So you want to be an English Teacher…Maybe you like the idea of getting paid to travel, perhaps you’re thirsty for foreign adventures, or possibly you’ve just lost a job and/or relationship and feel like getting the hell out. We all started somewhere. It can be an amazingly rewarding profession if you like it, and it can be thoroughly boring and downright stressful if you don’t. You’ll never get rich teaching English but you might see some amazing places and meet some incredible people along the way. I sure have. (Another added bonus is that you get to decorate your house with awesome pictures like the one above! )
So, you’ve done a google search and you found out that to be an English Teacher abroad you generally just need to be a native speaker of English with a college degree and a teaching certificate. Another google search for teaching certificates, and then, you started to get confused.
There are so many certificates!
TEFL, TESL, TESOL, CELTA. There is a maze of acronyms out there, and each company claims that their certificate is internationally recognized and sure to land you a job. So, which one should you choose as your embark on your career as an English Teacher? First, you need to think about what you want to get from your certificate, and where you want to teach.
Do you prefer the charms of Old World Europe?
Or would you rather experience the hustle and bustle of Asia for a while?
Also, you need to figure out how long you want to teach English for. Are you 100% sure you’ll only do it for a year? Two? Ten? Are you ok making low wages? Would you like to eventually further your education in the same field? Do you want to return to your home-country one day to work as an English teacher there? All of these are questions worth researching before you shell out your hard-earned money on a teaching certificate.
There are a lot of other points to think about, and they’ll vary according to your personal situation, but this is a very basic grouping of the three kinds of certificates available, and more importantly, what each will offer you.
1. Top Tier: Cambridge Celta / Trinity CertTESOL
If you want to land a solid job in Asia and/or the Middle East, there is CELTA, and there is Trinity, and then there are all the rest. I don’t say this because I work for Cambridge or for Trinity (though it wouldn’t be a bad career move one day!). I say it because I’ve seen the job offers on the market. I’ve been to the interviews and talked to the recruiters, and sympathized with friends who didn’t invest in the CELTA or Trinity and are stuck driving all over town to the many schools they have to work at to make ends meet.
These certificates will also be of value if you want to teach at language centers in Great Britain or Ireland, and some other English speaking countries. It’s trickier though if you’re from the U.S., like me, where a lot of schools require an MA in Tesol (My next step.)
While you’re abroad though, the Cambridge CELTA and the Trinity CertTESOL are the two major internationally-recognized certificates, and they have a complete monopoly on the business. Somehow, these two programs have convinced the world that they are the only really legit TEFL certificates. This means that lazy, inexperienced English teachers who have one are more likely to find a better job than hard-working experienced teachers who don’t. I know one guy who has been teaching for 6 years and recently lost his job at a great school because they decided to start hiring only Cambridge or Trinity teachers. Unfair, you say? Absolutely. You can fight it, you can hate it, but if you want to make money and have an easy-in at virtually any school in the world, you will accept it, and get one of these two certificates. Also, they’re hard. Which means you might actually learn how to teach, if you’re really paying attention.
Pricing depends on the country you take the course in, but don’t forget to factor in the cost of living. You might think that taking the course abroad is going to be expensive, but often the low cost of living cancels out the high cost of the flights! The cost of the program itself depends on the training center that’s offering it. They are inspected regularly by Cambridge or Trinity to ensure that they are running quality programs, but they’re given a lot of freedom as to cost, and quality can vary too.
By the way, the Celta and the Trinity are a one-month FULL TIME commitment. You will spend 10-12 hours a day studying up on grammar, planning lessons, and actually teaching real-life students (scary!) from the very first week. If you don’t have the time or energy to manage this for four weeks, don’t invest the money in it. Also, try your best to get a good grade, as this can affect your salary in a major way!
2. Mid range: Other Courses with Teaching Practice
If you decide that the Celta or Trinity are a bit above your price range, find a certificate that is accreditated by an outside body, and is at least 120 hours long. And don’t forget the substantial Teaching-Practice component! It should include at least 6 hours where you’re observed and assessed while teaching by a qualified tutor. A lot of universities in English-speaking countries offer these as part of their degree programs, and sometimes independently as well. There are also lots of private companies offering them. Just make sure that they include teaching practice, and be aware that some schools may not hire you because you don’t have the CELTA or Trinity stamp of approval. As for companies offering 120 hours but no teaching practice? It’ll be a a lot harder to find a good job, especially if you don’t have any classroom experience.
3. Not always worth your time: Online Certificates and Weekend Courses
Online certificates are the bottom of the totem pole as far as recruiters are concerned, and intensive weekend courses follow them closely. These kind of certificates are sometimes ok for teaching in Latin America if you’re fine with absolutely abysmal salary (more on that in a future post), and even sometimes in Europe when coupled with classroom experience, but if you want to work in Asia or the Middle East, they won’t cut it at any reputable school unless they somehow also have an Assessed Teaching Practice component. So, is it impossible to find a job with an online TEFL? Not as a rule, but you’ll have to be willing to put a lot more work into the job-hunt or have a massive amount of luck on your side, as well as deal with all the problems that come along with working under the table in any country. As with any job, experience can be key. So you might eventually find your way into better situations once you have a couple years of experience teaching to your name.
Every English Teacher has to make their own decision
If you only want to do this for a year, and you don’t mind low pay and less-than-ideal working conditions, I wouldn’t worry too much about this decision. You can go for any certificate. However, If your intentions are to stay in this profession a while, and try to work your way up, check with recruiters or the HR departments of large schools in the countries or cities that you want to teach in. They can give you an idea as to what kind of certificates would be accepted. If you have the money lying around though, go for the CELTA or Trinity and you won’t have to worry!
Heads up: Please keep in mind that when I say “English Teacher,” I’m talking about traveling abroad teaching people to use the English Language. Teaching language and literature in international schools is a very different complicated topic. Every country has its own requirements and you’ll have to look into them extensively if that’s what you’d like to do. Same goes for VISA requirements. Not all nationalities will be able to find work as an English Teacher in all countries.
Current Teachers: What kind of certificate did you get, and has it served you well?