Why I Left My Middle School Teaching Job for TEFL

By Brendan O'Shea
December 26, 2019
Brendan OShea, EFL teacher in China

Brendan O’Shea is a Bridge graduate whose passion for travel was ignited during a semester abroad in Europe. That experience inspired him to change his career from middle school language arts teacher to EFL teacher abroad. In this article, he tells us more about that decision to get TEFL certified and teach English in China.  

Choosing TEFL Over Comfort and Convenience

I had to do a good deal of soul searching after I graduated college to realize that I wanted to become an educator. I had dismissed the idea throughout college, but soon after realized that it was my calling.

The “Aha!” Moment

While there are endless reasons behind my decision, one particular moment stands out in my mind. I had been babysitting two of my younger cousins and was helping them with their math homework. The work was not making sense for them at first, but I managed to explain things to each of them in ways that made it “click.” I still remember my cousin’s face as he changed from confusion to clarity; it was the classic “Aha!” moment teachers strive for and thrive off of.

Graduate School and TEFL Certification

As the story goes, I chose to go to graduate school to become a certified teacher. In doing so, I elected to also acquire my TEFL certification along the way in order to, hopefully, make my travel dreams a reality. I had heard all of the advice from older adults who regretted not taking the time to travel. I decided I would much prefer to handle the highs and lows of teaching abroad than to deal with a lifetime of asking myself, “What if…?”

Teaching Middle School

However, before I could make any tangible TEFL plans, I needed some money – graduate school had not been kind to my wallet and bank account!  Freshly out of school, I started teaching at a middle school. The job had its perks: it was a comfortable first-year teaching gig, paid well, was only a ten-minute drive from my house, and offered a great staff of teachers to support me. I had my TEFL dream stashed in my back pocket, but I kept an open mind to the possibility that I could remain at the middle school.

Craving Something Different

Nonetheless, just six months into the job, I knew that the school simply wasn’t for me. I could not ignore the thought that constantly lingered in the back of my mind, insisting that I needed to be in some faraway country in order to be truly satisfied with my work. Indeed, there were issues and miscommunication with the administration at the school, but those were not significant enough to push me out the door on their own. It wasn’t so much that I yearned for “more,” but rather that I craved “different.”

The TEFL Opportunity Search Begins

I soon returned to my plan of teaching English abroad.

Research Begins

I pored through countless websites and job postings, researched popular countries as well as little-known cities, and compiled personal document after document loaded with every bit of information I gathered along the way. The idea of seeing the world was one that formed during my childhood, ignited during that semester abroad and was to be made a reality through this process.

Get started with the basics about teaching English in China, such as requirements, typical salary, and hiring season, on the BridgeTEFL Job Board Country Overview page: China.

A Decision: Shenzhen, China!

After months of research, I had narrowed my search down to Shenzhen, China. The city offered a little bit of everything that appealed to me: an ultra-modern tech metropolis with coastal views and mountain hikes to complement a wholly foreign culture, and that would still afford me some of the Western comforts of home. Further, it was a relief to find such an appealing location that also afforded a comfortable salary/cost-of-living ratio. On the surface, yes, I would be taking a pay cut from what I had been earning at the middle school; but given how inexpensive things are in Shenzhen, I would be able to save a modest amount.

Read Brendan’s guide on where to teach English in China and the “tier” system of cities, here.

I had a desire to do something radically different than anyone in my personal life had done before, and Shenzhen hit the mark. In my mind, I had found buried treasure that had been waiting to be discovered.

It’s Official

Unbeknownst to any of my fellow teachers at the middle school at the time, I signed a contract in mid-April to teach English as a foreign language with Sea Dragon Education in Shenzhen for the 2018-2019 school year. After telling the administration at my school of the move, I broke the news to everyone: I was moving to China! I suddenly had to pinch myself as I realized a long-term dream coming to fruition.

Taking the Road Less Traveled

Ultimately, why did I make the move? I had a well-paying job in the career path of my choosing at a good school district. After six months, I resigned in favor of a job that doesn’t pay even half of what I’d been earning, in a city on the other side of the world that I hadn’t even heard of until recently. Some would say I’m crazy, reckless, foolish, or all of the above.

I would humbly disagree.

I made the move out of respect to all of the advice I’d ever received regarding travel, happiness, and life. Indeed, I am taking “the road less traveled” in pursuit of new horizons, cultural awakenings, and personal growth. I like to think that I am doing my small, individual part in challenging the notion that the straight-and-narrow route is the only route.

All of the comforts of home will be here waiting for me when my journey abroad has ended. Similarly, all of the wonders of abroad are there waiting. So, I say, why not go experience them? Just because something or somewhere is far away, does not mean that it is out of reach.

You simply have to choose to go and grab it.


If you’re ready to follow your dreams of teaching English abroad like Brendan, but don’t know where to start, check out our free TEFL Country Guides that showcase China and other popular teaching destinations!