- Is a TEFL certificate worth it? (Absolutely, would you bake bread for the first time without a recipe? I certainly hope not.)
- Will a TEFL certificate help me get a better job? (it won’t get you a worse one, that’s for sure!)
- Should I take a TEFL course before I move abroad? (why wouldn’t you?)
Obviously, our answer to all these questions is… Go forth and TEFL! 🤷 But we can do better than that. Most graduates hoping to teach English abroad aren’t really sure what skills a TEFL certificate will give them.
It’s a requirement, sure, but it has very little to do with the image in your head of a classroom full of attentive students chanting English phrases. It has even less to do with the travel photos and #teachabroad tales that have inspired your decision.
Another thing you might have noticed, during your travels through Google, is that there are several ways (or several hundred 🤨) to get a TEFL certificate. We’re going to simplify things by breaking them down into two options:
- Getting a TEFL certificate abroad either online or in-class.
- Traveling to a country where you will study TEFL and then be placed in a local school.
The second option can seem more attractive, your start-up costs are covered and you’re guaranteed a job, but it limits you right from the outset. I’ve pulled together the key reasons why TEFL is your passport to teaching abroad and why getting it before you move abroad is the smarter option…
1. You can bail…
Not what you were expecting, eh? But let’s be real, not everyone was born to teach abroad. TEFL offers a valuable window into what will be expected of you. A good course will cover everything from cultural considerations to the aches and pains of lesson planning.
Teaching abroad without a TEFL, or getting a TEFL abroad as part of a teaching package, might mean you’re signed into a contract with no idea of how much work is actually involved. Trust us, those students won’t just wake up spouting English, you’re actually going to have to teach.
It will be much more complicated to abort mission-teach-abroad if you’re signed into a contract. If you do the cost will most likely be in the thousands, as flights, set-up costs, and escape money will all fall to you.
It’s wise to dip your toes in the water with TEFL first. Having realistic expectations, a clear understanding of ESL teaching and an idea of the expectations of international schools – gives you the option to say: this is not for me.
2. You’ll stand out in the application process…
Not only does the certificate give your resume a little extra oomph! But getting TEFL certified before you teach abroad means you have put a massive tick beside one of the major requirements for most good schools. Many of the countries that are popular with ESL teachers only interview candidates with a TEFL certificate on their CV.
3. It’s easier to secure a job & cut start-up costs
Many of the countries that recruit ESL teachers from abroad will expect a TEFL certificate and interview teachers over Skype. The benefit of this is that you can secure a job at home before taking the plunge.
This removes some of the anxieties of moving abroad and means you’ll have help going through the process of visa applications, finding housing and just generally finding your feet when you first land. Imagine sorting all that out and not even landing a job at the end of the day.
4. It’s a handy back-up plan for digital nomads!
Maybe you’re just a globe-trotter that wants to travel the world and take the jobs and days as they come. If that’s the case, you won’t regret a TEFL certificate. It’s a handy qualification to have in your back pocket when the waitressing jobs run thin. If you’re traveling any part of the world where English is not the first language, you can almost guarantee there will be someone willing to pay for your services.
5. You can keep those options open.
TEFL is something you can do online and in your own time. It’s a passport to almost every country in the world. It allows you to be patient and selective about applying for teaching jobs abroad and gives you access to more countries than if you were simply an English speaker with the travel bug.
6. You won’t just know how to say it. You’ll know why you say it.
Speaking English is not enough – teaching it is an entirely different affair and you need to know your tenses, gerunds, imperatives and all the bits and bobs in between. That’s right. TEFL helps you take a long hard look at your grammar 😫.
If you try to wing it (*shudder*), chances are you’ll end up unable to explain the most basic rules to your poor students. And no, because I said so, is not a valid response to any grammar question.
7. The gift of classroom management, is the gift that keeps on giving…🎁
There’s nothing worse than a class gone wild. The most angelic of students can become hell-demons in the right setting (I cannot unsee some of the things I’ve seen!)
A TEFL certificate arms you with the tools you need to get students that have literally no clue what you’re saying to behave. The teach abroad life will put grey hairs on the calmest of heads if you haven’t been trained to take control of a classroom.
And it’s not just misbehaving students, things like balancing different ability levels, making sure activities run smoothly, points systems, and how to make sure everyone is getting a chance to speak can all make or break a class dynamic.
Waltzing into a room of low-level English students and expecting them to behave is preparing yourself for a failure of epic proportions. What would happen if someone spoke at you for an hour in a foreign language and expected you to understand?
8.You’ll gain respect for your future students and yourself.
We can all remember the incompetent teachers that plagued our childhood. Chances are they didn’t last long or taught so badly that all you can really remember is the day they ended up stress-crying or losing their tempers because things had been out of control for too long 😭. Don’t be that teacher. Especially in a foreign country where your support network is the school you’re teaching at.
Respect yourself enough to go into the classroom ready for anything the students throw at you. And respect your students enough to have learned how to teach them. Be the teacher that knows how to play games, get them talking and makes them want to learn English. There is nothing more gratifying than seeing English click into place and hear a quiet student burst out with a full sentence, but to get there, you need to know what you’re doing.
One of the big takeaways from TEFL is how to make teaching English fun. I know from my own experience that you will never forget the classes that actually enjoy the work. But getting them to where they enjoy the work isn’t as easy as just being a chill person. You need a lot more than a disposition for being calm and collected.
If nothing else, TEFL provides you with game ideas, lesson plans, group activities, and techniques to make learning English fun for everyone involved (including you!🤩)
9. You’ll discover the art of lesson-planning.
This might seem obvious, but there are plenty of ESL teachers that attempt to teach without a plan. It’s cringe-worthy. They march in, throw together some games and bumble through, barely scraping by.
These sorts of classes are uninspiring, embarrassing (for everyone) and set the tone for mayhem. It’s impossible to keep students awake for 40-50 minutes if you haven’t put time and energy into what they might be doing for that time.
Most activities for an ESL class will take about ten minutes tops (changing activities and keeping students interested is hugely important to the smooth running of a class). TEFL is 90% lesson planning: what works, what doesn’t and why we teach ESL the way we do.