teach my English lessons and provocations separate from the local language. We do not teach from books!! Our school uses an emergent curriculum and our way of planning this curriculum is based on the children’s interest.

The gardens and outside area is spacious and inviting. I only talk to the children in English. I catch two extremely slow busses to get to my school and this takes me 45 minutes. Google says the school is only a 14-minute drive from my house! I work Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm. The school is quite unorganized and could offer more professional development, but it is only 4 years old and is progressing very fast. There are not many schools in Athens that use the Reggio philosophy, so they are unique in this aspect.

Celebrating Halloween with my class in Greece Teaching English without a degree TEFL no degree

Celebrating Halloween with my class in Greece

How did you start teaching English without a degree?

I did my Advanced TESOL/TEFL Diploma (360 hours) at the Australian Training Academy in Melbourne, Australia in 2011. The only experience I had teaching was some volunteer tutoring. Since then I haven’t done much more than the odd workshop or small training course.

Before I landed my first real teaching job in Czech Republic, I did an English summer camp in Cork, Ireland. I was teaching Spanish teenagers. This was my first experience as a teacher in a classroom environment. I highly recommend working at an English summer camp somewhere to settle any nerves and to get that little bit of classroom experience before jumping into a full-time teaching position in a foreign country.

Poland is another place you can teach English without a degree. Read our post on teaching English in Poland.

How do you find jobs teaching English without a degree?

So far I’ve taught English in the Czech Republic, Russia, China, Guadeloupe (French Caribbean) and now Athens, Greece.  I have been a camp leader in the Czech Republic and a camp counsellor/teacher in Spain, Greece, Italy and Ireland (English summer camps).

All have been great experiences where I have learnt a lot, developed my teaching skills and seen some pretty amazing things.

I have found most of my teaching jobs online. This does seem the easiest way to find a position. I don’t necessarily apply for positions I see available online. Sometimes, if I want to go to a certain city, I will look up the schools in this city and send my CV to them. Maybe they need an English teacher, maybe they don’t. You never know until you make contact!

We also usually find jobs online and wrote about how to find jobs Teaching English abroad in this post.

When I apply for jobs, I’m clear and honest that I don’t have a degree. Being a native speaker helps, as does holding a British passport, as for European countries, you don’t need a work visa or permit. However, schools in China and Russia also helped me get legal visas at the time.

What has been your favourite country to teach English?

If I was forced and had to choose a favourite so far, I think I would go with the Czech Republic. I lived in an industrial city called Ostrava which is ideally located in central Europe (close to the Polish border) – which made it easy to travel to other countries! The people there are beautiful and down to earth, it’s cheap to live, it has a charming and colourful square, picturesque mountains close by, the famous Stodolní Street (full of bars, clubs and grilled meat!), and quality beer which you can get all over the Czech Republic.

With friends in the Czech Republic teaching English without a degree TEFL no degree

With friends in the Czech Republic

China and Russia were challenging for different reasons. However, China was such a big culture difference from Australia. The people, social interactions and communicating, culture, food and the work environment were all very testing.

It was in China I really discovered that I didn’t enjoy working in language schools as much – I preferred working at kindergartens or private schools. As you get more hands-on time with the children (students) to develop meaningful relationships, trust, understanding, and because of this you see their language skills develop. So things become more self-satisfying.

Having said that, I was happy with my choice of location in China. I lived and worked in a “small” Chinese city called Sanya, which is located on Hainan Island. Otherwise known as the Chinese Hawaii, and indeed, it is the only tropical beach destination in China. So this made life a little easier!

Look at our post for more experiences from people teaching English in China

On Hainan Island in China Teaching English without a degree TEFL no degree

On Hainan Island in China

What do you enjoy about teaching English abroad?

For me personally, the best experiences in teaching English overseas is witnessing the progress of the student’s language skills and your relationship with them develop over the school calendar year. During the first few weeks of school in September, the students, in my case younger learners, don’t know you, don’t speak much English, are a little timid and afraid, not confident with their English and hesitant to communicate with you. After working hard to build this relationship and trust with them, you slowly see them come out of their shell and their English improving on a weekly basis.

This is always so gratifying and lovely to be a part of. Knowing you make a difference in these children learning English and seeing them try to speak English to you because they know you don’t know their language or they just like you is very rewarding!

Whilst teaching in the Czech Republic, I was a full-time private teacher to a successful businessman. He used to have his own airplane and he would fly me with him to different cities across the Czech Republic for various business meetings. We would have our English lessons at altitudes between 500 and 1000 feet above ground level!

With the plane Teaching English without a degree TEFL no degree

What advice do you have for people thinking of teaching English abroad?

One would be to speak slowly and clearly. Remember, this is not their first language and they are only learning. One of the first times I was in a classroom I was excited and nervous, so started to talk fast. When I realized I was getting a lot of blank looks at me and students didn’t understand, I had to adapt my speed and pronunciation.

Be patient and listen. Let them try to get out what they are wanting to say and don’t correct every error they make – choose your moments.

Understand that you are not confined to working at language schools or after-hour language centres. Try working at a private kindergarten/preschool if you enjoy working with younger learners or even an International Primary or High School. You will also feel more attention on yourself and more gratitude and appreciation at a private school. They will help you more trying to settle in their country – you are not just another number to them! You may get this feeling at a large company or corporate language centre. Who doesn’t like feeling a little special?

