How to Get TEFL Certification in Five Steps

I withdrew from my college’s study abroad program before I even left the country. I wanted to see the world and did not want to do it while in a traditional school setting.

Although I had heard of TEFL as a way to live abroad, I didn’t really know how to get started. Eventually, I decided to take a TEFL certification course in Phuket, Thailand in late 2018 and now I’ve been living abroad ever since.  

How’d that happen? Here’s a step-by-step guide of everything I did before getting on a plane. I hope it helps you better understand how to get TEFL certification and eventually start teaching English abroad.   

Step 1: Be Introspective and Ask Yourself These Questions

Why do you want to take a TEFL course? Maybe you just need a break from your daily 9-5 job or you’re transitioning from one career to another. Perhaps you are in a similar position that I was: freshly graduated and in search of a sustainable life abroad because you’ve never left your comfort zone. There isn’t a right or wrong reason for taking a TEFL course, but you should know why you want to take one.

questions what do you mean

Do you have any interest in teaching? Interest is defined as the state of wanting to know or learn about something or someone. A more specific question would be, “Do you want to know or learn more about teaching?” In my case, yes, I did (and still do). I have a background in mostly math and science education as well as the scientific study of languages; I figured a TEFL course could help bridge those two things together. 

Step 2: Consider the Qualifications for TEFL Certification

The good news is you don’t need many qualifications for TEFL certification — after all, it’s considered an entry-level training course. When I took the course, I had just graduated from college and had about three years of teaching experience. Based on all the people in my own course, my qualifications and level of experience definitely aren’t the norm. I met people who didn’t have a degree and/or hadn’t been in school in over a decade. Specific requirements vary, but all you really need is a good attitude, willingness to learn, and an open mind.

Step 3: Choose a TEFL Course

map places tour

A quick Google search of “TEFL course” will bring up over 8 million results, so I understand how choosing a course can be overwhelming. I had five requirements when choosing a course: 

  1. Website Do they have their own website? In the age of the internet, it’s rare that a company or business doesn’t have a website, which is what makes having a website an entry-level requirement for me. Other questions I also consider are: Are prices and product laid out clearly? Is contact information easily accessible? Do they link their social media? Does it look well maintained?
  2. Reviews When I shop on Amazon, reviews are what ultimately get me to buy a product. Picking a TEFL course is no different. Unfortunately, there isn’t an Amazon for TEFL courses. There are actually several places to find reviews. The first place is on the TEFL course’s website itself. A good TEFL course will also showcase reviews from external websites, such as GoOverseas and TEFL Course Review. The more reviews you can find, the more accurate representation of the course you’ll get.
  3. Social Media A course not participating in social media was a deal breaker for me. If a course had an active social media presence, it showed me that there’s a human being managing their social media, which instantly makes them more real and personable. You can also now review businesses on Facebook. I went a step further with my social media requirement and messaged a graduate of TEFL Campus on Facebook. 
  4. Accreditation/Validation Be sure the course you choose is accredited or validated by an outside source. There are several TEFL/TESOL accrediting bodies; be sure to do your research on which bodies are legitimate and internationally recognized. Believe it or not, many courses accredit themselves or have simply paid for the accreditation without the company doing any real due diligence.
  5. Job Support This is actually a requirement I added on after having looked at a few TEFL courses. Let’s face it: nothing in life is guaranteed, so “guaranteed job placement” seemed way too good to be true. What drew me to TEFL Campus was that they explicitly state, “We don’t guarantee placements.”

TEFLCampus

Step 4: Choose a Country for the Course and for Work

If you follow my guidelines above for choosing a course, it doesn’t really matter where you go for the course. Choosing where you want to work though is a bit more complicated. Besides personal requirements such as: beaches or mountains, city or small village, yearly weather, etc., some countries have strict professional requirements. For example, in order to teach in South Korea, you must have a bachelor’s degree and be a citizen of certain countries. But to teach in some countries like Cambodia and Russia, you don’t need a degree.  Countries like Thailand and Vietnam list it as an official requirement, but employers commonly turn a blind eye to this. Do some research before hopping on a plane. 

TEFL Certification in Five Steps

Step 5: Prepare to Leave Home for a TEFL Certificate

Have a savings and be financially responsible. Be sure you have enough for the course and to get you through one month after the course ends while you look for a job. The cost of living in some Asian countries are significantly lower. For instance, TEFL Campus suggests coming over with no less than $3,000 after having paid for your TEFL course and accommodation for it.

Check your passport’s expiration date. Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months following your course. Getting a new passport can take a few weeks. 

Check if you need additional travel documents to get into a country. Depending on your passport, you may need additional travel documents, such as a visa, to get into a country. 

luggage packing trip abroad TEFL CertificationGet a criminal background check. Most schools will ask for a background check and it is significantly easier to get one while you’re home than while you’re abroad. Depending on what type of background check you get, it can take a few weeks to get results. 

Find your original degree (if applicable). Most schools will ask to see your original degree and some countries may even ask for it to be certified. 

Before Loading the Plane for You TEFL Certification

Buy your plane ticket ASAP. The earlier you buy a plane ticket, the cheaper it will be. It’s not like domestic travel where there’s a magic number of days for the cheapest price. 

