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Choosing the Right Teaching Certificate to Start Your English Teaching Career

celta new to teaching professional development tefl certificate tesol Mar 21, 2022

If you’ve decided to pursue EFL teaching but are unsure where to start when it comes to obtaining a teaching certificate, let us guide you with some tips we feel are missing in the sea of TEFL certificate advice out there.

The thing we tell everyone entering this field: It’s important to first start thinking about your end goal. What does your teaching career look like as you start out?

The best way to figure out which teaching certificate is the right one for you is to know where and how you’d like to use it. We’d suggest starting with the following questions: Do I want to work with adults or kids ?  Do I want to work at a school, university, or institute, or do I intend to offer classes as a freelancer?  What countries and learner populations are attractive to me if I move abroad?  What are the certification and education requirements for most of the companies located in the country I want to go to?

You’ll find that different countries require different qualifications of the EFL teachers they hire. We can’t stress enough the importance of looking first at the TEFL requirements for the country (or company) first to narrow down your certification program options. It’s fairly common to see a minimum certification requirement of a 120 hour teaching certification course but it’s always important to do your research to make sure this requirement matches your end goal. It’s also important to note that if you intend to work in a foreign country, you need to research how your qualifications might play into the process of getting your work or residence visa. Some countries might ask for a bachelor’s degree, others might want to see other professional qualifications, such as a TEFL certificate, and others might not ask for these at all.

Answering those questions should give you a clear idea of your end goal so take some time to decide on your answers to those questions. Then, with the information from those questions, you can get online and search for jobs in those particular communities or companies, working with the learners that you’re most interested in working with. Take note of the job requirements and use those as your guide when choosing a certification program.

Let’s look at some points to consider when choosing your certification program.

How much can you spend?

You know the phrase “You get what you paid for”? Well, you can apply that to most certification programs when talking about the price tag. Cheaper courses will often be online, without teaching practice, and no extra frills. These programs may not be widely recognized or even meet the minimum requirements for your future employer so be sure to check before inputting your credit card details. With that being said, cheaper certificate programs can be a great option for someone with prior teaching experience who simply needs the certificate to fulfill a job requirement. Keep in mind though, that when you pay more, you often get more. In regards to certification programs, ones with higher price tags usually have quality, up-to-date content, include teaching practice and job placement services, and leave graduates feeling confident and prepared to teach. This doesn’t mean that you should choose solely based on price though; do your research to make sure the cost matches your needs and fits your budget.
Our advice? Review your budget and research the certification requirements for the teaching job you plan to pursue and balance the pros and cons of cheaper or more expensive programs. If you are entering the field with no prior teaching experience, we’d recommend considering a program that offers you some hands-on teaching practice and live interaction with your instructor, and typically this comes at a higher cost.

Let’s talk about accreditation.

Accreditation in the world of TEFL/TESOL certification is a hairy subject. There are some legitimate accreditations out there that some TEFL certificates proudly boast, while other accreditations amount to not much more than a stamp from an organization that doesn’t exist, isn’t reputable, or was simply created by the company itself to accredit itself for marketing value.

But what does it actually mean for a TEFL certificate to be accredited? Being accredited literally means to be officially recognized. Accreditation boards put their stamps of approval on products, courses, and services that they are willing to stake their reputation on, so the concept of accreditation typically carries a lot of weight.

Accreditation or regulation by OFQUAL is one to look for as you search for your ideal TEFL certification program– The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation of the UK government carries a lot of weight, so a certificate with an OFQUAL backing is going to be legitimate. AQUEDUTO, the Association for Quality Education and Training Online, is another UK accrediting body that you can look for in your search for the right TEFL certificate.

The same is true of a DEAC, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission from the U.S., or ACCET, the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education & Training, are also trustworthy accreditors to keep an eye out for.

If a TEFL certification doesn’t have any accreditations or cite any certifications from regulators, take note. It’s not a guarantee that the certificate is low-quality, but be aware that the accreditation process is a long and difficult audit-packed evaluation that certifiers go through in order to certify their quality. A certifier that doesn’t submit themselves to that process might not implement best practices, might not have a reputation you want to associate yourself with as a professional, and might not deliver what they say they will once you’ve made your purchase. Like many things in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Our advice? To ensure that you’re getting quality training and a certificate you can put to use after your course, search for an accreditation like the ones listed above that certify other certificates as well (not just one TEFL certification that happens to be the one you’re considering). Be weary of courses “accredited” by other “organizations” and avoid coupons and referral codes sent to your inbox after asking for advice on social media as these could be scams. Finally, look at verified reviews of previous graduates (try a site like TrustPilot) to help you determine if the TEFL certificate provider you’ve got your eye on has met the expectations of those who came before you!

Do you need a course with teaching hours?

You’ll notice that teaching certification programs will either include opportunities to practice teaching real students, or they’ll only focus on teaching theory. Programs that offer teaching practice will help new teachers dip their toes into the profession and receive helpful feedback about areas for improvement. These opportunities also provide teachers with the tools for self-reflection and the experience of having classes be observed and evaluated which are likely to happen if you choose to work in a school later.

Our advice? While teaching practice is incredibly valuable and we highly recommend it, it’s important to know that most programs only include up to 6 hours of teaching practice during the program. If you’ve had teaching experience before (in another topic, or have earned a teaching degree), please know that language teaching comes with its own set of challenges and practice never hurts! Perhaps though, if you are a qualified teacher of other subjects, looking for a certificate that only focuses on language learning theory, a program that doesn’t include teaching practice is the right fit for you.

