Teaching English as a profession used to be a secret that travellers and expats kept to themselves. TEFL certifications were extra fluff; in a pinch, you could buy one on Khao San Road in Bangkok. But times have changed. ESL instruction has become a well-coordinated global industry with continually rising standards. A TEFL certification is now a firmly entrenched requirement and TEFL programmes have greatly expanded the scope of their business. The most successful programmes offer education, career counselling and travel/cultural immersion services.
Competition among TEFL programmes is stiff. Which is great news for you. The jokers and scammers are getting phased out. Finding a top-tier programme won’t be a problem. But this is a major step in your life. It is not just about finding the best programme. It is about finding the best programme for you.
In order to do that, you need to have at least a vague idea of where you want this wild ride to take you.
What are your long-term TEFL goals?
Every TEFL story is different. Right now, a stay at home mom is researching TEFL programmes because she wants to earn extra money teaching English online. A thirty-four-year-old man with a degree in Linguistics (who somehow ended up working in sales) is researching TEFL programmes because he has a five-year plan to refocus his life. And a recent university graduate with a minor in Japanese studies is researching TEFL programmes because she plans to live in Japan for the foreseeable future. Each of these people has very different long-term goals. For the stay at home mom, a 120-hour Advanced TEFL Course is probably sufficient. The guy with a degree in linguistics may want to pursue more challenging jobs in which case he should consider supplementing his TEFL Certification with an IELTS and/or TOEIC course. And the girl who is just itching to get to Japan should consider taking an onsite TEFL course in the Japanese city of her choosing.
A good TEFL programme with professional representatives will listen to your story and give you the best possible advice. That is their job. But you have to help them. Have answers ready for the big questions: Why are you doing this? Where do you want to teach? Is this a year of your life or an open-ended thing? The answers will impact your TEFL Programme choice more than you realize.
Once you’ve got yourself sorted out, you can get down to the details.
Online vs. Onsite TEFL Programmes
Let’s get this out of the way: onsite (in country) TEFL programmes ARE NOT more respected than online TEFL programmes. In the eyes of ESL employers, they are one and the same. The best a good TEFL programme can do is give ESL teachers the framework they need to succeed. They can’t churn out perfectly polished educators. Polish comes from experience. There are no shortcuts. Think of it like getting a driving license. You take classes, study, memorize the rules, then go for a short drive with an instructor. You’re a driver! You’ve got a license that says so! Does that make you a good driver? No. That makes you just proficient enough not to do damage. Most experienced TEFL teachers will tell you that they didn’t hit their stride until three or four years in. Again, polish takes time.
Online and onsite TEFL courses cover the same material and techniques. Stretching that material out over thirty days does not improve quality of education, it simply limits the pace in which you learn. There are of course benefits to studying where you are planning to live, but those benefits are about integration, not education.
Research, Research, Research
No matter which direction you decide to go, make sure you thoroughly research your options. Here are a few things to consider:
- How experienced are they?
- How comprehensive are their programmes?
- What kind of continuing TEFL education do they offer?
- How responsive are they?
- Cost vs. services provided?
A Few Words About Cost
Again there is a lot of industry competition. The better TEFL programmes are going charge more or less the same amount. Certainly, nothing that would be worth tipping the balance. If you find a programme that is 30% cheaper it is probably 100% a scam. If you choose an onsite programme that charges nearly 1000 euro for thirty days room and board in a country where the average traveller spends less than 15 euro a day, you are paying naivety tax.
Crowd Source with Caution
Read through the TEFL forums to see what recent graduates have to say. Just remember; trust the consensus but never a single review. And don’t be afraid to ask TEFL programmes to provide you with references. It is something they should do with pride.
Networking and Career Counseling
If you’re undecided go with the TEFL programme that offers the best career counselling services. Guaranteed job placement! is the most overused sales gimmick in TEFL-land. Finding a job is easy. You don’t want a job, you want the job, the dream, the reason you went TEFL researching in the first place. A good TEFL programme will take the extra steps to help you find that job.
At the end of the day, TEFL programmes need you, not the other way around. Be tough. Tell them your ESL goals and let them fight it out. May the best TEFL programme win.