While there are many ways to develop as a teacher without a formal qualification, the vast number of certificates, diplomas and courses available makes choosing the right one a minefield. This blog offers a few important aspects to consider before taking the plunge!
It is that time of the year when a fair number of teachers are enjoying the holidays (whether that means a break or teaching in summer camps) and thinking about what the next academic year holds. Last year I wrote about new beginnings and the new school year and this year I am going to write about doing a certificated course over the next year, mostly because it comes up in conversations so often. Keep in mind that there are many other options to develop professionally that do not require a certificated course – by only writing about courses in this blog, I am not saying that they are the legit way of developing, more that they are an option that you may like to consider.
As it is a big part of my job, and something I enjoy doing, I often get asked lots of questions about which course a teacher should select to develop their skills. For the interest of openness, I should mention that I am course director of a Trinity Certificate TESOL, TYLEC, and Trinity Diploma TESOL. That said, given the number of factors you should consider when weighing up which course to go for, there have been times when I’ve thought a teacher should do something other than one of our courses. As you can imagine, a single blog post cannot list out all the things you need to consider, especially as some factors will be personal to you, your experience and teaching context, and where you are in your teaching career; however I hope this blog can be used as a starting point by covering the more common questions I answer frequently.
Will I get a raise if I do a course?
This is the question I get asked most often, and the answer is quite simple. No, you are unlikely to get a raise. This is especially true for courses like a CELTA or Trinity Certificate TESOL. The reason you won’t get a raise is if the school didn’t care about employing a person with a teaching qualification, they are not going to care about you completing one. However, if the school is encouraging you to do a course, then the situation may be different as your improved qualification status could be benefitting the school. Either way, it’s worth bearing in mind that the decision is not a reflection on you, but perhaps rather on the industry as a whole. In other words, don’t do any course purely for the possibility of a raise. Completing any course will open up other opportunities (and possibly ones within the school if they have a training division and/or obvious career paths), and rather than getting a raise, it will allow you to work for organisations that do value qualifications and often pay more. It also allows you to do other ELT-related things, like becoming an examiner for IELTS or Cambridge exams, something you can often not do without an initial qualification.
My observation: If you are purely doing a course because you want a raise, consider better options to get a raise or change employers.
I need a certificate because the school (or the government) needs me to have one
This is a surprisingly often asked question, and I apologise if my answer seems a little strong. I will, under the next heading discuss why CELTA and Trinity Certificate TESOL are often preferred, but for this answer, will focus only on any TESOL certificate. The internet is full of lots of certificates that differ in price from 50 USD to 3500 USD. I have found that a person doing a certificate because the school needs it, generally needs a certificate so they can become a senior teacher or there is some promotion opportunity. My advice is that if you are in this situation – unless the school/governing body has explicitly stated which qualification you need to have – do the cheapest option. There are two reasons for this. One, your school is unlikely to care what it says on the certificate (the obvious exception being the situation I’ve given above). Two, you are going to be so focused on just getting that crucial piece of paper that a lot of the learning from the course is going to be lost on you. And considering the premium price of a more recognised certificate, it is going to be a waste of time and money.
Don’t, however, be misled by names of the certificates. Words like ‘Advanced’ or ‘Expert’ are often used to create the impression that the certificate is worth more and you will learn more, but the content of the courses are often identical. There is, for example, a school I am aware of that offers an ‘Advanced TESOL Certificate’ to people with no classroom experience in 35 hours, with a 20-minute peer-to-peer teaching demo. The fact that the certificate says ‘Advanced’ means they are charging five times what the certificate is really worth. If you only need a certificate, then do the cheapest option you can find.
My observation: There is nothing wrong with just going through the motions to get a piece of paper your employer wants, but be honest about your own expectations, and if it is just the certificate, choose the cheapest reliable option.
Why does everyone go on about the CELTA and Trinity Certificate TESOL?
There are a few main reasons why these two certificates (and the Trinity Diploma TESOL or DELTA) for higher qualifications are preferred.
