Before the course
Decide which TEFL Certificate to take
The CELTA and the Trinity Cert TESOL are two of the more well-known courses. Both come out of British universities, and you can take them in different locations throughout the world. There are a number of providers of TEFL certificates which also include the minimum 100 hours of instruction and 6 of teaching practice to be considered internationally recognized.
Online courses are another option, including free ones. Keep in mind that if a job really requires a TEFL certificate, an online course is unlikely to meet that.
Preparing for the course
One of the biggest concerns I hear from interested TEFLers is “How hard is it to deal with grammar in the TEFL course and when you start teaching?” A lot of native English speakers have never studied the grammar of their own language.
As usual, the answer depends on you and where you teach. From what I’ve heard, Europe (where I’ve taught) is on more demanding end of the spectrum as far as how much knowledge of grammar students expect their native speaker teacher … and it’s not that bad.
The idea of native speaker teachers is based heavily on the idea they will get students to practice speaking and their mere presence as “non-speakers” of the students’ language will force students to communicate in English. However you want to refer to them, most modern methodologies focus more on using the language and students being guided through small chunks of grammar at once, rather than the teacher lecturing.
Teaching grammar will probably not be a main focus, and when it is, it’s common that you have a book to follow. In my experience in three countries, how much explicit attention on grammar there is also depends on the students.
Also see the CELTA and grammar and some resources to figure out grammar before your course.
During the course
Work hard and take no prisoners! Some CELTA survival tips (also applicable to other TEFL courses).
What’s the content like?
To see what several TEFL trainees around the world had to say about their courses – and their tips for all different courses – check out TEFL course diaries at ESL Base.
What’s an average day like?
I did a full-time course, and shared a flat with another US trainee about a thirty-minute walk from the school. We’d usually both been up late getting ready for our teaching the next day, so instead of taking advantage of the downhill walk to the school, we jumped on a bus to get there more quickly.
The teaching practice was always in the morning, so right when we arrived the students were arriving too. The day probably started at 9. Sometimes there was a little rushing around making copies, but mostly we’d done that in our overzealous preparation then day before. We’d also been advised that that was when the real teachers rushed around making copies, so we should try not to get in their way.
After the teaching practice, there was a feedback session, where we would comment on each other’s teaching or ask questions. Usually the trainer gave his or her input after all the others, though there was still more discussion so it wasn’t necessarily last or “final”.
Then there was lunch on our own.
A typical afternoon might have some kind of input, where the trainers did a demo lesson or led us in a discussion about some technique, or maybe some observations of real classes. Some days we met to decide who would teach what when. I think there was some time alotted to preparing for your teaching practice (and writing out the extensive lesson plans) but there was definitely work to be done on your own time t$oo.
The day ended at 4:30 or 5, and I really only occasionally went out with classmates. Of course my roommate and I had each other to chat with, but aside from figuring out grocery stores and cooking a few meals…we mostly spent our time working. Well, okay, we as a group probably managed three or four nights out over the month, and at least two of the weekends, but still less that I would have expected.
What is the teaching practice like?
In my course we jokingly referred to the students as “guinea pigs”. The training center – which was also a language school – advertised the classes (as what they were, classes of teacher trainees) in order to recruit students who paid next to nothing to be there. There were two trainers and twelve trainees, split between two groups of six. We took turns teaching both a pre-intermediate and an upper-intermediate group. My palms were sweating on the first day – and we did actually start working with students right away – but we started out with small increments and built up to an hour or so.
For an excellent series of videos courtesy of Guy Courchesne, check out his YouTube TEFL Trainee Videos. I trained in another program on the other side of the world, but this is still similar to mine (though I don’t think I was as good as the trainees in his videos).
What is the feedback like in a CELTA?
After the course
Where do you really need it?
As I don’t have superhuman ability to find and skim work permit information for one hundred sixty-some countries in the world, here is an informed overview. Please do not rely solely on a blog that is part of a travel website for definitive legal information or to make major life decisions.
Europe: very often jobs require a TEFL certificate, and it may be necessary to get a work permit, or just to be competitive with other jobseekers who have a certificate and/or experience.
Asia: in some of the biggest EFL markets – Korea and Japan – it is not required for a work permit and, it seems, frequently not requested. It may be becoming a more common requirement in China, but you also hear that there is unofficial leeway with official requirements.
Latin America: Guy Courcesne from Mexico reported here that a college degree is often the “most necessary” qualification, then experience followed closely by a certificate. If you’re a newbie (this is m talking now), a certificate and no experience is better than no certificate and no experience.
Middle East: Aside from Turkey and Egypt, it’s quite common for a Master’s Degree and experience to be required. A TEFL course may not be enough for much of the middle east.
Africa: I don’t have a lot of information, but I suspect it depends on the working context. Africa does not have an abundance of paid EFL work; much of what I hear about is in a volunteer capacity and/or with primary or secondary school students. It’s hard to set rigorous requirements with informal volunteers, and a TEFL certificate – as useful as it may be compared to nothing – does not really prepare you to teach children in a traditional school setting. The Peace Corps provides EFL training on its own, and VSO, for example, recruits teachers who already have experience.
What should I tell students about my training?
It may feel awkward to tell your students you have only a month of training. The fact is – you have a lifetime of training in the language as well. Most often your role is to get them to speak and use the language, and this does not require a grammarholic. There’s something to be said for a school that makes available information on its teachers and their qualifications, so the teacher doesn’t feel put on the spot in the classroom to “defend” the qualification they were hired with.