TEFL Career Path Questions #5

As often happens, questions from you – the readers – are better than any ideas I have for blog topics, so here is another thoughtful question:

I have my BA and have been looking into TESOL certifications. I’m trying to find the most appropriate track to teach English (most likely overseas or possibly in my local community classes, but I am not interested in public schools in my country.)

I am not sure I have ever said a degree is not necessary though I would say or agree that a degree is not always required. However, simply having a degree does not qualify you to teach English as a foreign language.  In your questions, you have asked about a couple different career tracks.  Teaching EFL abroad is a bit different that teaching ESL or even just straight English in a country where English is the first language.

He also asked:

From your experience would you say that it would benefit me to get a post-bachelors TESOL certification or some other type of similar certification, or even a master’s degree? There are so many different types of courses I’m confused as to what certification would be the most advantageous to look into since I currently have a BA.

First: If you want to teach in the USA/UK/Australia/etc in a community college setting or just community-type classes, you probably should consider getting an MATESOL.  Otherwise you will have difficulty competing for and landing such jobs as almost everyone applying will likely already have experience abroad and an MATESOL or similar qualification.

For teaching abroad, your options depend a lot more on what you intend to do, where you intend to do it and for how long you intend to do it.

If you are not sure about TEFL as a career path and are thinking of just heading out for a year or two to see if you like it – then one of the online programs will be just fine.  No need to spend a huge amount of money. They will give you some good simple basics that will significantly improve your teaching skills. Usually many things you would never have thought of if you had no training.

Get out in the world, get your feet wet, see if you like the occupation and if you do and if you decide to stay abroad for many years then you should take a good in-classroom TEFL certification course. Name brand does not matter much (in my opinion).  CELTA is often seen as the gold standard, but you will pay a lot of extra money for that course, sometimes twice as much.  Most generic TEFL courses are just fine. Most employers don’t care about one brand or another (unless they are selling it!).

IF you intend to stay abroad for a long time and wish to approach the field as a professional, get the best jobs, teach at universities and colleges, save some real money and get lots of paid time off – then RUN, don’t walk – to get an MATESOL (or an M.Ed. in TEFL is okay too – or an M.Ed. with a PGCE in TEFL or anything roughly similar).

Teaching at the college/university level is quite a different occupation from teaching at language schools. Language schools tend to offer only limited time off and the career path leads to supervisory or DOS type roles.

University positions can offer a much lighter work load, a more prestigious position that will allow you time to pursue other interests – professional or otherwise – and offers you a longer occupational lifespan.  I’ve spent many of the last 16 years with anywhere from ten to twenty weeks PAID vacation per year and much of that time was with four-day work weeks. It can be quite a decent career if done right.  It allowed me to explore websites, pursue further professional training and – at times – just take a well deserved rest.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Get some training no matter what you intend to do in TEFL. If you goal is short-term then an online course is fine. If it is longer term, get a good four-week in-classroom course. If you wish to teach at the college/university level, a graduate degree is a must.  This is true for the great majority of countries though not true for China, but you may wish to be able to work in a variety of countries in a similar capacity.

Where to Take your TEFL Teacher Training?

Deciding where to take your teacher training for Teaching English Abroad

A reader contributed this question for a topic:

I think I’d like to try eastern Europe (maybe Czech, Poland, or Hungary), but I’m not totally opposed to Asia. I know there are TEFL schools in those countries, but would you recommend getting certified in the country I would want to teach in or here in the US, then moving to the country?

It is almost always better to take your TEFL training in the country in which you first intend to teach. Many reasons, but the most important ones are that you will do your observed teaching practice with students similar to those you will teach on the job.

It just gives you a leg up on the competition especially if you need to give a demonstration lesson. It also helps you solve some problems that are often unique to a specific country. I’ve taught EFL in four countries and each had its own unique grammar and pronunciation problems.

Once you have some experience it gets easier to solve them, but doing your training with students with those problems will help you get up to speed much faster.

TED’s Tips™ #1: If you have the time and money for a full out four to six week TEFL Course, it is usually better to take your TEFL Training in the country in which you first intend to teach.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Take a look at http:www.TEFLprogram.com/ to help you evaluate any in-class TEFL course that you are thinking about taking.

Where to take your TEFL Training

Where is the best TEFL Certification program for you?

People frequently ask me where they should take their TEFL Training. They also ask if it is best to take their EFL teacher training in their home country or in the country in which they intend to teach.

First issue: I usually recommend a TEFL Certification school that I know well and I know the teacher-trainer(s) well. I know the primary trainer is very well educated and has extensive experience in two countries, teaching EFL abroad since 1992 to a wide variety of students.

When I was a teacher trainer I was awakened to just how little experience, training and education many trainers have. One teacher trainer was hired directly from my class to set up and teach a TEFL Cert course for another company.

He had ZERO experience teaching. Wow. I won’t go into any further details, but it wasn’t a pretty picture and that was not a purely unique situation.

Second issue: It is almost always better to take your TEFL Training in or near the country in which you wish to teach. There are many good reasons why.