- They are externally moderated, meaning the centre delivering the qualification cannot just pass anyone
- There is a minimum number of hours of teaching practice with real students in a live classroom (usually face to face though now some offer online options)
- Your tutor doing input sessions and observing your teaching practice has gone through a standardisation process and met the minimum professional requirements to be a tutor
- They are authorised by the government to issue qualifications. I would be very wary of accreditation bodies you have never heard of
- They are globally recognised
- The number of input hours are timetabled and has to be met. If the certificate says 120 input hours and 70 hours of self-study, it is supposed to be very close to that. There are quite a few ads on the internet where you can do a 120-hour TEFL in a weekend. Simple math says that is impossible
My observation: These certificates are globally recognised for more than just a ‘monopoly’ which is an argument I have heard quite often. Consider carefully how well recognised a qualification is and whether you would be able to work in another country or for another employer with that qualification.
What about the many course providers of different certificates?
There is a very unfortunate myth that anything that isn’t a CELTA or Trinity Certificate TESOL is poor quality. That is definitely not the case – there are a great number of providers that provide very good qualifications that cover all the areas that need to be covered for your advancement, and equally, their tutors might be very good. That said, they don’t always meet the requirements that I would look for (as discussed above) but you can definitely learn a lot from them, and they are often somewhat less expensive.
There are also some very good shorter courses available for teachers who want to learn from a certificate (in contrast to just wanting a certificate because the school said so) and courses by NILE ELT, or International House, or a number of other suppliers are of excellent quality. I can attest that, for example, the IH course in Advanced Methodology does its name justice, despite me saying above avoid these names. If you know exactly what you want, you can look at the course content and make an informed decision.
My observation: If you know the exact purpose of enrolling for a qualification, then you can make much more informed decisions. And then, there might be many other options available.
I want to teach in mainstream education (public or private schools)
In most countries (if not all) you would need certified teacher status to teach in mainstream education. For example, QTS in the UK, SACE membership in South Africa, etc. A CELTA or Trinity Certificate TESOL, or even a DELTA or Trinity Diploma TESOL is not going to help you. You will have to do either an MA in Education (for example, in Australia) or a PGCE (for instance, in the UK or South Africa) and then register with the local teaching body. The number of options that allows this to be done distance has increased tremendously over the last three or so years, and is a very viable long-term teaching option, but significantly more expensive that other qualifications.
In some countries, you might be able to get a teaching job without these qualifications (such as private schools in Asia), but with the number of qualified teachers moving abroad, these jobs are likely to dry up. So, if you are in this situation, now might be the right time to start exploring other options.
I did a PGCE, worked in a private school for a little while and really didn’t enjoy it. While it is a great long-term option, consider if it is the right option for you.
My observation: Consider the qualification you need for your context and goals; rather than just do something you hope will work in your context.
Should I do a DipTESOL/DELTA or MA?
This is probably the trickiest of all the questions. My personal advice would be to do a DipTESOL or a DELTA first and then an MA, especially if you can get credits towards the MA. That being said, I did my MA first and then a DELTA – finding the DELTA significantly more challenging and rewarding than the MA! That does not mean the MA was useless. In fact, I think I would have gotten a lot more out of the MA if I had done it the other way around. My general answer is do both, unless your goal is to work in a university, in which case you would need to go the academic route. If you are at this point in your career where these are your options, you have probably made a few good decisions before already, so trust your instinct but consider your objectives, the time commitment, and the cost.
If you haven’t done an initial qualification like a CELTA or a Trinity Certificate TESOL, I would suggest at least considering that before embarking on the Diploma journey. There are two main reasons. One, you get reward for your work in 4 to 20 weeks. A diploma can take up to 3 years to complete. Two, it is a lot cheaper, especially of this is your first real ELT qualification. It can be really daunting. If you are up for the challenge and it excites, then enjoy. Either of the three (Diploma, DELTA, MA) are lots of work, but almost guaranteed to be helpful in the future.
My observation: Sometimes there really isn’t an absolute answer. Think about what excites you right now … then do that!
So, what lies ahead in the next year? I am a fan of continuously doing some kind of formal learning, but there are so many options available. I quite frequently do Future Learn courses, and a lot of them are not ELT related. I simply enjoy doing them and the learning process. But, if you are planning on doing a course this year that is directly related to teaching, consider your context, the reason for choosing the course, the time and money commitment, and what your objectives are.
In quite a few places, the ELT market is slowly but surely recovering after the effects of the recent pandemic, and that does mean that opportunities should be increasing. In other words, choose your development carefully in the following year, and make sure that the people you are asking advice from have your best interest at heart.