Mark Beales

Getting started as an English teacher

A quick overview of TEFL certificates, degrees, work permits and visas

Having decided that you want to teach, the next step is to see whether schools may actually want you. 

Most countries have set rules about who they want teaching their students. Typically, if you have a degree in any subject and of any grade, then you’re half way there. If you happen to have a degree in education, congratulations, you’ve just hit the jackpot. 

The TEFL certificate

Assuming you do have a degree, the next step is to get a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Certificate. These come in all shapes, sizes and colours. Your average school isn’t going to fret over what kind you have, but it is worth investing in a reputable course as the knowledge gained will be invaluable once you enter the classroom.

It is possible to do courses in your home country or abroad. 

Courses in the country you’re planning to make your base is a good choice as you can start to understand the culture while getting qualified, and have free time to explore your new surroundings. Most courses run for 3-4 weeks and give you a certificate at the end with the door-opening acronym TEFL emblazoned on it. 

Be a little wary

Most courses are reputable, but be wary of those who pledge to find you a job placement as soon as the course is over, then only hand over the certificate once you’ve completed several months with your new employer. Chances are the agency has a deal with the school that gives them a cut of your salary. After four months you may well be out of work as the next new teacher is being lined up to take your place. The school may not be getting seasoned teachers, but then it isn’t having to spend time recruiting either.

Most agencies are, however, reputable and many will help you find work without any catches, but it’s wise to be wary and ask questions first. 

TEFL course costs are broadly similar. At the top end, the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) is the Manchester United of TEFL certificates, while distance learning ones are considered to be the Doncaster Rovers. 

Distance learning courses offer a good insight into teaching theory and how to prepare lessons, but you don’t get to actually teach in front of anyone. The CELTA costs around $1500 and while, as its name suggests, it is geared towards teaching adults, most schools will gladly accept that you know what you’re doing if you wave one under their noses. 

Having a degree is a legal requirement to teach in schools, but if you don’t have one there is still good money to be made teaching Business English to adults. Some folk actually prefer this, as there is far less paperwork and the students are generally more motivated (they’re probably paying to see you, after all).

Don't be a university bluffer

If you didn’t go to university, don’t pretend that you did. 

You may be able to bluff your way through an interview and produce a certificate upon which the ink has just dried; you may also be able to work as a teacher as many places don’t bother to check qualifications or references. However all it takes is one phone call to immigration and you won’t just lose your job, you could lose your freedom. Several teachers have been jailed for falsely claiming to have degrees. As yet, no-one has ever been jailed for saying they don’t have one.

It’s not worth trying to bypass the rules and regulations. The same goes for so-called ‘Life Degrees’ that you can pick up online. They are utterly worthless and if a school falls for it then you should question whether you want to work for a place that gives so little thought about who they want to teach their students. 

One slight addendum: rules often change and so it’s worth looking at online forums for the latest requirements, but if you have a TEFL certificate, you’ll be in prime position.

Visas and work permits

Living in a country, as opposed to holidaying in one, means you may need to think about visas and work permits. For teachers this should be relatively simple, as schools tend to sort out such things.  

Visas are straightforward as long as you read the small print and provide what officers are looking for, even if it is occasionally a little ‘extra’ to make things go smoothly.

While the visa allows you to remain in a country beyond the normal tourist limits, you may also need a work permit to actually work. Some schools overlook the work permit as they consider their job done once the visa arrives, however it is worth pushing for the permit as well. 

- Above blog adapted from 'Teaching English' (How to Teach English as a Second Language)


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Looking over your website, looks like you have carved out a pretty interesting career after moving to Thailand in 2004.

Thumbs up!

By Jack, LOS (14th July 2020)

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