Do you want an online program or an in-person one?

Next, you’ll need to consider if you want to take an online certification course or an in-person one. What are the differences?
Well, an online certification program typically doesn’t have the same level of interaction and collaboration as in-person programs. While both programs cover the same or similar material, the delivery and application of theory can differ greatly. Most online programs allow students (who will soon become teachers) to work at their own pace by first digesting resources (articles, pieces of text, video clips, etc.) about learning styles, language acquisition, teaching techniques, lesson planning, etc. and after, completing short quizzes and written assignments about the information. Sometimes, students will receive personalized feedback from trainers on their written assignments which can be helpful.

In-person courses, on the other hand, give students opportunities to collaborate, ask questions, participate in activities, and request more feedback and assistance from instructors. Usually, these courses also include those opportunities for teaching practice we mentioned earlier. However, in-person programs often require students to attend classes for roughly 6-8 hours per day, 5 days a week for one month to acquire their certificate. It’s certainly a time investment and these courses also come with a higher price tag which are important factors to consider.

Our advice? Do your research about the in-person programs offered near you or in the area you plan to teach and evaluate based on the time and money you can put towards these programs to see if they are the right fit for you. Remember that having access to instructors and other teachers in your program may open doors for you and the teaching practice may be beneficial to you if you’re brand new to teaching. If, however, you’re not interested or able to spend the money or time on an in-person course and the online option suits your situation best, know that there are some quality online options that will set you up for success in teaching.

Are you looking for a job placement or job assistance after completing your course?

Some certification courses will provide you with job assistance services upon completing the program. While this always sweetens the deal for a new teacher, it’s important to research just how much assistance is provided and if the placements are in line with your teaching plans. If a company offers job placement assistance and you’re excited to go teach in Brazil, but then find out that their job placement is only for positions in Thailand, that would be disappointing. If this is a sticking point for you on a TEFL certificate, browse reviews (Reddit is also a great place to find out what others’ experience has been), and reach out to their customer service email to ask everything you want to know!

Our advice? Look for details about the job placement or assistance being offered and do some reading from previous graduates to see how helpful the job assistance truly was for them. Programs that offer job placement or job assistance often come at a higher price so make sure you’ll be paying for something that truly benefits you.

Why does everyone say you need a CELTA?

There is a lot of chatter on the internet that suggests a CELTA is the only way to go and anything less intensive (or cheaper) is not going to get you hired. This simply isn’t the truth, though that’s not to say that the CELTA isn’t worth your consideration. Why is the CELTA so highly regarded? Well, it’s got the backing of OFQUAL, is widely respected and has a great reputation in the TEFL community, and it does a great job of giving you a foundation of the knowledge you’ll need to be an EFL teacher. If you opt to earn a CELTA, you’ll be off to a great start to your TEFL career, and future employers will instantly recognize the certificate you list on your CV.

However, if you’re looking at jobs you’re interested in applying for and see that a CELTA isn’t required, you have other options. Equally, if you notice that a CELTA is out of your budget or logistically impossible for you to complete, don’t despair. Despite its popularity and great reputation, a CELTA isn’t a requirement to get hired at many EFL jobs. If you’ve done your research about the job requirements for the type of job you want, you’ll be empowered to choose a great TEFL certificate that will help you get your foot in the door to these employment opportunities.

Having a CELTA might open some doors for you that could otherwise be closed, but it’s absolutely possible you’ll find yourself working alongside other teachers that have different TEFL certificates, and you might not have any difference in pay. At the end of the day, a teacher who has just completed a CELTA (or any other reputable certification course) is still a new teacher.

Our advice? If you have the ability to earn a CELTA, that’s a great option for you to pursue. If it’s not an option for you right now, find a certificate with a recognized accreditation and at least 120 hours of study for completion (if you can opt for more, even better!). If there is an option for a set number of observed teaching hours, try to opt for that, as well. We know plenty of extremely capable teachers without CELTAs, and we’ve met some CELTA holders that were shocked to encounter the typical challenges a first-year teacher meets in the classroom, despite having completed such a reputable training course. A CELTA is a great start to your TEFL career, but don’t think the door slams shut on you if you choose a different TEFL certificate instead.

Do you even need a certificate at all?

Let’s say you’re interested in carving out your own path in teaching English as a foreign language and your plan is to work as a freelance teacher where you find your own students and you choose to be your own boss. If that’s the case, you won’t face any hiring requirements and students who find you independently likely won’t ask to see your qualifications. Having said this though, a teaching certificate will equip you with the information and potentially the skills to teach confidently in your classes. It can also bring you a sense of professionalism and pride, especially if you’re promoting yourself as an EFL teacher.
Our advice? If you’ve never worked as a teacher before and you’re looking to really pursue teaching, we think you owe it to your future students to take some form of training to prepare you for teaching. Remember that language learning is a big commitment for students and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. We want our students to excel and trust us so anything we can do to ensure they’re in good hands is a step in the right direction.

The final thing to consider: Once you’ve chosen your TEFL certification provider, have completed the theory and teaching practice (if it’s included), and you’ve got that shiny new certificate in your hands, remember, you’re still brand new to the field. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing; even as a newly certified teacher you can mold your resume to show that, while you might not have much or any experience in the classroom, you do have the professional skills to be successful so be sure to advertise those on your resume!