To those taking their first tentative steps in English language teaching, the TEFL industry can seem like a very confusing place; while some employers insist that their teachers hold Master’s level qualifications, others are much less demanding and are happy to provide work for people whose only qualification is to be a native English speaker. And with so many TEFL qualifications, accreditation bodies and course providers out there, making the right course choices can feel like a lottery.
So what is the best way to proceed for the would-be teacher? Well, this very much depends on your reasons for wanting to teach and the kind of teacher you want to be.
In this post, we aim to help you make the right choices using several case studies.
The casual teacher
Generally speaking, casual teachers are looking for temporary or short-term employment where a career in teaching together with a regular income is not the objective. For this teacher, teaching English is a means to an end – perhaps a way of funding an extended holiday or a sabbatical abroad.
In the not-too-distant past, it was common for people with this kind of profile to find casual, and in some cases lucrative, teaching work, often in unaccredited private language schools, in countries where native English speakers were thin on the ground.
More recently, however, with an increasingly discerning and demanding clientele, more independent language schools have come to recognise the need to provide a guarantee of quality control to their students. To do this, they seek accreditation from professional standards body.
Organisations working to provide this accreditation to schools base their awards on several criteria which often include some level of teacher qualification.
As a result, opportunities for the unqualified “teacher” have, and will increasingly become more difficult to find especially in view of the competition they face from the increasing numbers of teachers with some level of qualification now coming into the profession.
With more opportunities than ever before to train as an English teacher to varying levels, even the smallest language schools can now afford to be more demanding in their recruitment selection process.
With this in mind, those seeking casual employment would be well advised to have some basic form of TEFL training and, where possible, accompanying certification. To satisfy this need, short weekend tasters and introductory self-study courses online are relatively cheap (prices generally range from £100-300) and often serve as a starting point for the casual teacher (N.B. completion of such a course doesn’t confer qualified teaching status). However, would-be trainees should be mindful of the difference in format, mode of delivery and the quality gap that can exist between the many different courses available.
The Train-to-TEFL online course is an interactive, media rich course comprising seventeen modules and end of unit tests. A course completion certificate is available on successful completion of the course.
The TEFL initiated teacher (TEFL-i)
A teacher becomes TEFL initiated on successful completion of a 100-120 hour TEFL certificate course and will generally consider TEFL as a way of making a living – potentially as a long-term career move.
For many TEFL employers in both the UK and abroad, this level of qualification is considered a must for all would-be teacher applicants.
The two most widely recognised qualifications in the industry are the Trinity College CertTESOL (Certificate in Teaching English to speakers of Other Languages) and the Cambridge CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults). With either of these certificates, job seekers can be confident that they have the minimum level of knowledge, skill and teaching experience required to work for more established course providers such as the British Council, a reference in the field of ELT.
Whilst alternatives to the Trinity CertTESOL and CELTA have started to appear over the last few years, it’s the 120 hours of live input sessions along with an additional 6 hours of assessed teaching practice and qualified teacher-trainer feedback that sets these two qualifications apart from the others. Add to this the fact that both courses are validated by two of the UK’s most prestigious educational institutions and it’s easy to see why so many TEFL employers list these awards as requirements for all potential employees. It’s also the reason that they can cost trainees up to £1500.
But generally speaking, the kind of jobs open to TEFL-i teachers are often better paid than those discussed above and employees may also find opportunities for professional development.
So, if you’re serious about working as a teacher of English as a Foreign Language, investment in a Trinity CertTESOL or CELTA is strongly recommended with the caveat that the quality of delivery will vary from one course provider to another. For this reason, it pays to do some research into the providers you may consider using.
Choosing a provider
The provider’s website should be your first port of call where you should spend some time reading and/or watching trainee testimonials and explainer videos. Do this with a critical eye and actively assess the merits of these as you read and watch.
A follow up email or call to the provider is also recommended before you apply for a place on the course. This is especially important as it allows you interact on a personal level with the people you’ll be working with for the duration of the course.
A good provider should also be able to accommodate requests to observe an ELT class taught by an experienced teacher. This will give you first-hand of experience of the role and will help you to decide if teaching really is for you before you make any commitments.
When you eventually settle on a provider, you will usually be invited to a semi-formal interview so that the provider can assess your suitability for the course. By the same token, the interview gives you the opportunity to assess whether the course is suitable for you.
Online or face-to-face?
In the not too distant past, qualification obtained on distance courses were largely frowned upon by employers. However, the advent of Covid has seen a meteoric rise in the number of students learning English online and the industry has been quick to see its advantages. Live distance courses conducted on the internet are now as commonly available as face-to-face courses in a real bricks-and-mortar classroom and the ability to teach online is now considered an important teacher skill so much so that industry leading courses such as the Trinity CertTESOL are now offered entirely online.
At the time of writing, input sessions and teaching practice for the Train-to-TEFL Trinity CertTESOL are delivered online, and the course is open to suitable candidates from all over the world.
The TEFL qualified teacher
To become a fully qualified EFL teacher, you will need to undertake a level 7 diploma course such as the Trinity DipTESOL and the Cambridge DELTA. As you might expect, these courses have a more in depth practical and theoretical focus than the TEFL-i qualifications mentioned above and they are usually only open to teachers with at least one to two years teaching experience.
As a fully qualified EFL teacher, you can expect to find better paid work in more prestigious and possibly more demanding roles in further and higher education institutions. And you are now able to apply for management roles such as Director of Studies (DoS) or similar. Depending on the size and stated mission of the institution, the role of DoS will include a range of responsibilities from teacher recruitment to quality control and even marketing.
But, if you’re just starting out on your TEFL journey, the Diploma is unlikely to be on your radar. There again, if you see yourself making a career in teaching English and you have a particular area of research in which you’d like to specialise then it’s worth giving this higher level qualification some serious thought.
In summary, the road to becoming a TEFL teacher generally starts with a short course or self-study course followed by some form of TEFL-i qualification such as the Trinity CertTESOL. For anyone looking to further their career in the profession, a diploma such as the Dip TESOL is paramount.
Whichever level of teacher you choose, the world of TEFL provides unparalleled opportunities to travel, meet new people and achieve a satisfying career in English language education.