Also known as TESOL courses. And TESL courses. And TEFOL courses (by dumb people). And a bunch of brand names, like Trinity Certification and the CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults, which can be followed by the DELTA Diploma in…). And run by just about anyone with a free space and a desire to make money.
I took my TEFL course in November and December 2004. It fit with my academic schedule (I’d graduated from university a year early by taking summer classes until August, and I wanted to hang around until my graduation ceremony, which was held in mid-November) and I’d hoped it might align with two other things: teachers going home for Christmas and not coming back, thus leaving their schools in a pinch, and companies deciding to start the new calendar year with new classes for their employees.
At the time I did my TEFL course I had never been abroad alone, and didn’t have much travel experience (my family had been to Europe once, and I’d done long weekend parties in hotels with my friends, but that was it). I picked Barcelona, as it seemed like an exciting, big city, and found a school that seemed pretty legit, was within my price range, and offered a homestay program. The next thing I knew I was wiring them thousands of euros, packing my bags and flying halfway around the world.
So what should you know about a TEFL course?
- It’s a business. It’s for profit. They’re making money off you. Remember that.
- I would recommend taking the course in a city you would like to teach in, as it may make it easier to find a job, but please, please, please be flexible and be prepared to have to go elsewhere to find work. Arrive with enough money to see you through the course and then at least enough money for three months of job hunting. Hopefully you’ll find a job right away. But even if you’re Super Teacher, you might not. So be prepared.
- Your enjoyment of the course will depend a lot on the other students. Seek out people who are adventurous and will want to explore the city with you. If you’ll be team-teaching lessons together, avoid the know-it-all former high school teacher (even if they’re more qualified than your actual instructors!) and look for someone else who is fun, organized and open to trying new things. Don’t let the super-irritating people stress you out; it’s only a four-week program!
- The people teaching your course are probably not certified teachers, and probably only have a four-week certificate, some work experience, and another two or three month “diploma” that they also received from a for-profit institution. They are not experts in pedagogy. Listen to what they have to say… just so that you can pass the class.
- Your teachers will do stupid stuff. Mine clearly played favorites. They also got drunk and made inappropriate sexual comments about some of the other trainees. And their attitude was less than scholarly: I once handed in an assignment on the published due date and was scolded for submitting it too early. I pointed to the printed calendar on the wall, with the due date written right on it. They said that no students had ever submitted that assignment on time and I should have known better as we hadn’t fully covered the material. I let it get to me. I shouldn’t have. Just do as you’re told, get your certificate and forget about them. I guarantee that today I out-earn and out-travel the men who taught my course.
- Don’t buy the textbooks at a ridiculously inflated price in your home country and lug them halfway across the world. I would say don’t buy them at all, but if you really want to have them I’m sure someone who took the course the month before you will be happy to sell them to you. Look for unfamiliar people looking around the school’s job postings boards- they’re probably unemployed recent grads who will do anything for some extra cash!
- Your practice students may become your greatest allies. They’re at school getting free language lessons, and they love it. Invite one or two of the friendliest students out for coffee after class (if they don’t invite you first!) and get the scoop on the local housing market. They probably won’t have leads on jobs, but as locals they’ll know everything else!
- You’re a customer. If they say class starts at 8:00 and ends at 4:00, class should start at 8:00 and end at 4:00. If you pay a two-hundred euro supplement for a non-smoking homestay, your host shouldn’t smoke (neither should you, of course!).
- If the school has a job guarantee, they’re crap. However, a good school will provide some job support (it’s part of what you pay for!), and any school worth its tuition will have the kind of good reputation that inspires local language schools to contact them with job postings.
- You will learn more in your first fifteen minutes in a real classroom than your entire four-week TEFL course. That’s okay! Take a deep breath, smile and dive in. It will get easier! And you will get better!
For more information about teaching abroad, I recommend the great resources on Dave’s ESL Cafe.