If you are thinking of doing a TEFL course, read this warning before choosing which course to do. It is based upon my own research and concerns the explosion of cheap TEFL courses appearing on the internet. Then you can do your own research and make an informed decision about whether or not to do a TEFL certification, and which certificate to do. There are many benefits of doing a TEFL and obtaining this certification will certainly help in your quest to become an English teacher, but I would like to make you aware of the following issues.
Some of the more commonly asked questions that I receive about teaching English abroad, concern TEFL courses. People always ask, ‘Should I do a TEFL?‘ or ‘Which TEFL course should I do?’ While there is no perfect answer to this question, I would like to make you aware of the limitations of certain TEFL qualifications in this post.
Certain TEFL Courses Are Of A Very Low Standard
When you can get a discount TEFL certification for less than the cost of a beer (yes this happens), you should be fully aware of the fact that the course (or the method of assessment) must be of a low standard. It simply isn’t financially viable to produce high quality content and assessment for courses that cost $5. Despite this, the budget TEFL (if you will) still has a valuable place in the market for some people. It allows those who don’t want to fork out lots of money to be able to obtain a TEFL certification, increasing their job prospects and their potential salary. Unfortunately it probably doesn’t make them a better teacher and has the potential to lower the standards of English teaching around the world. How is it that these low cost TEFLs have come into the market?
Anyone Can Award A TEFL
Anyone can award a TEFL – literally anyone. The certificate isn’t even worth the paper it is printed on in some cases. I could photoshop myself a certificate from a fictitious company, say the ‘Institute of English Academics Working Overseas,’ and it would be just as valid as any certificate you can pay a thousand dollars for. Courses can be written by anyone, so your pretty (and expensive) certificate, may well have been the result of Bob working in his mother’s shed. Bob might even be fourteen years old. I once contemplated making my own TEFL awarding company and offering people a real service at a realistic cost (of very little) in order to undermine this whole industry of con artists – but I felt I would be perpetuating the problem, rather than addressing it, as I would simply be adding my course to the already too big collection of cheap TEFL courses that don’t offer good value. Instead, I am choosing to address the difference between courses of good content and those that are of a lower standard, then point out that both have their places in the market. Below is an infographic that I made that addresses where the different courses fit into the market, dependent upon the needs of the individual. You should do the quiz if you are thinking of teaching abroad and also read the full article about which teaching certification is right for you as it also suggests specific courses.
There are companies who genuinely want to help make you a better teacher, so please research the course that you wish to study and make sure that it fits your needs: Here are my recommendations on which teaching courses you should do, addressing the budget courses and the ‘proper’ ones. If you simply want a TEFL certificate to better your job prospects, it doesn’t matter if you do one of the lower quality, cheaper courses – I just want to make you aware that they are of varying standards and you should, to some extent, expect what you pay for. Ultimately your selection of course comes down to what you want to get out of it.
I spent several days obtaining course materials of several of the more popular TEFL courses on offer (from past students) and found some of the courses to be of a very low grade. For example, one $300 course consisted of twelve reading modules, followed by one essay, on which all assessment was made. Essentially you get to write one essay and in return, receive a certificate – minus the course fee, of course. If you fail, you get to take the test again until you pass (sometimes remarks are chargeable), thus not only can anyone award a TEFL, anyone can pass one too. The certificate does not make you a good teacher, only you can do that, so think about which TEFL course you do and what you want to get out of it.
There is no accrediting TEFL organisation
If a TEFL course says that it is accredited, that doesn’t always mean much (good or bad) as there is no central accrediting organisation, although there are some that are better respected than others. When I researched this issue further, I found that some of ‘accrediting bodies’ were actually owned by the same people who ran the course – I’m talking more about the cheap TEFL courses. This means they are accrediting themselves. That’s like me trying to sell you a piece of junk and telling you it is a valuable piece of art because I am an expert and I told you so. Think about this for a minute – it doesn’t make sense.
Do You Need A TEFL To Get A Job Teaching English?
