Guest Post: Do I Really Need that TEFL Course?

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February 21, 2013 by k. liz

Do I Really Need that TEFL Course?

After obtaining degrees in English Literature and English Secondary Education,Sean Lords packed up his bags and left to Seoul, South Korea where he lived for three years teaching English abroad. Sean has since returned to the States and is currently at work on his Master’s degree.

Teaching overseas is a funny thing really.  If you were to ask any of the teachers who are currently employed in an ESL environment at the moment if this position was something they went to college to do, you’d be hard pressed to find a, “yes”.  While a good portion of that will attest to wanting to be a teacher of some kind, very few of those, if any, will had have gone to a college institution with the end goal of teaching overseas. The influx of ESL teachers in the past five years in countries overseas appears to be a direct result of an economy in a downswing.  Many of these teachers (myself included) tried for several months, sending out resume after resume to no avail.  My personal experiences saw me sending out more than a 100 of these little pieces of paper to countless employers and companies in my area.  Out of all those that I sent out, only a handful got back to me.  Out of that handful of respondents, I received not one interview.  “There were more qualified individuals”, I was told.  “While we are pleased you applied we ended up going with a candidate with more experience”.  Each email and letter back was increasingly disheartening.  I graduated with nearly a 4.0, I had work of mine published and I had glowing letters of recommendation.  I decided to take matters into my own hands.  Two months later, after I answered Craigslist ad and several trips to immigration, I was teaching in my own classroom, with my own desk and a pretty decent salary.

An essential component of teaching overseas, especially for those who have not received a degree in a teaching field is the TEFL.  Just like your visa and your passport, the TEFL course is an important, if not essential, tool to being a teacher abroad.  If you are on the fence about it, take a look at some of the information below.


Depending on your country of choice you may not need a TEFL to obtain a work visa from an employer.  As a general rule, South Korea and Japan usually don’t require one.  However, European countries, China and other ESL destinations often do.

If you are planning on teaching in Korea or Japan, don’t immediately dismiss the idea of getting a TEFL.  My school (along with many other schools) evaluated your pay rate based on experience.  If you had a degree in a relevant teaching field, you qualified for a higher pay-grade.  If you had completed a TEFL course, your pay would be even higher.  The added benefit of additional pay coupled with the great instructional tools you learn during a TEFL course can be a great incentive to enrolling in a course.

Provide a Platform for Traveling Abroad

While some schools may reward you with an increased salary because you took a TEFL course, others may require that you have one to even gain entry to teach in their country.  If you are interested in traveling throughout many parts of Europe, a TEFL certificate is necessary.

A lot of European countries will have TEFL schools located in their cities which if accepted into, can see you obtaining certification while living abroad.  If you don’t want to leave anything up to chance, there are several institutions here stateside that can get you certified before you board that plane.

Bolster Teaching Skills

Even if you have a degree in a teaching field, taking a TEFL course can be a valuable resource when you find yourself in front of 15 middle school-aged children all giving you the same blank stare that says, “I have no idea what you are saying to me”.

TEFL courses equip you to deal with these situations.  My degree in secondary education gave me a good foundation for teaching overseas but my TEFL was the hammer and the nails that helped me build an effective lesson plan time and time again.

Instructing someone in complicated grammar and story structure is one thing when English is their first spoken language, but to do so to students who have had no previous experience with the language is a completely different thing.  The methods of conveying these concepts in an ESL environment are entirely different than that in a classroom where English is the predominant spoken language.  You need to be creative, think outside of the box and employ tactics you might have not otherwise, all things that are taught to you during a TEFL course.

The benefits of obtaining a TEFL go much further beyond the items listed here.  If you are considering teaching  English abroad and don’t know where to start your journey, take a look at Dave’s ESL Café or many of the other great ESL instruction sites and forums that populate the internet.  There you will find thousands of people who would be more than happy to share their stories and experiences with you.


This is a guest post. Please keep in mind that while I am posting this on my blog, it does not necessarily reflect my positions or beliefs 100%. If you are interested in guest posting on my blog, please contact me at klizbarker(at)yahoo(dot)com.


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