Things to find out about a TEFL certificate course

Down-to-earth advice on the questions to ask when considering which TEFL certificate course to take

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net

1. Recognition
Not all TEFL certificates are accepted by all schools, which means in some schools you might be further down the list of desirable candidates, might not get the salary supplement for certificate qualified teachers or might not reach the minimum requirements for employment. This is most commonly true for online certificates or other courses that don’t reach the typical minimums of 6 hours of observed teaching practice and 120 hours of course study, but other schools might not accept any certificate they have never heard of or may even specifically advertise for Cambridge CELTA or Trinity Cert TESOL holders. If you have any doubts about this for a particular certificate provider, ask them to provide you with a list of schools (preferably big international chains or schools with accreditation such as British Council accreditation in the UK) that have accepted people with their certificates and/ or contact a few schools and ask them whether that certificate would be okay to work there.

2. The trainers
Things that might be relevant include the countries they have worked in (preferably the same as or similar to the ones as you want to go to), higher teaching qualifications such as the DELTA or an MA TESOL, publications, leading positions in teaching associations, training people for other qualifications such as the DELTA, number of years in the profession and number of years as a teacher trainer (especially for the head trainer). If you have chosen a less well-known course, trainers who have trained on more well known ones such as the CELTA or Trinity can be a good sign. Finding out the minimum requirements for all these things from the certificate provider can be a good way of distinguishing between different certificates, or these criteria can be used as a way of choosing between different centres for the same certificate.

3. How and when you pay
Understandably, no centres offer you the chance to start the course and then drop out after two weeks and get a refund (even a partial one). If this is what you are looking for, the closest equivalent is to take a very short course such as a 2 day introduction to TEFL as a taster before you pay out for the 4 week version. Some course providers even go to the other extreme and ask for large chunks of money with your application, sometimes up to 40% of the total course fees. You can easily avoid paying this money upfront by choosing another centre, as most TEFL course providers ask for no money until after you have had an interview and accepted the place on the course. The main exception to this is CELTA courses in the US, where (smallish) interview/ application fees are becoming standard, but even there it is possible to avoid them by choosing centres carefully.

4. Refunds
A very small minority of courses will reserve the right to transfer you to another course at a different location or at different dates rather than giving you a refund. Make sure this is not the case, especially if you are very limited in which ones you can accept. A good course will also offer refunds (rather than just postponed entry) if you cannot enter the course due to sickness. There are also differing policies on retaking the course or parts of it if you fail the first time, and whether and how much you need to pay if you do so.

5. Types of classes
Traditionally, 4 week TEFL certificates train you to teach classes of 6 to 14 adults, often using techniques that were designed by people teaching multilingual classes. If you already know that the classes you will be teaching are different from this, e.g. children, businessmen, large classes or one particular nationality, you might want to look into taking a course designed for these kinds of students, or at least one that gives it a mention or qualifies you for a future (maybe “extension”) course on that subject. Please note, however, that doing something like a course just on teaching children might limit your future options more than doing a standard Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Adults course. One choice you can make without restricting yourself is to take whatever qualification it is abroad where you will have the chance to teach monolingual classes and maybe students with a culture or first language the same as or similar to the one you will encounter in your first job.

6. Help with living
This is only really relevant if you are going to move aboard to take the course. If so, find out about help with accommodation (during and maybe after the course), internet access, language lessons, weekend trips, other social events, airport pickup, buying travel cards, obtaining a student card for discounts, arranging conversation exchanges, and offering printed information (maps etc) on the area where you are living and studying.

7. Technology
Even if the first school you teach in has just a blackboard and a limit on how many pieces of chalk you can have, you may eventually be in a situation where you will need to use an OHP, interactive whiteboard (IWB), language lab, computer lab, voice recorder or video in class. You may also need to use a computer to prepare lessons, or to give your students advice on how to use the CD ROM that accompanies their workbook or other computer based language learning aids. All of these things being possible (and more and more likely as technology progresses all over the world), the more of the necessary bits of equipment the place where you train has the better- and if using some or all of them is written into the syllabus that would really make it a course that covers all your future needs.

8. Other facilities
For example, a quiet space where everyone can prepare their lessons at the same time, lots of books and CDs in the teachers’ room (and access to the books at all times, including when the teachers who work there are around), air conditioning, an adequate number of chairs, a water cooler, clean and convenient toilets, internet access, and more than one photocopier and printer (so breakdowns can’t ruin your lesson plan or cause last minute panics). As with many of the points in this article, it is easier to check these things out by visiting the training centre than it is by asking huge lists of questions or trying to see what things are hanging on the walls in the photos on the website, especially as a good school might be one that takes these things for granted and therefore doesn’t bother mentioning them on their website. A school that mentions some of them but not others might be one that is worth asking a few questions to.

