What TEFL Training Courses DON’T Teach You #1

Be Prepared for TEFL Freedom

One of the most frequently asked questions I get when I am placing people in schools in China is this: Will the school have already prepared lessons and lesson plans for us?

Well, after I stop chuckling . . . my usual answer is, “No.”

But really the answer depends on where you are going to teach. In China with only a BA/BS and a TEFL certification you can land a university teaching position. With only a TEFL Certification OR only a degree language school positions are available.

Here is my real life response to someone who is taking a position at a university (more about language schools next time) who asked specifically:

I was wondering if I should bring teaching materials with me, and how much flexibility will I have to use my own materials?

My response:

I’ve taught in four countries and frankly ALWAYS preferred my own materials to the often irrelevant and unfocused materials that were usually offered (if any were offered at all!). Some schools do have some decent materials, but most don’t.

How much flexibility? Probably a LOT and hope for a LOT. Usually schools that have a well-defined and pre-designed program are rigidly holding on to what are often terrible materials and a curriculum that doesn’t work well for their students.

Colleges and universities, especially the ones with small EFL programs, usually just expect that you know what to do and give you the freedom to do it. I have rarely encountered even a decent syllabus after working at eight different colleges and universities in those four countries. Very large English departments though are more likely to be better structured and organized.

I don’t mean my criticism of schools to be negative – it is in fact very positive – as the freedom tends to allow you to build exactly what is needed for your students. Nothing is worse than being forced to teach a very structured program that doesn’t help your students at all.

Now, sometimes a school will give you a book, the book somebody used last year. Sometimes you will be expected to use it as the campus bookstore ordered it and sold it to all the students already. So you use it a bit and add in your own materials and gradually fade out of the book. You will need to use their book a bit, so the students don’t complain about being sold the book – practical considerations! Next semester you get to pick the book.

How the world really works

I had a teacher contact me once, looking for a job because he was about to quit the job he had just taken. His comments were: The school is very unprofessional – they told me to just develop my own program.


Yeah, in my mind the PERFECT teaching position! And he was going to quit!

Be happy for the freedom you will have in a position that offers it.

Certainly in most Asian countries and especially at smaller schools you will be offered a lot of freedom and the school will expect you to know what to do. Especially as they are often paying you more and sometimes much more than the non-native speaker local teachers.

TED’s Tips™ #1: LOVE the opportunity to release your creative skills in the classroom. So few teachers in the world have that opportunity.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Teaching is a profession. Treat it like one. Roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Evaluating a TEFL Course: Part 4


Visa Issues when taking a TEFL Certification Course

Before you head overseas, you need to find out what type of visa you will need to enter the country you are going to and how to obtain it.

Sometimes you don’t need to do anything in advance, a “visa-on–arrival” is issued and you are on your way.

Ask these questions about your visa while you are in training – KNOW before you go:

Most of these questions are relatively self-explanatory

1. Do I need to obtain a visa prior to arriving in country?

2. If I do not obtain a visa prior to entry, how long can I legally stay in the country?

3. If I must obtain a visa, how much does it cost?

4. Is the visa difficult or expensive to obtain, or take a long time to get?

5. Can I extend the visa to stay in the country for a longer period of time?

6. Does the school help me obtain a visa? Or is it just simple and easy?

7. Will the initial visa cover me for the duration of the training course?

8. If I seek work in the country will this visa be convertible to an employment-type visa?

9. If I can not convert the visa, what do I need to do when I find employment to be sure I am working legally?

10. If I need to do a “visa run” to obtain a working visa, what are the typical costs involved? Do employers usually pay for or reimburse those costs?

11. How long does the typical process take to convert to legal working
papers and what is required?

TED’s Tips™ #1: Know the visa process and issues before you go to any country. Get, stay and keep yourself legal at all times. Your visa status and your legal presence in a country is your personal responsibility. Not that of the school, your employer or anyone else.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Be sure you understand the costs in time and money of getting a proper employment visa once you finish training and start working. In some countries it can be time consuming and costly. In others, simply the stamp of a clerk sorts it all out. Know for sure before you go.

Evaluating a TEFL Course: Part 3

Evaluating your Primary TEFL Course Trainer


Some schools will have only one primary teacher for your course, though other experienced teachers will help with the observed teaching practice, and other schools will have several teachers, who will teach you different components of the course.

Either way is fine, but you should probably ask or know the answers to following questions about your primary instructor.


Because the author of this website once had one of his teacher-trainee students hired fresh out of the TEFL certification course to provide teacher training at a competing school. Would you want that teacher, who had never really ever taught a class on his own?

If you can, ask your teacher-trainer directly, via email or telephone, these questions:

1. What are your qualifications [education, certification, etc]?

Though TEFL Cert and CELTA are courses designed to be given to high school graduates, it would be nice if your instructor has a relevant degree and really understands how teaching and learning works.

Preferably a teacher-trainer should have a MATESOL or at least an M.Ed. and some sort of TEFL certification – PGCE, a DELTA or something similar.

2. How much and what kind of experience do you have?

A minimum of six to eight years in a least two countries, preferably teaching kids and adults in a variety of settings would be preferred.

This way they can help you more and will have a deeper and wider understanding of the problems teachers face. Ask specifically about number of years and number of countries.

3. Does your experience include a variety of students in a variety of
school settings? Tutoring? Ask specifically if you are not told.

Have they ever taught in the type of setting(s) you expect to teach in? If so, they can give you much better direction and advice.

4. Do you enjoy teaching? Why or why not?

Believe it or not, there are teacher-trainers who do NOT enjoy teaching. They teach as a way to travel and see the world and to live overseas.

Don’t take a course from one of these people, or you too will end up with a bad attitude in the classroom. It is better to learn to ENJOY your work. After all, it is a positive change in your life that you are considering.

5. What do you enjoy about teaching?

Listen closely for if they REALLY like teaching or not

TED’s Tips™ #1: It is the author’s very strong opinion that your teacher-trainer should have at least six or eight year’s experience in at least two countries, in at least two or three different settings (language school, public school, university, tutoring), with kids AND adults, and some sort of formal education in Education or a DELTA, ideally a master’s degree.

You want you to get the BEST, but sadly teacher-trainers with those credentials are rare.

TED’s Tips™ #2: DON’T buy slick marketing, beautiful websites, impressive looking and sounding curriculum. Buy the BEST teacher-trainer you can find. Bottom line: it is that teacher-trainer who is going to make YOU a good teacher.