Like any new career, teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) can be hard to break into.
When I first started thinking about getting a qualification, almost a decade ago, it was more than a little overwhelming. There were online courses, on-site courses, some were certified, others weren’t. I saw options anything between £150 and £1,500. Frankly, it seemed expensive and I had no idea where to start.
I didn’t want a qualification simply to get a job; my aim was to get something out of the experience and learn something practical. After much research, I settled on a Trinity certified course. Knowing that Trinity (CertTESOL) and Cambridge (CELTA) courses were moderated by examination boards was a huge plus for me.
But whatever your motivations, and whether you value internationally accredited course or not, here are 3 things to take into account before shelling out for a TEFL qualification.
1. Research, reviews and real people
Most of us head straight to Google when researching courses. Online reviews are obviously helpful to get an idea of how well a certain institution stacks up to the competition. You’ll also see whether it offers good value for money (expect to pay between €1,200 and €1,800 in Spain for a quality TEFL course). Nevertheless, you shouldn’t rely on these as your sole source of information.
Call up and ask to speak to a course tutor. You’ll get a feel for what the school is like and how trainee teachers are looked after – and while you have their attention, ask the following questions:
How many students, on average, are on each TEFL course?
Oversubscribed courses might mean a lack of personalisation. On the other hand, too few people in your group might mean it’s not very popular for a reason.
What is the average pass/drop out rate?
Pass rates of 100% are suspicious. If everyone passes, it suggests that the school cares less about the quality of your education, and more about your money. Conversely, high dropout rates or low pass rates should also raise a red flag.
Are the course tutors Diploma or DELTA qualified (or equivalent)?
Experienced and qualified tutors are a must. You need expert instruction or there’s no real point in taking the course in the first place.
Can I speak to a graduate or a current student about their experience on the course?
While the school will definitely put you in touch with someone who is happy with its course, you will get a slightly more objective point of view. Ask about the social side of things, the accommodation, the city, and ask for any other recommendations they have for you.
2. Length of course and classroom practice
If the course you’re looking at offers anything less than 120 hours training, reconsider. In order for the course to be internationally recognised, you will need at least 120 hours, including a certain amount of practical teaching experience.
When it comes to classroom practice 6-20 hours is standard. As nerve-wracking as it might sound, most good TEFL or CELTA courses will put you in front of students pretty quickly. You need to put all the theory you’re learning into practice and test your ideas out in front of a group of real people in a safe and supportive learning environment.
Besides, the vast majority of schools will look for classroom experience when hiring new teachers. A course that takes place online, or is purely theoretical, puts you at a significant disadvantage.
Can you find schools that don’t require this? Sure – but be aware that those without stringent standards are not likely to pay you very much.
3. Essential elements of a good TEFL course
Lots of first time teachers find the TEFL qualification more demanding than they were expecting, there’s a lot to take on board in a short amount of time, after all.
However, a good TEFL course will also be fun and challenging, it will introduce you to new concepts and give you some highly transferable skills. It will dive into teaching methodologies, theory, and practice. Some (certified) courses also put you through your paces as a beginner language learner, with an unknown language unit.
As you go, you’ll reflect on your strengths, shortcomings, and progress. Your tutors should be knowledgeable and offer mentorship, honest feedback. Moreover, there should be elements of peer observation and review (you can learn as much from other people’s mistakes and successes, as you can from your own).
Of course, there are also elements of grammar, phonetics, language awareness, principles of planning, classroom management, and much more.
Good courses will also offer career advice and support. Some even provide a CV review service and help you find interviews. On the other hand, courses that guarantee job placements are trying to pull the wool over your eyes – they’re either lying to you or the job won’t be worth taking.
There’s a lot to take in and consider. Before taking on a course, ask for recommendations from teachers (search for local Facebook groups and jump on Twitter and make some friends in #ELT or #TEFL), people are generally very willing to offer advice. Above all, make sure that you are seriously committed to take a big leap – it will be an intense time, but supremely worth it.