So you’ve decided to take the plunge and sign up for a TEFL certification course to get you on your way to teaching English abroad! That’s great news, but if you’ve been shopping around for TEFL courses for even a little bit then you probably know that there are a ton of options and it’s not always clear what makes one course better than the next.
One element that may really stick out at you is the teaching practicum or in-class component that many TEFL certification courses offer. These practicums are often described as “essential” for any new teacher. A lot of course providers even make it sound like you won’t have much of a chance of ever landing an ESL job abroad if you don’t take their teaching practicum. Yet other TEFL courses that seem perfectly reputable don’t offer any of these supposedly “essential” teaching practicums!
So what’s going on? Is a teaching practicum really as necessary as a lot of TEFL certification courses make it out to be? Will employers not even give your job application a second look if you don’t have in-class experience?
Relax! Becoming qualified to teach English abroad is not as complicated – nor should it be as stressful – as a lot of information online makes it out to be. We’ll try to clear the air around TEFL courses with teaching practicums, including why you may or may not want to have one. But first, let’s get to the question that is probably foremost in your mind.
Do I really need a TEFL teaching practicum?
Luckily, the answer to this question is simple: No, you really don’t need it! Despite many TEFL certification courses marketing their teaching practicums as an essential offering, the truth is that having a teaching practicum is not considered a requirement for teaching English abroad.
In fact, schools overseas don’t recognize your teaching practicum as a stand in for real classroom experience. So if the TEFL certification course that you really want to take doesn’t have a teaching practicum component, don’t worry about it!
A ton of perfectly reputable and accredited TEFL certification courses don’t offer teaching practicums or in-class components. On the flipside, many reputable TEFL certification courses do offer teaching practicums. The decision about whether or not you take a course with a teaching practicum really comes down to your own personal preferences. It doesn’t necessarily reflect the quality of the course.
But is taking a TEFL course with a teaching practicum still a good idea?
Now that we’ve established there is no essential need for a teaching practicum, let’s take a look at a more subjective and complicated question: is a teaching practicum a nice thing to have anyway?
There are two sides to this question, but let’s start off first by looking at why you might want to sign up for a TEFL certification course that offers an in-class teaching component.
Why a TEFL teaching practicum is a good idea
There’s no better way of getting used to a classroom setting than actually standing in front a room of eager students and delivering your first lesson. Even if your employer isn’t impressed by your teaching practicum, you might find that having the actual classroom experience is invaluable towards helping you become a better teacher.
If you have never been in front of a classroom before, then a teaching practicum can help you get comfortable with the setting and help you get over any stagefright you may have. If you do have teaching experience in another subject, you’ll quickly find that teaching English requires unique classroom skills and troubleshooting.
Another nice thing about a teaching practicum is that it allows you to receive feedback from real ESL students, but without the pressure of actually being on the job. Your students can tell you what they like and don’t like about your teaching style and you can use that advice to improve your lessons once you actually have your own class. That’s definitely a lot nicer than finding out on the first day of your ESL job that some things you’re doing in class aren’t working for your students or your employer!
Why a TEFL teaching practicum may be a waste of time
Any teaching experience is good experience, but that doesn’t mean you have to get your experience through a teaching practicum. For one, a teaching practicum isn’t likely to resemble the classroom setting you’ll eventually end up teaching in. Your practicum, for example, may only consist of a private tutoring session with one student or your students may have a grasp of English that doesn’t match the fluency of the students you’ll ultimately be teaching.
Similarly, you may find that your teaching practicum students come from backgrounds that aren’t the same as the students you end up teaching overseas. Expectations about how a classroom should be run and how students should interact with teachers vary enormously from one country to the next. In most instances, your teaching practicum isn’t going to prepare you for the culture shock that comes with teaching in a foreign country.
On a practical level, a teaching practicum may not make sense for you either. If you’re doing an online TEFL certification course, for example, then scheduling the time for the practicum and commuting there may be unrealistic. Some practicums can last 20 hours, which isn’t a small time commitment if you already have a busy schedule.
Finally, while many TEFL certification courses claim that their teaching practicum is free, you may notice that these courses tend to cost a little bit more than courses that don’t offer a practicum or in-class component. Unless you have money to burn, paying that extra premium may not be practical – and it will only eat up more time that could be better spent finding your dream teaching English job overseas.
So the final word on teaching practicums is simple: they may provide great experience for you personally, but don’t feel pressured into joining a TEFL certification course only because it offers an in-class component. Remember, teaching English abroad should be a fun and rewarding experience, so don’t get stressed out about bells and whistles like teaching practicums that may not suit your expectations or budget.