I have been employed to teach English in Korea for a year and in Turkey for six months without any form of certification. I was able to get these jobs because I gained experience teaching as a student and as a volunteer in Uganda. After this I also volunteered to teach in Poland. So in short, no, you don’t need any form of teaching qualification to teach English. However, they serve two main purposes:
- Increase your job prospects and potential salary
- Better prepare you to be a teacher (in the case of a decent course)
If I had a teaching certification I could have earnt an extra $1,300 during my year teaching in Korea which would have been nice, and more than compensated for the cost of the course. At the time I started teaching however, I was at the back end of being a student, volunteering in Uganda, and having fun through a ski season, so I didn’t take the time, or have much money, to do a decent course. Incidentally, I actually needed a teaching qualification to teach in Turkey, but I was ‘accidentally employed’ (I suppose). I started one of the cheap TEFL courses, but found the content to be of such a low quality that I couldn’t bear to continue.
Although I got around it easily enough, there are situations where a TEFL is necessary, such as when working for the government in South Korea (a silly visa law) and it may increase your base wage. What I’m trying to say is that if you are looking for work as an English teacher, having a TEFL is advisable for multiple reasons, but not necessary. If you are not a native speaker and wish to teach English, a TEFL certification is even more than advisable.
Some Lower End Courses Do Not Improve Your Teaching
After reviewing course content, I can see some decent theory laid out in certain courses (and terrible theory in others). While this is a good grounding, you could read a book on teaching (or many for a broader view) and learn the same content. Where you really learn, is in the classroom. I am not the greatest teacher, but I strive to do the best that I can for both my students and myself, and I built up good relationships with my students and felt they developed positively during my time as an English teacher. I asked other, more experienced teachers for advice and I was open to new ideas from both colleagues and students – I think this is where you really learn to teach. Then again, if you’ve never stepped foot into a classroom as a teacher (as I hadn’t), doing a teaching course certainly won’t hurt. I remember my first day in front of a classroom of kids, thinking, ‘What am I doing?!’
Be Wary Of Outrageous Claims, Targeting People Unfairly
Many companies claim that they can guarantee you a job. Maybe they do, but if a job is guaranteed, it might be a job that you don’t want to have. I have heard claims that certain TEFL companies pay schools to take on teachers in some parts of the world, but I have not seen evidence of this myself due to where I have taught. These claims target people who are in unfortunate situations and I think it is a highly unethical practice. A company that says it will help you find a job is a perfectly valid and key element of a good TEFL course, but one that says it guarantees you a job is one to be wary of.
Often, you get what you pay for. In this case, I feel you get ripped off from certain courses. Value is concerned with getting something that is worth what you pay. Paying a lot of money is OK if you get good content. However, some on site (in classroom) courses charge $1,000 for the qualification. This seems excessive (bad value) to me although I have never taken one of the courses myself. If I was to spend this kind of money on a teaching certification, I would be looking to do a CELTA or DELTA instead. Read more on CELTAs and TEFLs here.
When You Should Do A TEFL
For all the above reasons, I believe that certain TEFLs are dubious. However, I fully believe that they can help you get a job in many countries, even if dubious. A good course however, may also benefit your teaching abilities (if that is what you desire). Doing a certification may be particularly useful for non-native speakers wishing to teach English. Obtaining a TEFL may not only improve your job chances, it may also increase your salary, offsetting the initial cost of obtaining one. However, for most jobs, an online TEFL qualification (minimum 120 hours) is more than enough and much cheaper than one of the courses where you pay to stay and study for a month. This does vary from country to country as some places have become aware of the issues with cheap TEFL courses and the way they degrade the industry, thus they request certain requirements to be met.
If you do one of the cheap TEFL courses, do it to increase your chances of getting a job or to increase your wages. Don’t go expecting miracles or that you will magically learn how to be a teacher because you won’t. If you are more interested in improving your abilities as a teacher, I recommend researching the potential courses that are on offer. Even better, do some volunteer teaching or tutoring to gain experience and really learn how to be a teacher.
You should now read ‘Choosing the Teaching Qualification That Is Right For You’. Below are some more useful links.
- The Benefits of a TEFL Certification
- Choosing the Teaching Qualification That Is Right For You
- Which TEFL Should I Do?
- How to Teach English Abroad – Advice Page
- Apply for a Job as an English Teacher
Best of luck in your quest to become an English teacher.