New to TEFL?

So you’re thinking of becoming a TEFL teacher? The TEFL world is a very big one and ranges from backpackers with no training and (often) no talent being persuaded to stand in front of 30 children and ‘teach’ – to some highly-qualified and very effective teachers. So what are your options?

0. I’ll just go and see what I can find.

You can do this – and you might get a job. Will it be well paid? Almost certainly not. Will you know enough to know how to teach? Definitely not. Will respectable schools that pay better and look after you better touch you with a barge pole? Definitely not. So you’ll be left at the mercy of a boss who can’t tell the difference between a qualified and unqualified teacher, your pay ‘might’ not arrive on time (how long will your patience last?) – and most importantly, surely you owe it to your students to get qualified before you stand in front of them. When you go to any other professional, you expect them to have the training to do the job. Being able to speak English is not the same as being able to teach English. We all have bodies but not all of us can be doctors.

1. I’ll do one of those weekend courses.

You could. You’ll be a step up from level 0. You’ll get a lovely certificate at the end of it. I’ve taught on weekend courses and some of the people who came on them would make brilliant teachers – they have passion, energy, great communication skills, the ability to spell and an empathy with language learners. Realistically, can you learn enough in a weekend to become an English teacher? “Teacher, can you explain the difference between the present perfect simple and the present perfect continuous?” “Er…no.” There is a lot to learn. I think weekend courses have their place. Before you embark on a month long TEFL course, perhaps do a weekend course to see if it is the kind of thing you’d like to do.

2. I’m serious about this. I’ll do a month long TEFL course.

Can they really turn me into a professional teacher in just 4 weeks? I have done both a PGCE (Post Graduate Certificate of Education – a year long training course to become a state school teacher in the UK) and a one month TEFL course. I learnt far more about teaching on the TEFL course than I did on the PGCE. It is intensive. You do get teaching practice. You get excellent trainers who will teach you in a way that you have (probably) never been taught before. TEFL teaching is radically different from ‘normal’ classroom teaching – though I wish all teachers did a TEFL course before embarking on a PGCE. With a month long TEFL course, a lot more doors will open. Respectable schools will be far more likely to consider you and you will feel a lot more confident in the classroom – and you may even be able to answer the present perfect simple/present perfect continuous question.

Think about it, would you want to visit a doctor who has done a weekend course on how to be a doctor? Hopefully not. It is in everybody’s interest for you to get as qualified as possible.

Whichever option you choose, there are a few books which are indispensible for new TEFL teachers. Raymond Murphy’s English Grammar in Use has sold millions of copies and is an excellent, and simple, guide to English grammar. I do feel that most teachers teach too much grammar to their students but I think a good teacher should have a sound knowledge of grammar. Jeremy Harmer’s The Practice of English Language Teaching is a solid textbook giving you plenty of ideas for your teaching. Michael Swan’s Practical English Usage seems to have the answer to just about any question you may have about the English language. A great book – except for the section on taboo words which I think could do with some revision.


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