Why I Decided to Get My TEFL Certificate

A year ago, I was looking into options for improving my chances of landing future jobs. Like most EFL jobs in South Korea, my contract is about a year long. Last August, I had several options. I could extend my current contract, begin working at a public school, or find another hagwon. That, or I could have gone to another country. Because of the various options I had, I began to wonder whether a TEFL certificate would be worth my time.

To Get a TEFL Certificate or Not?

For most people interested in teaching abroad after university, a TEFL certificate is the first step toward that future. For Danny and me, though, we already had teaching licenses. Furthermore, both of us had some type of English degree or minor. Getting a job abroad would be pretty easy for us. However, other countries outside of Asia are a little stricter, requiring some certificate like CELTA to teach English. While those same countries might let that requirement slide for highly qualified individuals, a TEFL certificate puts the cherry on top.

I already had a job. Even as I decided on getting a TEFL certification, I had already uprooted my life to live abroad in South Korea. Even so, I wanted a certificate that made my experience here more official or resume-oriented. I love grammar and teaching. That said, my English education degree prepared me for an American classroom, but that’s not the same as teaching in Korea. Plus, I know plenty of teachers who know little about proper grammar. Either way, linguistics and grammar are a part of my job. But what about someone from a business background? What is that person to do if she wants to teach abroad? Their best bet to get the required skill-set is a certificate. This then obviously leads to the next question of…

Which Certificate Should I Get?

I began looking for the right TEFL certificate. If I was going to pay money for this, I wanted to invest in something that would actually improve me as an educator. Furthermore, if you dive into the deep waters of available certificates, everything gets murky pretty fast; everyone and their mother is offering their own “specially accredited” TEFL certificate. Who are you to trust if one company is selling theirs for $200 yet another is selling theirs for $2000? Moreover, you can get a 50-hour, 100-hour, 150-hour, or 200-hour TEFL certificate. Some of them are in-person while others are online. For the most expensive, you can travel to Spain, Prague, or any number of locations to complete it. And what’s the difference between TEFL, TESL, TESOL — or even CELTA? All this can result in a headache for even the most resolute learner.

Introduction: The Acronyms

So which do you choose? Below, I’ll spell out some of the differences in acronyms and programs so you can make the best decision. First, let me begin with the acronyms:

  1. TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language): If you are looking to teach immigrants who cannot speak English inside of a country whose native language is English, TESL is what you’re interested in. (AKA, Michael teaches English to new arrivals to America at a local community center.)
  2. TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language): If you are instead looking to go abroad and teach English to foreigners in a country whose native language is not English, TEFL is what you want. (AKA, Michael moves to Thailand to begin teaching natives how to speak English.)
  3. TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages): This acronym covers both of the prior two; whether it is the learner’s second language or their ninth, TESOL aims to teach those who want to learn English inside a natively English country or otherwise.
  4. CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults): A proper analogy for CELTA would be to compare it to a Band-Aid. Band-Aid is the brand most people think of when they think of adhesive bandages. And so, CELTA is the brand of TEFL certificate many consider most reliable. It is administered by Cambridge in the UK. It is also well-liked for its consistency across programs. With a CELTA, you know what to expect. Consequently, this also means that other TEFL certificates can be much worse or even much better than the CELTA. Ofqual, the “exam watchdog” in England, ranks CELTA at Level 5 on the QCF. More about this later. Overall, CELTA is safe but expensive with the average cost being $2600.

Note This Caveat About TEFL Certificates

Through my research, I learned one thing. There is no overarching accrediting body that controls any or all standards for these programs internationally. Different accrediting institutions lend their support to different programs, often with those of the UK having the most gravity since the UK has been the de facto leader of English education abroad since its early imperialism.

Due to different standards, the reputation of a TEFL certificate’s program or of its parent company is paramount. When looking at various institutions, ask whether or not independent sources accredit the certificate. Does it find its accreditation from a company that owns it? How many sources give it credit? Are they themselves reputable or well-known governing or educational bodies (such as Ofqual or ACCET)? And what’s their program’s track record? You should find out whether or not the course is taught by someone with a master’s degree, too. If it isn’t, then it probably isn’t a professional TEFL certificate being offered to you.

