The rise of the online TEFL has provided a cost-effective winner to the many gap-year students wanting to teach as a means to travel, without a costly investment in training. But just how legitimate are these cheap TEFLs?
The traditional route to teaching TEFL effectively is the 120-hour in-class TEFL course, offered by CELTA, TEFL International and others. Usually they cost $1,500 or more, before you’ve even paid for board. On the other hand some websites seem to be offering TEFL courses for as little as $199. So what’s the catch?
Well, you can get away with an online TEFL, you can even buy yourself a certificate on Bangkok’s famous Khao San Road for $20, both will land you a job. In fact some recruiters will hire anyone if they look pretty. But the good jobs in Japan, or decent jobs that have reasonable hours, go to the properly trained TEFL students. The recruiters aren’t stupid, if they resesarch your certificate an discover it cost you less than a budget flight, they generally won’t take you seriously.
Here’s what a few recruiters in Thailand had to say about hiring TEFL trainees fresh from an online course:
“If I see a CV mentioning a cheap TEFL certificate, I usually bin it. If the individual isn’t serious enough to invest in some serious training, they have no place in our organisation” – Mark Hughes, Sarasas Group of Schools
“I don’t mind what TEFL training they have received, it’s down to how well they perform in a teaching trial, usually those who have had the benefit of practicums seem confident, those who’ve never stepped into a classroom before tend to busk it and it shows” – Jeremy Holdsworthy, Sriwittaya College, Head of English
“We don’t generally advertise our newbie jobs, we go straight to selected local TEFL trainers because we trust their grads based on prior experience” – Melissa Sanchez, London House School
Is it worth it?
That TEFL course you are considering might impress you with all sorts of accreditations and affiliations, but there is one simple benchmark to determine a good TEFL: the teaching practicum. Put it this way, you can’t learn to be a nurse or a bus driver online, neither can you be sufficiently trained as a teacher. It requires face time with trainers and experience in front of kids. It is for this reason that many of the TEFL courses are run in developing countries that have access to co-operative schools which let trainees undertake observed practicums.
Some Online TEFLs cheat a bit by including a weekend face-time module where you get to practice on each other, which doesn’t quite suffice. Sure, it’s realistic to be cost-effective by conducting the theory online, in your own time from the comfort of your own home, but you still need the experience. A CELTA demands a mandatory 6 practicums for example.
When it comes down to it, your interviewer will likely ask you to do a teaching trial and if you’ve had no tutored training at the blackboard, with a lesson plan and some confidence, you’re likely to fall apart and not get hired. Recruiters have seen it all, and usually see through the bluffing and enthusiasm.
Online TEFLs do have their merits. They act as a good foundation, or a cheap compromise if you are going for a volunteering job or low-paid internship that enables you to gain experience. It’s also a good idea for those who have previously done some teaching. But if you’re seriously about teaching your way around the world it’s worth investing in a full in-class TEFL, you won’t regret it when you decide to do a stint in Dubai for the big money.
Of course, the big marketing machines and online chat advisors will tell you differently, citing numerous alumni who have taken their $500 course and landed $2,000 a month jobs in China. Such is the demand for teachers this might be true but without the correct training you’re going to find the job a real chore.
But there’s a better reason not to take their word for it. Imagine you are a hard-working middle class mum in Vietnam who spends all her overtime pay so that her little darling gets some face time with a Westerner, yet you rock up without a lesson plan, earning twice as much as a Vietnamese teacher who graduated with a degree in education, and treat it like a lark. Think about it.
Here’s a better suggestion…
A good idea is to sign up to a TEFL program that trains you properly and then places you in a good guaranteed job. This is a trend in the TEFL world. It may cost a bit more but think of the savings you will make, not having to waste time and money looking for a job on location. Just make sure the training they are giving you is a credible TEFL course with proper accreditation. One such program that is shaking things up is the TEFL Training and Placement program from Go TEFL, in Thailand. They seem to hire rookie teachers and promise to pay for the TEFL course.
I can’t see any catch in this, they need teachers for provincial jobs, the salary is realistic and they pledge to cover the $1,200 for training, so that you only pay $600 for accommodation etc during the 4 weeks in Chiang Mai. Compared to a $500 online TEFL that might not get you hired, this seems like a winner, and it’s a decent course that is backed by a university in the United States.
[Tweet theme=”basic-full”]A good idea is to sign up to a TEFL program that trains you properly and then places you in a good guaranteed job.[/Tweet]
One final word on TEFL courses and jobs, the industry is notoriously unregulated. Anyone can run a TEFL course or put one up on online, without any approval since there is no central worldwide TEFL body. They can get accreditations from online agencies that have no expertise in education, and memberships to education associations that have no clue what a good TEFL curriculum should look like. And recruiters in Asia are often non-the-wiser, believing anyone who speaks English can teach. It’s worth doing your homework on this, if you wish to get the most out of your TEFL stint abroad.
Andrew Bond is a travel writer based in Thailand who writes about expat living abroad and has been closely involved with the teaching industry in Asia. He is the publisher of a series of travel guides online, including www.1stopbangkok.com