5 Facts About TEFL Courses And Teaching ESL

Monday, July 26, 2010

5 Facts About TEFL Courses And Teaching ESL

Lusting to dive into the world of teaching English to speakers of other languages at home or abroad? Here are a few tips for the curious.

By Lillian Marshall

I was an English teacher in Boston for six years, and one summer my colleague lured me down to Costa Rica for an intensive, month-long TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course. We were stunned by how hard we worked during that month, but now we agree: that TEFL course was the best teacher education we’ve had in our lives.

When I returned to the classroom in Boston, the techniques I had learned in Costa Rica were solid gold. In August of 2009, I flew out of America to travel around our world for nine straight months, and again busted out my TEFL skills while teaching in a youth center in Ghana.

Upon returning to dear Boston this year, I was rapidly able to acquire a full-time job teaching ESL at a language school, thanks to my certification and experience . . . and I’ve been happily teaching there ever since.

So allow me to unload the picnic of advice from my basket for you to consume.

1) Teaching ESL Is A Great Use Of Your Time

If you’re traveling, what better way is there to understand a new culture than to spend a delightful pack of hours a day chatting with locals? If you’re at home and longing to leave, what more effective method is there of glimpsing what’s out there than forming deep connections with an international crowd? Teaching ESL rocks.

2) TEFL Training Is Optional, But Useful.

It is certainly possible to acquire ESL teaching jobs around the world without certification or experience. That said, it is not a bad investment of time or money to do a short TEFL course. Just like any other craft, teaching is a skill with specific methods you must learn, either by trial and error or by explicit instruction. Sure, if you wanted to be a carpenter you could build a doghouse without explicit training in carpentry, but wouldn’t it be better for you and that poor dog if you had an expert guiding you as you hammered?

If do decide to enroll in a TEFL course, there are different lengths and levels of TEFL training. Which one you opt for completely depends on your situation and life plan, but I can tell you I was very happy with my choice of a one-month intensive TEFL course abroad, especially because of its observed teaching practice.

If it’s possible for you to get certified abroad rather than in your home country, it’s often preferable because, first, you get extremely valuable international experience and, second, it’s frequently cheaper than at home.

So what about those ubiquitously-advertised online TEFL courses? Well, though you will learn a little something, online TEFL courses are often frowned upon because they have no in-person teaching practice, which, if you think about it, is what it’s ultimately all about.

Taking a formal TEFL course will not only put a respectable certification to your resume and provide you with guided practice, but most courses also provide job search assistance and help with resumes and recommendations. Unfortunately, because of staff turnover, if you don’t take advantage of these services within the first few months after your course, they will likely become unavailable. But don’t worry, no one can take your training and certification from you.

3) ESL Teaching Jobs Vary Widely In Hours, Pay, Stress, Structure, And Guidance

Rumors abound: There’s mad money to be made in Japan and the Middle East. There’s a delightful lifestyle on tap in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Some ESL jobs in Korea are so intense that some teachers resort to the “Midnight Run” out of there. The Spanish ESL market is saturated. Which of these rumors is true?

Sometimes these murmurs are true and sometimes they’re not, but one fact is clear, jobs vary so widely that you must do your research and scope out your options well before taking that flight or signing that contract. You are precious and don’t deserve to be treated badly. The good news, however, is that there is enough variety in ESL jobs out there that if you look hard enough you should find a nice match.

3) You Will Freak Out About Learning And Teaching Grammar, But Don’t Worry

If you’re around my generation, you probably had the same grammar training as me in school — hardly any. It is perfectly normal to nearly faint upon opening an ESL grammar textbook and think, “How can I possibly teach something I know nothing about?” But you will be fine. The curriculum will be nice and structured, you’ll learn alongside the students (hiding it well the whole time), and, with practice, you will be come a grammar champ.

4) You May Not Be An ESL Teacher Forever, But That’s Fine

Perhaps you’re sweating in a corner right now, wondering, “Am I ready to make this huge life choice of becoming an ESL teacher?” But don’t fret and don’t sweat. Many fine folks only teach ESL somewhere for a short time before moving on to other countries or other things, but does that mean they wasted their time and money on the training and teaching? By all means, the answer is “no.”

First, all the time you spend training for and teaching ESL is fascinating and jam-packed with learning and connections to great people, and so it’s certainly not time wasted.

Second, if you do leave ESL teaching, you will periodically gasp with delight at how your newfound ESL skills apply to nearly every field you enter. So much of teaching is learning to understand and (in a good way) manipulate other people. Teaching is leadership, organization, charm, mind-reading, management, intellectual aerobics, and much, much more. If you can teach, you can do most anything.

There are few jobs which offer you such world-spanning, wide-ranging opportunities as teaching ESL. It’s worth your time to check it out.


Lillie Marshall is a six-foot-tall, 28-year-old Bostonian. After six years teaching high school English in the Boston Public Schools and spending summers volunteering and studying in Latin America, Lillie embarked on a nine month journey around the world, spanning Asia, Africa, and Europe from August of 2009 to May of 2010. You can read all about it at her blog, Around the World “L”.

Lillie is currently crafting a career which combines travel, writing, and ESL teaching. She is also the Boston coordinator for the September 14, 2010 “Meet Plan Go” event (MeetPlanGo.com).  If you’re interested in extended travel, sign up for “Meet Plan Go” updates for a city near you.

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