What Employers REALLY want from your TEFL Certification

There are TWO main reasons an employer requires a TEFL Certification.

First is usually that the law or regulations in a specific country require it in order to obtain legal working papers.  In that event, the employer has no choice – s/he must require it.

There will sometimes be requirements about the course itself (minimum number of hours, etc), but often as not – there are no requirements other than to just have one.

China is an example here, wanting a TEFL certification, but no set requirements about what should have been required to obtain it.

The second reason an employer seeks a TEFL certification is that they are looking for a specific skill set on your part and that is what I want to focus on here.

What is it that employers would like you to know how to do?

This can be fairly unique to specific employers but we can make some pretty good generalizations.

They want you to know how to walk into a class and do what is needed to make it work, without their supervision or intervention.

Teaching is a pretty independent occupation and most employers (schools) will want you to be able to work independently.  To be able to develop lessons, to be able to manage minor discipline and behavior problems and even to know how to deal politely with the occasional parent.

Though this is what the employer is often looking for – two of those three skills expected of you are not usually covered in a TEFL training course!    Some will cover a bit of behavior management, but almost none offer guidance on dealing with the parents of young students.

Fairly or unfairly, the typical school will want you to – on the first day if they have required training – to independently take over your new class and to move it along.

Don’t let this frighten you if you are total newbie or even just a wannabe.  Most schools offer some assistance to totally new teachers. In some countries you might even have a teacher’s aide in  your class.

If you are seriously thinking about teaching for a year or two, or even as an occupation, realize that it is a job that requires you to be independent in planning and in solving problems.   If a school has required a TEFL certification prior to hiring you, it may well mean that they expect you to hit the ground running.  This will certainly be true of most college and university level positions – probably less true of a school with very young students who often need a bit more mothering and nurturing than teaching.

TED’s Tips™ #1:    The independence that most schools offer you is actually a great benefit of the job.  You, once you have proven yourself a bit, can often create your won curriculum, build classes to solve specific problems that your students have and even plan for them long term.  What a blessing, few other jobs give you so much freedom.

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Researching your Job Offer: Problems with Contacts with Teachers

A reader over at TEFL Newbie recently asked this:

I currently have an offer from a school in South Korea. I have spoken with one of the current teachers there via e-mail.

However, when I inquired to my recruiter for a couple more names/e-mails I was informed that it would be “difficult to ask for more e-mail references since the teachers are busy & hesitate to reply”. In your opinion, should I still consider the school’s job offer?

Following is my response – plus a bit added here and there . . .

I don’t know that hesitating to offer more than one contact should be the kiss of death for an employer.

Realize that of the people who are offered a position, perhaps only 50-60% accept the position and even fewer actually show up for the job.

Employers are essentially asking a favor of their employees – usually asking them to volunteer – to spend their time responding to (often quite vague and unfocused and even silly) questions from potential employees – many of whom will never actually arrive on the job, people they will likely never meet and who often even fail to send a thank you note after they have taken their time to craft a good response.

Some of the most common questions that are asked – for example – are similar to these: What is Korea like? What is teaching like?

Both of those questions would take a book to respond to and often the person who asked those questions never even bothers to reply to the teacher who wrote them a response. So . . . while only one contact might seem like not enough, do the best you can with that one and read between the lines a bit.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Overall, realize that working and living abroad are highly personal things. What you like, I might hate and vice versa. I’ve had employers that I quite liked that other teachers hated.  You really need to read between the lines and ask very specific questions to be able to really get to the heart of the issue.   Ask few questions, but make them count.

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Teaching EFL Students how to have a Conversation

A new EFL teacher recently wrote me and said:

I am having a blast and I like my kids. I am having a hard time being creative and getting them to talk to me!

Do you have any suggestions, games, approaches to teaching that I can do. I welcome all and any criticism and advice.

I want to help them and my goal is to get one student to have a full conversation with me without breaking down and giving up

My response was as follows:

Enjoying your students and teaching is about 85% of the battle, so you are on the right track.  Without that, you can’t expect much!

If you wish to have a complete conversation with a student, realize how daunting a task that is because you are calling upon a huge pool of vocabulary and concepts.  AND – if you want them to do that – teach them to do that – BIT BY BIT.

So . . . define what that conversation is, what you will talk about (questions and answers) and then teach your students the parts of that conversation.    You should not expect them to respond easily to just anything.  You are the teacher and you should not expect them to know anything you have not taught them – got it?

SO – teach them what you want them to do – to know.   It is not that complicated, but it does take time and planning.

Methodical planning is what your students have likely NOT experienced before – AND – as you are thinking about it – you are the person to do it!  Yes, that really is what your students really do need.  Go do it. Big task, but learning language is not easy – especially with the disorganized hodge podge that you already see is being pushed on your students.  That is a bit why students need consistency in teachers, not people who come for a while and move on, but ideally people who hang around for a few years and organize things well for them.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  You are the teacher.  If you want your students to know how to do something, teach them how to do it.  It really is that simple.

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Making a Career of Teaching English Abroad

Without our readers’ questions and comments we would quickly run out of ideas.  But the universe of teachers and what they want to know is far bigger than any ideas I might have.  Following is a recent comment/question over at our sister site TEFLnewbie.com:

I am not new to teaching English.  My first experience being directly out of university. I am looking to go back and take a shot at making a career out of it. I am trying to get as much research under my belt before doing this. Can you give me advice?

By preference or even if just because the jobs market in developed countries is terrible these days, a career working abroad can be a super option.  What at one time might have seemed a dream or fantasy – the idea of working and living in an exotic foreign land – is sometimes these days, the only real option for people who want to move their lives forward, rather than stagnating at Walmart or Burger King.  This is especially valid for people with debts or student loans they need to pay.

If you intend to make teaching English abroad a career, RUN don’t Walk, to get a graduate degree in a relevant field.  MATESOL is probably the best option, but there are some good M.Ed.s out there, a graduate degree in Applied Linguistics is very relevant also.  Many people pursue a graduate degree while teaching abroad.

The UK and Australia, and increasingly the USA, offer quite a few good distance programs that allow you to work and study at the same time.  And, frankly, it is far easier to take such courses if you are already teaching.  Why?  You have a built in opportunity to do the research and to apply the ideas from your studies.

I did a PGCE by distance while I was teaching in Taiwan in ’94-96 and it was great.  Often I only had to send in lessons I was already doing (they fit what we were working on at the time) – or I built specific lessons around my studies and those helped me do my job better.   When you are studying something relevant to your daily work, it is more helpful than it is distraction!  You look at your work through fresh eyes and get better and better at what you are doing.

Why should you get a graduate degree?

Because a relevant graduate degree – and a bit of experience – will qualify you for college and university positions teaching English in most countries around the world.  If you wish to teach English abroad, the university career path is probably the best for you.

Why a university or college position?

Most language school jobs around the world tend to offer from about seven to ten days vacation per year and you are usually teaching about 25 hours or more.  In comparison, a decent university position will usually offer a similar wage, but ten to twelve teaching hours per week is more common, four to twelve to even twenty (yes!) PAID vacation weeks per year are common and along with that – you get all perks a language school would offer – or even better.  Four day teaching weeks are not uncommon.

The wages are often about the same between a language school and a university, but you can see that you have lots of additional free time to increase your income if you wish to do so.

Language schools tend to lead to burn out rather quickly, but a decent college/university position can keep you going for years and years – saving money AND seeing the world traveling on your long paid holidays.

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Okay, just my opinion, but the college/university job track seems much nicer over the long haul than the typical generic language school position.  Up to you!

Teaching Internships in China