A 4-8 week TEFL course is the only training that many English language teachers receive before accepting their first job overseas. What do such courses offer? Are they necessary? What other options exist for those who recognize the need for some preparation but have limited time and/or money?
I did one of these six week TEFL courses before I started teaching in Thailand. Looking back, the real information that I absorbed could have been picked up in three weeks of serious self-study on the internet and at the local library. However, this is an easy claim to make after the fact. Would I have known what to look for? Probably not.
Regardless, the basic things you will be taught include:
A brief history of language teaching and the methods and approaches that have come and gone in the past.
A focus on the “communicative approach” that is used almost universally in language teaching at the moment.
A simple but effective classroom methodology known as the “3 Ps” (present, practice, produce), sometimes labeled differently depending on the course provider.
How and when to implement pair activities, group activities and various classroom games.
The basics of classroom management.
How to make a lesson plan
You will prepare your own lesson plans, teach to an actual class of learners and be observed by one of the course instructors. Essentially, that is what you will get for your 1000 dollars. But is it worth it?
The Cynical View
In recent years more than a few people have discovered how lucrative the TEFL certificate racket is. 30 individuals rammed into a room, each of whom has paid approximately one thousand dollars for the privilege of hearing someone expound on how to play simplistic English language games with children. Every six weeks usher in a new herd of dupes.
Why do so many people feel it is necessary to take a teacher training course?
Fear is the biggest reason. Never having stood at the front of a classroom before, most of these neophytes believe that this six-week induction will set them on the way to being successful teachers.
Those offering the training play on this fear incessantly, flooding discussion boards with tales of the importance of such instruction. They hint at the dire consequences that will result if you dare to take on a teaching job without having first been anointed by one of their gurus.
This is an ideal business for anyone with a shred of ambition and potentially few scruples. It is completely unregulated, there is little overhead and there is a constant flow of eager western refugees ready to shell out the money. Best of all for those who offer instruction is the fact that such a certificate does apparently hold weight with many who are in a position to hire in the TEFL world.
Undoubtedly, many people swear by the fact that their money was well spent and the information they gained has helped them become the teachers they are today.
My guess is that they want to feel validated in their decision. Teaching is an acquired skill/art/science…whatever you want to call it. Those who do it for a long period of time necessarily rightly want to feel a sense of self-worth and pride.
But there is an attempt by many to attach greater significance than necessary to the skills needed to succeed. In doing so they increase their own sense of importance. Those offering these courses play up this myth of hard to define skills simply because they want your money.
Once you begin listening to the supposed wisdom, it often feels like the ostensible goal is to help prospective teachers learn how to eat up huge wads of classroom time and in the process hopefully instill their students with improved language skills. And the same general principle applies in the TEFL course itself…by demonstrating such activities much of the instruction time is pissed away.
A Positive Take on TEFL Training Courses
Most people recognize the limitations that are inherent in such classes. Four weeks is nothing more than an introduction that gives a person a glimpse of the major areas that they will need to learn more about if they are serious about teaching for the long term. But it is still a valuable primer presented to you by those who (hopefully) have many years of experience in the field. They can answer your questions and distill the vast amount of preparation a teacher needs into the bare minimum required to get started.
It also allows those with limited time the opportunity to instantly get their feet wet. It would be great if everyone who decided to be an EFL teacher made their decision years in advance and meticulously prepared for their first job. It rarely works that way. Many people get involved due to circumstance: lost jobs, vacations to a foreign country that convinced them to move there, long distance romances, and numerous other reasons. Signing up for TEFL training requires little advance planning or early registration.
Another positive aspect is the bringing together of like-minded people in the same situation. The support group mentality that develops amongst classmates shouldn't be undervalued. Many friends and family members may criticize or outright oppose your plans. The people you get to know throughout the duration of your instruction can provide a great deal of positive reinforcement. Also, the connections you make could provide you with valuable information regarding the country you are heading to or give you a lead on various jobs.
An additional important fact when considering enrollment is that many schools do see TEFL certificates a positive sign and it may be the deciding factor when there are a number of candidates for a job opening. Will the lack of a certificate disqualify you from being hired? Not necessarily, but in certain markets inexperience and the absence of a certificate will definitely make you less marketable as a teacher.
The teaching practice that is provided by most course providers (if the one you are looking at doesn't offer this, give it a miss) is probably the most valuable thing you will gain.
If you have planned well in advance, an alternative to this would be to contact organizations in your area that offer free or inexpensive ESL lessons to recently arrived immigrants and volunteer to do some teaching. Together with some intensive self-study, you could probably gain as much or more as any course offers. Of course, you wouldn't have a certificate to show to prospective employers.
These observations are based on the TEFL training that I completed as well as countless first person accounts from friends and colleagues. But not all courses are created equal. Do as much research as possible on both the training centre and the individual who will be teaching you. If possible, contact better business bureaus, government funded school watchdog organizations and former students.
I recommend that people looking to teach overseas sign up for some kind of training beforehand. The fee for most courses is running at about one to two thousand dollars. For the length of time involved, that really isn't too expensive.
However, after you have finished your studies and have secured your first job, you will quickly realize how much you still have to learn.