Notify your bank of travel plans. Trust me, you don’t want your card getting declined when you’re 13,000 km from home. Banks need advanced notice that you’re planning to make transactions from abroad — be sure they’re aware. 

Start packing. Dig up or buy some suitcases and start sorting your things into,  ‘take,’ ‘trash/donate,’ and ‘keep, but can’t take’ piles. Then go back and make that ‘take’ pile smaller and smaller. You’re looking to live abroad, not take your life abroad. 

Spend time with friends and family. This is the most regretful step for me. I was so caught up with finishing school and preparing to move abroad, I didn’t spend as much time with my friends and family as I wanted. If you have the time, use it. 

Packing your life up to do something you’ve probably never done before in a foreign country is scary when getting your TEFL certification. That is a perfectly normal thought and you aren’t alone in it. Hopefully, these steps have brought you some guidance, reassurance, and courage to follow through with it. Good luck!

 

Teaching ESOL from Experience

by Caroline Hazelton

caroline hazelton teaching ESOLI wonder how you found this page? Perhaps you found it by Google, by social media sharing, or by mere coincidence. Good for you! Either way, I bet the only way you’ll keep reading after this is if you truly care about teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages. Even at that, because I said the word “experience” you are probably in need of such, AKA “teaching ESOL from experience.” 

Right now I’m on Year 7 in teaching languages. I’m always improving my teaching craft. I know what I’m doing and why I’m doing it a certain way. Yet as I handed in my lesson plans this past Tuesday, I realized that teacher jargon doesn’t explain what simple experience can. And yet so much of the way I teach and have been successful from Year 3 onward is because of… experience — that is, “teaching ESOL from experience.”

I originally started this article with a list of teacher advice, but quickly realized you can find that anywhere. Instead, I think it’s best to reflect on the four institutions where I’ve actively taught ESOL and what each ESOL school taught me… through experience. I’ll list each school as “School A, B, C and D” for the privacy of each school.

School A: Finding Your Place as a Professional in School

For Pete’s sake, if you are a new teacher DEMAND A CURRICULUM. You’ll need one to stay organized, maximize learning, and follow the natural flow of language acquisition progression. Furthermore, set boundaries on students. Don’t accept their Facebook requests, don’t let them use their native language in class (even if it is the other language you teach and love) except for emergencies, and if any student starts to cross professional boundaries you must immediately but respectfully set them straight for the sake of your classroom control. Also, especially if you are a young teacher, you must especially look professional at all times.

Professional in School

School B: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions and Set Boundaries

Now that your demanded curriculum is in hand, ask the director/principal specific questions about the curriculum or the school they might be too busy to explain. Make sure to ask questions such as “When does the semester end?” or “How long is the book to be used for?” As much as you love your students, don’t be afraid to correct their English. However, know the goal of each activity and make your corrections specific (like adding a preposition).

Give general critiques (like encouraging students to add more information) so the students aren’t overwhelmed by their mistakes. Again, make sure you set professional boundaries. You love your job, but don’t work for free — make sure you are fairly compensated for your time. If you are not paid on time, immediately contact HR. And finally, always overestimate how long it will take you to arrive to class so you can breathe when you get there.

Ask Questions and Set Boundaries

School C: Use Your Own Experience When Teaching

Own your cultural identity and what it can bring to the classroom. I was the only white teacher in my ESOL department at School C. I owned it. At the beginning, I demanded my intermediate level students only speak in English. I made my students weird American things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I taught them how Americans butcher Hispanic names in English and hate kisses on the cheek.

Make sure to hand the mic over to your students every once in a while. Let them voice both their cultures and the saddening situations that brought them over to the United States. Let them use Spanish… but only in emergencies or during non-instructional time. And finally, as important as that curriculum is, do not underestimate the importance of authentic cultural material that is relevant to the topic. Bring in the country music, clips of The Office, and Super Bowl commercials.

Experience Teaching

School D: Give Yourself Structure and Take Time to Learn

As an unorganized person, having an organized curriculum pre-planned for me each class helped me see just how learning can be maximized with the right pacing and assessment. I tend to get off task, but staying on topic is crucial for the learner. However, the ability to learn and quickly memorize facts about each student builds a good rapport with students. Finding a balance between staying on task and learning about your students should be found. Finally, students need to hear ways to improve their English. Working with a Chinese crowd at this school, I found it helpful to study common mistakes Chinese English Language Learners make, identify them in the student, and quickly address them with go-to examples. 

Teaching ESOL from Experience

I don’t think there isn’t a day where I’m not learning from my experiences. Just tonight, an argument broke out between two students over a political issue (Venezuelan dictator Maduro seizing and selling homes abandoned by Venezuelans fleeing) and a personal issue (these two students did not get along). After resolving the argument and further discussing with another Venezuelan student about the emotional state of those fleeing, I would like to do some further reading about helping refugees process their emotions. Situations like these help shape my responses to future tense situations. After every day that I teach, I make sure to do a nightly reflection. This helps me know what I’d like to repeat for next semester but also steer away from.