First, taking your training in your new country gives you some time on the ground to adapt to the culture and get to know your way around, instead of just arriving cold and heading out to look for work.

Also helpful is that TEFL Certification schools usually know the best and biggest employers, who to try first and who to avoid (just as important!).

One of the most helpful aspects of taking your TEFL Training in your new setting is that your observed teaching practice will likely be with students that have similar grammar and pronunciation problems as those you will face on the job. This is important for several reasons.

Every country’s students have different issues with grammar and pronunciation and while this is not a big problem, even well-experienced teachers take some time to get a good grasp of exactly how to solve these problems when they arrive in a new country.

A new EFL teacher, of course, will take much longer. Getting that experience during your training, with an instructor who knows exactly what to do, will make you a much more effective teacher, right out of the box.

It is common in some countries to request a “demonstration lesson” as part of the interviewing process. Don’t you think that lesson will go much better if you already know what kinds of issues are common in the classrooms of that country? Of course!

In countries where demonstration lessons are common, you should have the opportunity to build that lesson and practice it as part of your TEFL Certification training course. You will have plenty of opportunity to build, practice and polish that lesson under the guidance of an experienced teacher-trainer.

How do you think that lesson might go if you are just off the plane and have no idea what the common issues are with local students?

Last but not least, you can job hunt while you are taking your TEFL Certification course and hopefully have something lined up about the time you complete your training.

If you are taking your training in the developing world, TEFL Certification courses are often much cheaper than in developed Western countries are as your accommodation and food costs.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Take your TEFL Certification course in the country where you first intend to teach.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Practice and polish your demonstration lesson during your training.

International Standards for TEFL Certification

Standards for TEFL Certification Courses

I am going to say something that is true, but that some people don’t want to hear.

There is not ONE organization or ONE standard in the world for TEFL programs. Period.

So . . . what does it really mean then when TEFL programs say they are “Internationally Recognized”? As we know most do, right there on their websites.

Generally, it means they belong to an organization or two, often just a paid membership. Other than that – don’t read too much into it. There are a few that belong to organizations that will check their course content and maybe even come by to see if it is done well. But don’t read too much into that either. Large fees are paid and well . . . one hates to bite the hand that feeds them.

Bottom Line:

What new teachers usually really want to know is this: If I take that course, will it help me get a job? Will it meet the standards of employers? Will it meet the standards of the Ministries of Education in countries where a TEFL Certification of some sort is required?

Employers and Departments of Education requiring TEFL certification are generally looking for a fairly standardized requirement: a minimum of 100 hours of in-classroom training and at least six hours of observed teaching practice (OTP).

The OTP must be with real students, not other teacher-trainees, not as demonstration lessons in the classroom, and must be observed by an experienced EFL teacher who will give you detailed feedback after each lesson.

Observed teaching practice is a critical part of the training and assures that you will have some real practice with real students and will provide you with some confidence the first time you are on your own in front of a classroom.

Is there one set international agency that has set this standard?

No, it just seems to be what is considered the minimum acceptable training for developing good basic EFL teaching skills. Will you be an excellent teacher by the time you finish such training? No, but you should have the knowledge you need to further develop your skills as a teacher.

What types of TEFL Certificates are out there?

You will see many types of certifications out there – but look for a good basic one that meets the above standards. Some organizations will add on a module for Business English or will give you a concentration in Young Learners – and those are generally helpful if those are areas in which you wish to teach.

In terms of terminology there are really only two types of programs out there that tend to meet the standards mentioned earlier on this page.

One is a TEFL Certification or “TEFL Cert” – more of a generic term meaning “Teaching English as a Foreign Language Certification”, and the other is the CELTA, the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. Some years back there was the Trinity RSA. Generally all of these can be considered equivalent and will have roughly similar content.

One important note – if you intend to teach in Europe of the UK there is strong preference there for the CELTA name brand. In most of the rest of the world employers don’t generally have a preference. Know that schools that sell CELTA or even their own name brand, often prefer to hire students who have taken their course.

TED’s Tips™ #1: If you spend the money and time to get a TEFL Certification (or CELTA) be sure it is one that meets the generally accepted international standards reviewed on this page. Otherwise you may find someday that you will need to take another course to meet the requirements of a job that you really want.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you intend to work in Europe, the UK and/or for schools that sell the CELTA course, get a CELTA.

TED’s Tips™ #3: If you have the opportunity, there are many reasons why it might be best to take your TEFL course in the country in which you first wish to teach. Experience with the problems specific to that country is very helpful on your first job. I’ve taught in five countries and each one has their own unique problems. As you develop your skills you will get better at quickly finding solutions, but a newbie teacher fresh out of the box will often struggle with solving pronunciation issues and explaining common problems that their students have.

TED’s Tips™ #4: Check out TEFL Program dot com for the five checklists the website provides to help you select the BEST training for you.

Alternatives for TEFL Teacher Training

As we mentioned in the previous post, not everyone can afford to take four to six weeks away from work and pay the costs for a full blown TEFL certification or CELTA.

