Old post revisited: Was your Four-week TEFL Course Worth it?

This again is in reponse to an article on big Alex’s TEFL Tastic blog questioning the merits of doing the CELTA course. The respondents, of which I was the first, seem to agree that the author’s opinions need to be counterbalanced by looking at some of the benefits of doing such a course. In this article, I question the worth of the 4-week TEFL course with the help of members of the ELT World forums:

The four-week TEFL course, a starting point for so many of us in our careers as English teachers. But is it really worth it?

What do we really gain from these short, intensive courses that can’t possibly hope to adequately prepare us for a career in teaching? A great deal, it would seem, according to the poll that ran on the blog and the forum.

Firstly, and most importantly judging by how many suggested this, the initial teacher training course provides a good foundation on which to build.

I started the ball rolling, stating the following:

‘It didn’t in any way prepare me for a full-time teaching position, but I can’t imagine having had to go into a classroom for the first time without having done it.’

Emma, a forum member currently embroiled in her initial training course, perceptively notes, ‘I imagine it’s like passing your driving test. You only really learn to drive properly afterwards.’ Spiral78 adds, ‘a good course is a pretty essential starter – not that certified teachers are professionals, but that they’ve got a decent idea of how to start. The course got me started on a stronger foot than I’d have had without it.’ Denise further reiterates:

‘It alone would not have gotten me to where I am now, but it was a crucial first step. It taught me the basics and I went on from there. I can’t imagine how my first teaching job would have gone without a certificate (if they would even have hired me without one). I learned a lot about how to plan, organize, and deliver a lesson.’

Canuck is another who shares the notion, ‘that the one month courses offer a foundation to build upon, maybe provide information about what someone currently does in their class now and reinforces good techniques.’ GueroPaz and Mishmumkin further exemplify, GueroPaz noting, ‘it helped me immensely; I would have been lost without it,’ while Mishmumkin adds, ‘I had been teaching a year before doing it, but it really taught me a lot about lesson planning, what to expect, how to talk less/listen more.’ Guy Courchesne reinforces the idea that 4 week courses should be seen as a foundation and that development is required after:

‘I took it without having any serious or immediate expectations of going abroad… I eventually did, about 6 months later. I completed my course in Canada and as it was geared towards teaching in Korea, I found I had to study further and learn ‘on the fly’ when I started teaching in Mexico.

Increased opportunity in the local job market is another advantage that was mentioned. Chimp Guevara asserts that, ‘it opened the door to better jobs for me in Japan, and gave me a good grounding in the basics so that I continue learning when I got back.’

Another potential advantage of the four-week training course is that it will effectively indicate those who are clearly not up to it. spiral78 exemplifies, ‘I think the courses can also be useful for weeding out people who genuinely aren’t cut out for the job – for example, if a trainee can’t show up on time every day, looking reputable, he/she’s going to crash and burn early in a contract anyway.’

It would seem, therefore, that these initial teacher training courses hold a lot of value. Never the less, Jerry was one who, validly, raised issue with an inadequate learning environment as reason for a course not being worth what was paid:

‘I would say it wasn’t worth the money. I say this because the course was delivered on a shoestring in less than acceptable premises with virtually no frills (coffee, water, working computers). The (course provider’s) websites are very misleading with respect to training environment.’

So, certain courses may be lacking in areas outside the experience you’ll gain in terms of teacher training. These are definitely things to consider when choosing a course, an issue we’ll return to later. Despite this feeling of dissatisfaction, Jerry goes on to note, ‘the course content was delivered well by the trainer and was comprehensive so in that respect it was “worthwhile“.’

Another factor relating to whether or not a particular course is worth the investment is related to what you gain from being in a particular location. This particular aspect caused some disagreement, with suggestions made in support of doing the course in an exotic foreign locale or at a location in your home country. Spiral78 led the cry for taking the course in the country where you’re thinking of teaching, listing the following benefits:

-You can get your feet wet in the country/culture while you still have a support system
- training centers will usually arrange for your housing during the course, pick you up at the airport, and generally offer you some kind of local orientation.
-Your practice teaching students will be representative of those you’ll be working with when you start.
-A good training centre can give you invaluable info regarding reputable employers in a region.
-You can be sure that your cert will be recognized by regional employers.

