These days it’s no longer possible to be a native English speaker, complete a weekend course, and walk straight into a teaching position. And this is great news for students, teachers, academies, and the quality of foreign language education in general. Of course, for future teachers this means there’s a lot to consider when selecting a TEFL course. Is the program internationally recognized? Does it meet minimum professional standards? Is the instructor sufficiently experienced? How can you even tell?
TEFL – a generic term meaning “Teaching English as a Foreign Language” – is an acronym you’ll see a lot while researching courses. Two of the most well-known teacher-training courses are the CELTA (run by Cambridge) and the CertTESOL (run by Trinity College). A few minutes on Google will show you that prices for TEFL courses vary from Groupon-style bargains to USD$2000 and more. But first thing’s first: when choosing a program, you absolutely get what you pay for. This is not like finding out that your supermarket-bought moisturiser is actually as great as a luxury variety! Cheaper courses will be run by teachers without sufficient experience or won’t include the minimum hours of academic instruction and teaching practice to be internationally recognized. So what should you look for in a course?
Ask yourself these four questions:
- Is the course accredited?
- How long is the program?
- Who will teach me?
- Who will I teach?
1. Is the course accredited?
An accredited course has been put under the microscope by independent accreditation or regulation bodies, whose job is to formally evaluate the academic and professional principles of the program. Courses offered by accredited universities – such as the CELTA (Cambridge) and CertTESOL (Trinity) – are already accredited. If considering another provider, ask your training center who their third-party accrediting bodies are. Then assess these providers’ websites to learn how long they’ve been established, what other professional courses they have accredited, and if they are truly independent of the center and course you are researching.
Be aware of unknown, recently-opened, or inexperienced training centers who direct you to their own “accrediting body”: it’s possible that they’ve set up a system to self-regulate their courses, a practice which is not approved or recognized by the TEFL industry. Another warning sign is a school proudly listing they are a member of several academic associations, though not showing by whom they are accredited. Being a member of an industry association does not necessarily mean third-party review of courses and academic standards have been completed. Some countries, including the U.K., only accept courses where the British Council recognizes accreditation. Currently, these courses are the Cambridge CELTA or the Trinity CertTESOL.
2. How long is the program?
The minimum course length is 120 hours of academics and a minimum of six hours of assessed teaching practice.Break it down: that’s 120 hours, likely spread over a month-long course or 20 classroom days. Be aware of “weekend courses”- two days’ study can only include a maximum of 20 hours, or one sixth of the minimum number of academic hours. (Those too-good-to-be-true bargains aren’t looking as attractive now, right?) In the U.K., courses offering fewer than 120 hours and/or no practical teaching component do not meet international certification standards. Later, when you are job-hunting, these courses will not be accepted by well-established language schools or employers with good working environments and practices – that is, the types of places you want to work in!
3. Who will teach me?
Your teacher should be qualified and have demonstrable, quantifiable experience in the classroom. A teacher who has completed a month-long course and a stint abroad does not have the training chops needed to prepare you for the realities of teaching English as a foreign language. This is another reason why internationally-recognized, accredited TEFL courses aren’t cheap: excellent trainers deserve to be paid fairly. Expect qualifications such as a Masters in TESOL, a DELTA, or Phd – and well as many years teaching English as a foreign language. Teacher trainers for the CELTA and CertTESOL courses are approved and assessed by Cambridge Assessment (CELTA) and Trinity College, London (CertTESOL), respectively. Of course, a training center must be able to detail an instructor’s qualifications when asked to.
3. Who will I teach?
To be accredited and fulfil international standards, a TEFL course must include a minimum of six hours of assessed teaching practice with real students. Ensure your course includes a teaching practice component in which real EFL students – not your fellow teachers-in-training – make up your class. If this is not the case, walk away.
Deciding to teach English abroad requires initial research, but is a rewarding experience that will teach you as much as you teach your students. The first step – which TEFL course to take – is the most important part of your journey. So relax, research – and good luck with your studies!