In this guest post Chris Westergaard discusses choosing a TEFL course tips, the do’s and don’ts, and everything else.
I get asked these questions all of the time and it’s pretty important to go over everything here. While I am clearly biased because I run TLH TEFL in Prague, I’m going to keep this post as honest and as un-adlike as a I can. The thing that I always tell people first is to not worry too much overall.
I’ve met and talked with dozens of potential English teachers who got so caught up in the course selection process that they never actually took any course at all and never taught abroad. Most courses do what they are supposed to do. If they are not doing that, they will be rated poorly on the internet. Whatever you do, do take the plunge and teach abroad. You won’t regret it.
Below are the main things you should consider.
1. Should I even Take a TEFL Course?
For the most part, yes you should for a variety of different reasons. If you are interested in teaching in some countries in Asia, you can probably get by without having to take a course, but you will probably do a pretty poor job in the classroom and not really leave learning anything. That’s not even touching on your students that have to deal with your fumblings. I taught for a year without any kind of real training, and looking back on it, I didn’t know what I was doing at all. If money is really tight, taking a course might not be an option for you. If that’s the case, use the internet for your initial training and watch experience teachers teaching. This isn’t ideal, but if you really can’t afford to get trained and certified, give it a shot.
If you can afford to take a course, then do so. You will learn a lot. More than you can imagine and most course providers know what they are doing and do a good job at it. Besides the training, you’ll meet a lot of great people and have a school that hopefully fights for you and helps you get set up in that country (where you took the course) and abroad. The certificate is a lifetime thing and most schools will pay more for trained teachers. Also it will help you, regardless of where you are, in finding employment and negotiating a higher salary.
2. What Kind of Course Should I Take?
There are tons of different TEFL courses out there what to do?
A. You want to take one that is at least 4 weeks long and has an actual teaching component of 8 hours of observed teaching practice.
Ignore the online and weekend courses because they don’t actually have teaching practice as part of the curriculum. Not having actual observed teaching practice is the same as having a swimming class where you don’t ever get into the pool. You wouldn’t take a non-practice swimming class, so why take a similar kind of TEFL course?
B. You want to take the course in a foreign country.
At The Language House where I work, the TEFL methodology and training and is only part of the curriculum. We also train people on how to live abroad. If you take a course in your home country, you’re never going to get this secondary training.
Living abroad is tough stuff. You have to find an apartment, make friends, navigate through a strange city, deal with a strange culture… all while not (usually) being able to speak the language. You are going to want someone to help you deal with these things. If you take a course in your home country, they are not going to prepare you for these realities and when you actually fly out to your job, it’s going to be a potential nightmare.
Along with this, there is no way for any of these school to compete with the contacts that a local school has. I don’t care how large a TEFL organization is in the States, Canada, the U.K…etc They are not going to be able to compete with a local TEFL center in the country. Likewise a course in Prague, is not going to be able to compete with a TEFL course that is located in Spain. It’s just not possible.
My advice is to take a course in the location that you are interested in teaching. The only exception for this is in a lot of Asian countries because it’s still easy and usually the rule to get a job abroad.
3. What is Accreditation for TEFL and is it Important?
Accreditation in TEFL is usually just an outside body that vouches for the quality of the course. Is it important? Yes and no.
A. There are many different accrediting bodies in TEFL
These include but are not limited to – Trinity, the College of Teachers, IATQUO, Cambridge, local governments and random Universities. Overall there are tons of different accrediting bodies and there seems to be more every year.
B. IMO Accreditation doesn’t really mean anything on its own
Of course, it’s better to be accredited than unaccredited, but what does that mean? If a weekend TEFL course is accredited, it’s still just a weekend course. You still didn’t actually get any teaching practice and you still will have no idea what you are doing when you actually teach. If anything, accreditation is good because it shows that a course has been around for a bit and is connected, but it shouldn’t be the main thing while looking into a course.
C. OK, accreditation does mean something, but it can mean different things
Not all accreditation is the same. They all deal with the course/school paying someone something, but they do mean different things. For example, some accreditors don’t require much, others are really extensive. Some externally monitor a course, others just require you to sign a waiver of quality and assurance.
The accrediting agency that we work with (The Language House TEFL) required a long application process. It dealt with a 3 day visit by an examiner that spoke with all of the staff and looked (exhaustively so) at all of our materials, assignments, schedules…etc. We get monitored a few times a year and continuously go over the process. There are accreditors that do this and there are ones that don’t. Both courses are accredited, but they mean different things. Find out what the accreditation entails and info on who is offering it if you are concerned.