Following are some options to help you get a better idea about what to do in the classroom – without the “Full Monty” of a TEFL Certification.

First, any kind of training is better than no training. You can often find some free training as a volunteer from organizations like Literacy Volunteers of America [now known as ProLiteracy and working internationally].

There are online courses that are inexpensive. All of them will provide you with some beginnings of the knowledge and skill you need to do a decent job. Will you become a seasoned “pro” with such a class? No, but you will have a good idea of what needs to be done and how to continue to improve.

A free online TEFL course that I wrote is here: TEFL Boot Camp. The course is self study, roughly equivalent to the content for a full course – but no observed teaching practice is offered – nor is a certificate on offer.

What kind of training do employers look for?

Sadly, some employers in some countries, have no expectations that you have any training at all. Others, will have some very specific ideas about what training they would like you to have had. You won’t be able to please everyone in every country, but with a good TEFL training course you will have what 95% of employers will be satisfied with. And, enough training to feel like you are doing a good job and have some real satisfaction about the work you are doing. It’s a great feeling!

On-Line Training versus Full-Blown TEFL Courses

As mentioned above, any training is better than no training. If you don’t have the time or money to do a full course, or if you just want to experiment and see if it might interest you – consider a an online course. They are a good introduction to teaching and can tide you over until you get into a full program with observed teaching practice.

Free TEFL Certification Training?

There are some TEFL certification schools around the world that will offer you “free” certification training if you will work for them for a specified period of time. Approach these programs with caution as things that look too good to be true, often are.

Now . . . to protect myself from liability I am going to say that not all schools do what I am going to suggest – but know that some do.

Some TEFL Cert schools happily enroll you into their certification program and then place you in a job in which you are usually paid less than the going rate. The difference between the wages other people on the job are getting and your wage – will go to the TEFL school.

They, unfortunately, rarely tell you about this little “arrangement” they have going. And month after month, for as long as you work there, you are literally paying for your TEFL course. So . . . know that free things are rarely free.

If you stay at a job for a couple years you will have paid for the certification a couple times over or more.

No free time and no money?

TEFL Boot Camp is as good as it gets online – and it really is free.

Have a little money and want to study on your own? Check out TEFL eBooks for some options.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Get the full four to six week TEFL Training in residence if you have the time and money to do so.
The full course is worth your time, money and effort.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Get some training. Any kind of training to help you along.
You will enjoy yourself more and do a better job. Study a book, take an online course, sit in on classes somewhere.

Take an interest in becoming a quality teacher.

Do I Need TEFL Training?

English teaching wannabes and newbies usually ask several questions here:

Is TEFL training required to get the job I want? Do I have to have it?

Would it make a difference if I had it?

. . . and the answers are: sometimes, sometimes and yes.

Some countries require a TEFL certification before they will approve your legal working papers. Thus – before you can work in Thailand, Indonesia and a few other places, you need to complete a good TEFL course.

Most countries don’t require any TEFL training at all, but the better employers will prefer their new hires to have had some training. So, in fact, TEFL training may be required for a move up the food chain or even give you the ability to start out in a preferred position.

And while many countries and some jobs that don’t require any training at all, it shouldn’t be about just getting by with the minimum and, if you are lucky, just doing a mediocre job.

Will TEFL training really make a difference?

You bet! There are several ways in which you may benefit from TEFL training. First is that many employers will pay a small premium to teachers that have some good training. While often not much on a monthly basis, it adds up across a year and tends to easily pay for itself in only one or two years. Add that to the idea that you can probably land a better job than the one you would get without training and you might be seeing an even better return on your investment.

Those are the good practical reasons for getting yourself some training. There are also some ethical, moral and emotional issues to consider.

The first is that you owe it to your students to get yourself some training. Students, in most foreign countries, pay a lot of money to sit in your class. Wouldn’t it just be fair to know what you are doing?

While teaching English overseas is not “brain surgery” or “rocket science”, it does require some skill to do it well. And as long as you are changing your life and heading overseas – why not do it right and feel good or even GREAT about the service you provide to your students?

The days of just showing up at a TEFL job and “chatting with the students for an hour” are long gone. Language schools these days would like you to provide some real teaching in their classrooms. And students almost intuitively know when a teacher knows what they are doing – or not.

One of the best reasons for getting yourself some training is that you will find preparing your classes much easier and you will enjoy your work more knowing that you are providing a quality service and not just skating by on someone else’s money. Best of all, you will sleep better at night.

It’s about doing it right – and feeling good about it.

Now . . . not everyone can afford four to six weeks of not working and the costs of a full blown TEFL certification program. In the following post we will talk about some good alternatives to the commercially available courses.

TED’s Tips™ #1: Get some training. You will enjoy yourself more and do a better job.
Remember how lousy teachers really turned you off when you were still in school? Yeah, don’t be one of those.

TED’s Tips™ #2: If you can’t afford the “Full Monty” of a four-to-six-week course, check out some of the alternatives we will talk about tomorrow.