Is A TEFL Certificate Worth It?

by Roger on November 20, 2007

by Roger | November 20th, 2007  

Is a TEFL certificate worth its weight in gold…or maybe scrap metal?

Pain in Spain’s posts on whether getting a TEFL certificate pays off in the long run are well worth a read. Pain in Spain (sorry, Pain in Spain, no idea of your gender, so for now, you’re “he”) has a TEFL certificate himself and gives reasons for his views – he doesn’t just dismiss all TEFL training with a wave of the hand because the questions on the entrance exam are “stupid” or something.

Read the post for the examples and line of reasoning. I agree that it makes sense to consider where you want to work; there are many jobs in Asia (and some in other places) which don’t require a TEFL certificate and are structured in a way which would probably not allow you to capitalize on what you gain in a course anyway. While I would really not want to teach a class with next to no training, I will concede that there are positions in which a TEFL certificate would not help you get or do better in.

I can’t say I disagree exactly with the examples he uses, because I trust that they are accurate for Spain. But…

…while there may be certificate-less teachers in Spain who are paid a little less than those who have a certificate, I don’t think Spain’s situation is a typical one worldwide. I think in most countries either you need a certificate or you don’t, and it’s not a matter of a few euros difference in pay. If it’s required and you don’t have one, you won’t be able to get legal work; I also do not feel confident that in countries with no requirement, you will get paid more if you have a TEFL certificate. I could be wrong on this last point.

It’s my hunch that a school which will employ you without a certificate when it is the norm to have one, and quite possibly employ you illegally, will be a sketchier school. You may not be “less” a few euros per hour, but you are in a worse situation. It’s hard to quantify this as it doesn’t come down to pay per hour, but in short I’d say you run the risk of being exploited or of having your hours/income reduced without notice. If a school is willing to bend on following employment regulations, it may be cutting corners elsewhere too, with results for you in the working environment. Granted – cynics or realists might say this can happen in legal work too!

Overall though, there are many things which contribute to what you “make” from an experience, and it really doesn’t all boil down to finances. If it did the wise decision would always be to go to Korea. [I don’t mean to say that everyone in Korea is there for the money or isn’t qualified – certainly there are many highly qualified teachers. I just mean that on a strict investment/return level, with savings you can use at home in mind, Korea will usually take first place.] And in most countries, preparing yourself for a job you’ll do for at least a year with a good $1500-2000 course is not that big of a financial commitment for most native English speakers hailing from English-speaking countries.

But even though I don’t agree in the end with Pain in Spain, I do like that implicit in the posts is something I think should be acknowledged: getting a certificate is a practical and/or pragmatic choice, not a moral one, and there is nothing wrong with that. Sure, there is the element of doing what you can to prepare yourself for your students, and this shouldn’t be ignored. In the end though – I think even the pragmatic and practical arguments fall on the side of taking a course.

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