4. TEFL Class Size
Size does matter and smaller is better. Most courses run pretty small nowadays. I think when you get beyond 20 students, it’s getting too big. The reason why smaller is better is because you want to be able to use the services of the school afterwards. This could be visa assistance, housing assistance and of course job assistance. Usually there are only 1 or 2 people that help out with job assistance for a course and if this person has to deal with your class of 20, plus last months 20 students, they might be swamped. Careful with false advertising. Some courses say they have classes of 14 people max, but they are running double or even triple classes. So really their class size is 28 or more.
5. Teaching Practice
By far the most important feature of any TEFL course is the actual amount of teaching you get. The more the better. Make sure the teaching is real though. A lot of providers will say things like 10 hours of teaching practice, but it’s mostly peer teaching. That’s not the same! You want real teaching, with real students where you are observed and then critiqued by real observers. If we included all the teaching practice (with peer teaching involved) it would be something like 16 hours or so. We do about 12 hours of actual observed teaching practice and you should shoot for a high number.
You will learn a lot from workshops and input sessions, but the actual teaching is where you will get to use these skills and grow. If you are not doing a lot of real teaching in your course, you’re not going to improve and you will leave the course without a solid base of skills. Check with the course you are applying to and find out how many actual observed hours you are doing.
5. Post-Course Support
This one is HUGE and usually totally overlooked. Accreditors don’t look at this element at all and I can’t think of a single accrediting body that accounts for post course graduate support. It’s kind of crazy actually, because it’s such an important thing. Take a course that takes care of its graduates. It’s that simple. You want to be able to ask for help in finding work, a place to live, job support…etc. Some schools do a great job with this, others couldn’t care less what happens to you. It’s such an important thing and it’s really easy to find out. Just get a list of graduates and contact them. Facebook makes it easy to do so these days and to make sure that they are real graduates of the program.
6. Job Assistance
There’s no such thing as a guaranteed job unless you are planning on teaching in Asia. You wouldn’t want that anyway. I mean I can easily guarantee you a job somewhere. It might be in a horrible location with horrible pay and conditions, but hey it’s a job. Don’t be sold on that promise and don’t buy into it. There’s a lot of things that courses can do for you, but at the end of the day it’s about you and what you put in and what you take away with you and what you use to succeed.
The TEFL program should offer assistance like the following. The most helpful thing besides the basics like mock interviews, an active job board and help with CV’s, is a sound network of past graduates. It’s the best way to find work and the best way to make the right choice in terms of moving to another location and working for a particular school. All TEFL courses should have a network of graduates all over the world. Find these people! Ask the course provider to get you in contact with people working in Asia and Europe that you can contact.
If the TEFL course you are thinking about doesn’t have this, you need to ignore them. We’ve always had tightly knit group of graduate support and recently created forums online and a web of graduates and new trainees that can communicate with each other. This honestly has been more effective than any job board or CV workshop that we had in the past. Pick a course that does this too. It helps so much and it’s such an important thing to have.
This is important, and google maps makes it easy to see where the school is located. Centrally located is obviously better unless you like the life of a hermit and the feeling of isolation.
Cost and extras
Just because something costs more doesn’t mean anything. Find out what are the direct costs of the course. Does it include anything? Some courses offer tons of extra stuff included in the price. Find out what you get for everything.
Fail rate and recourse
You don’t want to take a course that automatically passes people. You also don’t want to take a course where if you miss a few days or fail a few practice lessons you have to take the entire course over again at full price. One of the main problems with the TEFL course that I took back in 2002 was that one of my classmates (who was a great teacher) missed two classes because he was legitimately sick and they outright failed him. That was totally unacceptable to me at that time and still is today. Why should he have to take the entire course? It was two days. Why not just charge him for two days and have him make up those two lessons?
Not everyone is going to be a natural and there are some people that simply shouldn’t be teaching period. For most people that do not pass though, it’s small stuff. Easy things that can be fixed with a couple of extra days. Don’t take a course where if you fail off of some technicality you have to retake the entire thing. It’s simply bad and cheap business.
Easy stuff here. Get pictures from the TEFL school. Try not be charged an arm and a leg. Get an address and check the location in relation to the school. You don’t want to be 40 minutes away from where you are training. That’s going to be a rough morning each day for you.
Also a language school or educational environment
Not a crucial thing, but it helps. If your course is just a TEFL course, you won’t meet too many other people. It’s nice to be in a college or language school for the atmosphere. You get to also meet other teachers that are not connected with the TEFL course and get their perspective on things. Luckily for new TEFL trainees, today it’s so much easier to find out information about schools than when I first took got my TEFL training back in 2002. A simple internet search is really all you need to make sure you are taking a good program.
Regardless of where you get your training, it is what you put into that really counts. Learn as much as you can on your course and practice being as good as you can in the classroom. Feeling good about your teaching ability will greatly improve your overall experience in TEFL and living abroad.
About the author
Chris Westergaard is a teacher and teacher trainer that has lived in Prague for nearly a decade. He hosts the teaching abroad blog.