Backpacker Teachers is a derogatory term for unqualified, casual teachers who take on a job teaching English because they happen to speak English and need the money while they are, generally, backpacking around a country.
Some 30 years ago there was a tremendous, new demand for English teachers to work in various countries around the world. There were simply more posts to fill than qualified teachers to fill them.
Meanwhile in a lot of those countries – mainly in Asia, Southern Europe and South America – there were backpackers: generally young, long-term tourists either left over from or inspired by the hippy days of the 1960s, who were hitch-hiking around the country on holiday.
On the look out for extra cash, these travelers discovered they could get work teaching English in small schools. It was ostensibly easy work and since they spoke English by default, they felt they could teach it as well.
Since then TEFL standards have improved and nowadays the usual minimum qualifications to teach are a degree and a TEFL Certificate. However, there are still unqualified backpacker teachers looking for work and finding it in less reputable schools, usually freelance and short-term.
Whilst standards have improved, the reputation of English teachers has taken longer to recover and in many places students and schools still regard native English speaking teachers as backpacker teachers. In other words, poorly trained and unprofessional. This is reflected also in the belief by many schools that it is not worth paying decent salaries and providing good working conditions because the teachers they will get simply won’t be worth it.
Many sites promote themselves to backpackers and give the impression that teaching English is an easy way to make money and requires no personal investment. Whilst it is true that almost anyone can teach English badly, to teach English well a certain degree of knowledge and training is required.