Monday, December 28, 2009

So You Think You Want to Take a TEFL course.

After taking the TEFL course last month and having time to reflect and analyze the whole experience from a more distant perspective I want to share some of that experience to help inform anyone curious about it or considering doing something similar.

This course will take up all of your time.  ALL of your time.  Having just graduated from college last spring I thought that I was plenty prepared for the rigors of another month of schooling.  I had taken no less than 15 units while working at least 25 hours a week for the last several years, so another month sounded like a walk in the park.  Although it wasn't intellectually straining the course consumed my focus for the month.  From 8 a.m. til 5 p.m. you are busy with teaching lessons, peer evaluating, and lectures on various aspects of teaching and grammar of the English language.  Afterwards you go home and begin planning your lessons until you pass out roughly around one in the morning.  You would assume that after a month of lesson planning it would have gotten progressively easier.  You would be wrong.  Not completely wrong I suppose, it does get slightly easier, but it still takes just as long.  As the course continues you will become more aware of considerations that should be taken into account.  So with each successive lesson that you need to plan there is a new element to incorporate.

What is nice about this intensely focused course is that you genuinely do learn.  I spent 5 years in college and have a degree in accountancy, I spent one month in this course to get my certificate.  Which one do I feel better prepared to do as a profession?  Hands down, I feel more confident to start teaching.  I remember very vividly hearing many graduating accounting majors expressing concern about not knowing enough to go into auditing or to work as a tax preparer, many already had jobs lined up.  (And we wonder why we are in a recession.)  These are the people preparing your financial documents, and the people reviewing them.  After 5 years of schooling I felt exactly the same, I was in way over my head.  Now, after only one month of focused learning and practice I am very aware and confident in my ability to be a teacher.

What should seem like an obvious step is planning a budget for while you're taking the course.  If you didn't think about that then perhaps teaching isn't really going to be your thing, because forethought definitely isn't and that's a bit of a prerequisite.  What ever you think you're going to need for your budget add some extra money to that.  After spending all day taking notes and teaching, the last thing that you want to do is to go grocery shopping, cook, and clean all before spending the rest of the night planning your next lesson.  This is totally doable, we did it, but planning on grabbing a pizza for dinner or a quick plate of pasta is a must.  Not only to save some time, energy, and your sanity, but you want to experience some of the country you're in while you're here.

Another important consideration is how long will it be in between finishing the course and when you start working you'll have to budget for.  This can be a rather tricky aspect to estimate.  In the TEFL world, job guidance is basically as follows:

Advisor:  Where would you like to work?
Student:  (Fill in the blank) sounds nice.
Advisor:  Oh great!  That's a wonderful place.  What you should do is move there and THEN start looking for a the usually only start with maybe 10 hours of work, so try looking for multiple jobs.  And Good luck!
Student:  WTF?!

My point being, you should make sure to budget accordingly.  Plan for any moving expenses you might incur, because where you want to work and where the TEFL school aren't always in the same place.  Budget for however many months you expect it to take to find a job.  Note:  This varies widely by location.  In many parts of Asia, its sounds as if you show up with a TEFL certificate you are guaranteed a job.  In Europe it takes a lot of pounding the payment and knocking on doors.  Make sure that when you are planning your budget for the time you won't be employed that you don't include any income from what you expect to make your first month working.  Two reasons for this.  First, you won't be making enough to bother including in your budget.  Second, even if you do make enough to live off that first month (you won't, but let's stay optimistic) the industry standard is to pay only once a month.  So you won't be getting any income from your first month of work until your second month anyways.

The demand for TEFL teachers really is international.  If you are looking to take this course as a way to travel it is an excellent opportunity.  Students from my class are spread out all across the world.  You can literally go any where in the world an find a job teaching English as a foreign language.  Yes, the highest demand for these teaching jobs is in Asia, as soon as you begin researching that will become extremely evident.  That's not to say there aren't jobs in other regions of the world, I'm teaching here in Italy. 

If Europe is of particular interest, and you're American, you should be aware that there are some difficulties with working here.  First with jobs in the EU, EU passport holders are given job preference, I know that doesn't sound fair, get over it.  Secondly, it is very difficult to get the required paperwork to work and live here legally.  It shouldn't be very difficult for you, but there is a catch 22.   For most countries you need to have your future employer send documentation to the consulate so you can get your work permit, but most companies won't hire you without a work permit.  (I doesn't make sense to me either.)  What's funny about the work permit is that it requires almost no effort from the employer, they just don't want to do it.  There are several ways to get around this, but none of them are technically "legal."

If I haven't dissuaded your interest there are plenty of resources on-line to check for teaching positions, and schools to get your certificate all around the world.  Simply search for "TEFL" and more resources than you'll ever want will be at your finger tips.  For information about the certification course I took, there is a link at the very bottom of the sidebar of this page under Relevant Links.  Click the link to Via Lingua.


  1. Talking about the money side, for me, the worst thing was that, for about a month over Christmas and New Year there was, virtually, no work (so no pay) and, because it's Italy, from mid-July to mid-September it was the same. So, you need to allow for three months without pay.

    Difficult to make a living unless you also do private work, to be honest.

  2. Teaching English abroad is difficult and you definitely need multiple income streams to protect yourself against slow months with language schools- Private lessons are definitely the key, especially if you don't pay tax ;)

    I can also agree from experience that you will need to get out there and get in peoples faces in Europe. The majority of my work come from word of mouth so bear that in mind too.

    And one thing I disagree with Jon about is how confident i was to teach after my course.... I had no confidence! I strongly believe you learn as you go in this profession!

  3. Actually Italian companies have to go through a lot to get you a work visa; they have to show proof to the direzione del lavoro that an Italian can't do the job, turn over financial records, file endless paperwork, etc which is why they don't bother. They can much more easily hire a Brit or an American that has dual citizenship or is married to an Italian. It's a real pain