Jerry, in contrast, notes the benefits of doing the course in your home country:

-When you set up a course online in the country you will work in can you be sure of the provider?
-Is their course moderated?
-Can you have your certificate notarized in that country?
-What’s the validity of the certificate?
-What’s the local reputation of the course provider?
-What’s the training environment like?
-Will you be picked up at the airport? I wasn’t, a pre-course orientation meeting was convened and conducted by a previous student who felt it was her moral duty to make sure new students were not left out on a limb as she had been.
-Long term, is the certificate any use in another country or region?

Jerry also notes that this won’t necessarily help you in getting used to the type of student you’ll be teaching, suggesting, ‘As for getting to know the type of student, the lessons are so heavily teacher orientated and regimented you don’t get near to learning about them or understanding them.’

In terms of it being worthwhile, there was more agreement when it came to the notion of finding out about your course in advance, with spiral78 suggesting the following checklist:

-How long has the course been operating
- under current management?
-What qualifications do the trainers have?
-What support will the centre guarantee?
-Will the centre allow you to contact current trainees?
-I’d also send a very brief email to several employers in the area asking whether certification from course X is well-looked-upon.


Spiral78 further exemplifies the disparity between courses, noting, ‘there are a couple of 60-hour courses without teaching practice which are given as seminars using classrooms at universities – but which are NOT considered to be basic level certifications in many parts of the world.’ Indeed, deciding on whether or not a course will be worth it, finding out what the course will include seems to be vital, Canuck asserting that, ‘the only 4 week course someone should take is one that is 120 hours with a practical teaching component. The CELTA and 120 hour TEFL have this. I don’t think an online course can measure up. I also believe that the ‘every weekend’ CELTA isn’t as valuable as the one month all at once type.’

So, generally such courses are seen by the majority as being a good thing, providing as good a foundation in teaching as possible in a short space of time. The experience you gain will open doors in terms of job opportunities and will give you a pretty clear indication if you’re not up to the task.

There are also clear benefits to the location at which you take the course, depending on what your needs may be. Having said that, it’s clear that there are major disparities between the quality of such courses and doing some research before hand will pay dividends.

One final thing to consider if you’re thinking of doing such a course is the group you’re likely to end up teaching. For example, in many countries this might end up being primarily children. Leprofdanglais comments, ‘the only thing is it trains you to teach adults, but where I was working in Spain, new staff always got lumbered with kids’ classes.’ GueroPaz reiterates, ‘here in Thailand and in most places in the world, you teach lots of kids. That’s my main complaint against any adult-oriented course.’ So, even at the initial, four-week starter course stage, think about how specifically the course is going to meet your potential needs.

Comments on this issue are greatly appreciated.

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3 Responses to Old post revisited: Was your Four-week TEFL Course Worth it?

  1. Pingback: Study Home Teaching Courses | Online CEU Courses

  2. Some very good points. I think you really need to face the students to earn a proper certification.

    However, some lesser recognised certificates can help too. Many, many years ago I did an evening class described as “An introduction to TEFL”. We did micro-teaching to one another, we read a bit about Skinner and Chomsky, and I used what I learnt to get my first job at a language school in Japan.

    I learnt a lot in my first year teaching, which set me up well for the CELTA at the end of it. That would be my other advice – try and get some experience before your first certification – volunteer teaching, jobs at chain schools which offer training themselves.. I’m a test-teach-test kind of person, so when I did finally get to the CELTA I was able to relate everything to what I had actually seen in the classroom.

    And the last thing – Cambridge also offer the a certificate for teaching young learners (CELTYL), which friends tell me is great.

  3. david says:

    Thanks for that Darren, good point about the CELTYL, too, although it’s still a lot less common to find that course being offered than the CELTA.

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