Read about types of TEFL jobs there are in our post: Types of jobs teaching abroad.

Cooking class in Russia Teaching English without a degree TEFL no degree

Cooking class in Russia

Try to save some money before you go to your next country and try to plan as much as you can in advance (accommodation, job, tax number, sim card, insurance, etc).

Learning some words in the local language is always helpful as well!

Apply for schools that don’t advertise for teachers – element of surprise and showing motivation.

Apply for jobs that say you need a degree even if you don’t have one – you never know!

Build your CV – travel to different countries to teach, teach at summer camps everywhere, gain experience, try different types of school (private, public, bilingual, language centres, primary/high schools, and international schools), be open to different philosophies, methods and curriculums and education systems (Montessori, Reggio Emilia, EYFS, EYLF, High Scope, Rudolf Steiner, etc). This will give you more skills, knowledge and become more open-minded. Discover and choose what is best for your teaching style.

You don’t need a university degree! I never attended university, neither do I hold any sort of Ph.D. or Masters and now I’m working wherever I want to. Well mostly!

Consider this, with no degree, I have worked and taught English in Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. I also know I can teach in South America, Africa and Central America. I have had offers from Gran Canaria Islands, Madagascar, Finland, India and the Maldives! I would never in my wildest dreams thought that I can work and live in these places, let alone do something I love like teaching English as a second language. The opportunities are endless!

Unless it’s a law in that certain country where you require a degree, most school owners are savvy enough and will work their way around it and still employ you if you have the right skills and experience. After all….classroom experience and teaching knowledge trumps a piece of paper. The intelligent bosses will know and respect this and still consider you for the position. Teaching English without a degree is possible.

And lastly, don’t work weekends – it sucks! You need time and space to enjoy and feel the foreign country you are living in. Don’t be a slave!

You can find more stories from people teaching English abroad in our New Teacher Tales series.

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Teaching English without a degree TEFL no degree

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16 Responses

  1. Ross Phillips says:

    Love it! Thank you.

    Im teaching at a summer camp in Spain now and just reading this! :))

    Heading to Slovenia and Italy for two more English summer camps after this one.

    So much to see!! :))

    • KateandKris says:

      Thanks for the interview! Have a great summer.

    • AL Addison says:

      Hi Ross! I love your story! I am currently working on getting my TEFL certification and Greece is at the top of my list of places to start at! I also don’t have a degree so your story has inspired me. I would love to get in contact with you and maybe get some pointers/information/ help if you wouldn’t mind! It would me the world to me!

    • Seth Moses says:

      What school did you apply and teach at in Greece?

    • Sulungeka Ntsaluba says:

      You have inspired me so much! I don’t have a degree and I’ve always wanted to teach abroad but a degree always comes up! Starting my Tesol training in July! You are my inspiration Ross Phillips all the way from South Africa 🇿🇦

      • KateandKris says:

        That’s great. Be aware though, that Ross’ experiences teaching in Europe were because the UK was in the EU and we had freedom of movement. There are few countries where South Africans can teach without a degree – Cambodia, Mexico and other Central and South American countries being the main ones. Make sure your TEFL course has practical teaching experience to set yourself up with the best opportunities you can.

  2. Azizullah says:

    Great. Totally right, confident talents work better against degree.

  3. Alex says:

    A great post – people without degrees can often feel excluded from the ESL world just because they lack a peice of paper – which often has no relation to their actual teaching abilities.

    Most of the time the only advice they receive is “I taught in X without a degree” or “You can’t teach in X”, so it’s good to see a more complete account of someone’s experience in this situation.

    • KateandKris says:

      Thanks for the compliment. Yes, we feel that real stories are more useful than various people’s personal opinions.

  4. caroline marks says:

    Hi, fantastic! A teaching certificate does not automatically a good teacher make! I have got a degree (a First actually) gained whilst working as a teaching assistant. I didn’t want to do the PGCE and so I just ducked out and now tutor very successfully around 25 children each week. I love it! A good teacher is a good teacher (qualification or not!) xx

  5. Mirko Accordini says:

    I met Ross at Cork where he had it’s first teaching experience in summer camps in Cork, Ireland. He is a very great person and I was so happy to read his story and where he have been in these years so far. Good luck Ross for you future and I really hope to see you soon in Italy, when you will come to teach here let me know

  6. Handsome Sizwe Ndimande says:

    Good Day

    I am a TESOL qualified English teacher, without a degree, seeking an English teaching position . I trained at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

    Your assistance in this regard shall be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you.

    Kind Regards

    Sizwe Ndimande

    • Ross says:

      Get experience working at summer camps across Europe. Build your CV up. Apply in smaller countries where English is popular to learn. Graft your trade out somewhere and get valuable experience to put on your CV, before applying for the more common and popular countries.

      All the best Sizwe!

  7. Lydia says:

    Hi there,

    Fab story – well done 🙂

    It’s illigal to teach in China without a degree, so I’m wondering how they created a visa for you. Can you go into more detail here? Or perhaps it wasn’t legal.

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