Here’s the Bottom Line

In the end, some schools just want their teacher to have a TEFL certificate whereas pickier schools in Europe want their teachers to have 120-hour TEFL certificates with a practicum component. That practicum, where you actually work with EFL/ESL students in a classroom setting for about 20 hours, is what really sets a TEFL certification apart.

For me, picking a certificate that had these characteristics just further underlined my qualifications. Back home, though the certificate won’t be the equal of a university certificate, it will still give me advantages. In the end, this TEFL certificate was mostly about my own professional development. As I continued to teach, I wanted to make sure I was refreshing my knowledge. I wanted to be the best teacher for my students. You can’t take the job lightly when you are teaching these people a skill that will influence their livelihoods. So? After all my research, what TEFL certification company did I decide on?

My Top Recommendation for a TEFL Certificate Is International TEFL Academy

Are you looking for a great company with quality training? Look no further than International TEFL Academy based in Chicago, IL. With an expansive website, International TEFL Academy provides ample information about its own program and how it rates. But it also provides useful and convenient guides for deciding what certificate you would like, what country you might want to teach in, and how to begin teaching once you find a job.

Their 11-week online program, what I opted for, is a 170-hour TEFL certificate course (including a free and optional 30-hour attachment at its end focused on teaching business English or young learners) with a required 20-hour teaching practicum. Since I was already in a classroom, they allowed those hours to count towards the requirement. Moreover, they are accredited by TQUK, a body overseen by Ofqual, the premier oversight body of TEFL in the UK. In fact, their TEFL certificate course ranks at Level 5 on the QCF rating, similarly to the CELTA.

With a preparatory program of that quality and testimonials to boot, you know their students are ready for the rigors of teaching abroad.

What Was the TEFL Certificate Class Actually Like?

Before coming to Korea, I took a small ESL course to remind myself of some of its contents and for professional development. Let me restate that this course was for teachers in the US to keep up their professional knowledge! It was mostly a joke, a class I could read up on once a week, do absolutely nothing, take a few quizzes, and pass.

If you’ve taken any online class, you might believe that they’re all push-overs. Don’t come into this course with the same mindset. I was incredibly happy to find that my money wasn’t wasted when I logged in to see how much work was truly required of me.

Along with a weekly chapter reading and quiz, you are expected to answer a prompt by the professor on a message board. This initial assignment helps you turn the gears and actually think about what you read. Furthermore, it can potentially connect you to your classmates who are all posting as well. If you were afraid you’d be learning in a vacuum with no other classmates, then fear not.

Additionally, you must complete a longer essay assignment that forces you to draw on evidence from the reading and elsewhere. Brush up on that APA! These essays range from philosophical discussions to in-class activities, and the final project requires you to create a three-day thematic unit. As a teacher who went through a university program, I can attest that this mirrors what I did to teach in the US. You can be certain that International TEFL Academy makes you sweat for that TEFL certificate. So here’s the real question: Do you want to actually learn something from the program? International TEFL Academy is right for you, if so.

But What’s the Price of International TEFL Academy?

Its TEFL certificate has a price tag ranging from $1395 to $2700 (depending on if you choose a destination or online course), but that price comes with a lifetime commitment to helping their graduates find placement. Additionally, they often have deals on that price point, making it even more affordable.

Are you sure you want to teach but uncertain about your specific goals? Rest easy. Before you sign up for the course, you set up a Skype appointment with an adviser who will help answer any and all questions you may have. Even for me, they helped provide good assistance, letting me bounce different concerns or ideas back and forth. The wealth of information on their website only puts the cherry on top. That’s why I chose International TEFL Academy in Chicago as my TEFL certificate course provider.

Don’t Put Your Future on the Back-Burner

Whatever you do, choose the option that is best for you. Soon after I completed my certificate, my school recruited me to write, pilot, and revise a new curriculum for all their branches throughout South Korea. We’ve now completed two textbooks with four to go! Though I am not teaching full-time any longer, my TEFL certificate has been nothing but invaluable.

Likewise, don’t be afraid to take the plunge! Teaching English as a foreign language can be a great way to get immediate job experience outside of university. Plus, you can get real-life experience by working with children and adults, travel the world for free while making money, gain great international friends, and experience cultures you would have never dreamed about.

You can always find a regular 9 to 5 job. Do you ultimately want something to help you stand out from the crowd on your resume and CV? Do you want a richer life with no regrets? I say to you: Get out there and teach.

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