9. Pass rates/percentage of higher grades
A less well known certificate with a very high pass rate could be a sign of low academic standards, especially if it has low entry requirements as well, and so could be a prompt to doing lots of research on how well recognised it is (see Recognition above). Conversely, a centre that has higher than average pass rates as compared to other centres that offer exactly the same qualification is a good sign, as long as it doesn’t mean too narrow a focus on “ticking all the right boxes” rather than working on your own teaching in the best way for you as an individual.

10. Help with job seeking
For example, having copies of TEFL publications with job adverts (Guardian Education, EL Gazette etc) available to look at, personal contacts of your school or trainers, jobs available in that same school or chain (as long as it doesn’t make them put you off taking jobs elsewhere) and support offered past your first job (e.g. lifetime job placement service). Having one centralized job seeking service for all the schools that offer that qualification can be a good thing (people who are specialized in looking for jobs for you, contacts all over the world rather than just locally, never being too busy doing other things like your head trainer might be) or a bad thing (no contacts locally so want to send you to China instead, concentrating on jobs in big chains that can take lots of teachers, the person you are dealing with knowing nothing about you, not being able to physically pop in and talk to anyone).

11. Methodology
A good 4 week course has to balance the need to introduce you to the many different options and ways of teaching that you might want to try over your teaching career with the need to be able to teach just one or two ways very well so that you cope with a full timetable from day one of your teaching career and have something to fall back on for a while when experiments go wrong. Courses that don’t have a clear core teaching methodology or which only mention one way of teaching (especially one that is not widely accepted nowadays in the TEFL world) are both worth avoiding.

12. Entrance requirements/ the other participants
As someone who was refused entry onto the DELTA the first time I applied but the following week instantly accepted onto the LCCI Teaching English for Business course without even a tricky interview, I can tell you that this is a good indicator of how academically rigorous both courses were. TEFL training centres are also well aware of this, and tests of grammar awareness and scary interviews don’t necessarily mean that they actually reject any people who apply, although at least it means they are putting in some effort to look tough. Other indicators to look for include an insistence on having an undergraduate degree (a four year degree in America) – you will need one of these to get a decent job or a visa in most countries anyway- and very strict language criteria for non-native English speakers, e.g. Cambridge Proficiency or an almost perfect TOEFL, TOEIC or IELTS score.

13. Size
This means how many people are likely to be on your course, how many trainees per trainer, how many trainers you will be trained by in total, how many different people you will be able to observe teaching, how many people that centre has trained (both recently and in total), how many people have taken that qualification worldwide (ditto), how many students and teachers they have in the normal English teaching part of the business, and the number of admin staff to help you with your accommodation etc. Size is usually a good thing, when it doesn’t mean cramped classrooms and other spaces or difficultly getting individual help with your lesson planning etc. Doubling up of functions, e.g. your head trainer also being Director of Studies of the English school or your main trainer training a group of people for the DELTA at the same time, is usually a bad sign.

14. Honesty
Especially with the smaller, newer or less well known centres or certificate providers, how honest they are with you is a good sign for all kinds of other things. Look for straightforward warnings about: the pressures of taking a 4 week course; the difficulty of getting a job if you don’t have a degree; the difficulty of getting an A, B, Distinction or other high mark; the dropout and fail rates; the difficulties of adjusting to a new country if you move abroad to take the course; the downsides and difficulties of the city or country that the school is based in; or the difficulty of getting jobs in the same area as the school and so need to move to another country or area after you finish your course. Signs of a lack of honesty include schools that claim you have to pay quickly to secure a place but have actually had previous courses cancelled or with low numbers, photos on the website that show nothing of the inside of the school, and overstating how well recognised the qualification is.

15. Their own teaching and teachers
Good signs include teaching students from big corporate clients, high standards for qualifications and experience when recruiting teachers, using the latest coursebooks and technology, small class sizes, and having teachers who are published and/ or are taking higher qualifications.

Written by Alex Case for TEFL.net
September 2008 | Filed under Teacher Training
There are links to more than 400 articles and 1000 worksheets plus 1500 blog posts by Alex Case on TEFLtastic blog.