Dozens of expectant faces stare up at you as you're standing at the front of a packed classroom, lesson plan in hand. Usually confident, you waver a little as students shift impatiently in their seats, sharpening pencils eagerly in the hopes that you'll pass along some knowledge worth recording. You knew this moment was coming, but suddenly your mind is flooded with questions. Did you take every step you could to prepare? Are you really equipped to be an instructor? Are you actually ready to teach English as a second language?
These waves of doubt are not uncommon when new teachers are faced with the daunting task of schooling students in a new language, often while immersed in an unfamiliar culture on an unfamiliar continent. But a great way to garner some experience before hopping aboard a plane is to enrol in an ESL teacher-training course that's specifically designed to - quite literally - teach teachers. This type of certification is actually a condition of employment in some places, such as Taiwan, and for many individual language schools. Unfortunately, there is no international standard for these courses—so choosing the right one from the hundreds of available options can be tricky.
Ask the right questions about the TESL course
First and foremost, it's absolutely essential to do your research. Dianne Tyers, President of Advanced Consulting for Education, insists that this has to be at the top of your to-do list. David Roberts, the teacher placement advisor at Oxford Seminars, agrees. He encourages would-be students to investigate the school that's offering the course.
Ask about the qualifications of the people who would be training you. Ask about the duration of the program, the topics covered, and what kind of networking is offered. And make sure you find out what you're getting for your money—specifically, what's included in the course fee. Some schools offer services upon completion of the course, like teacher placement and contract reading.
The second step, says Tyers, is to go and actually visit the school (assuming you do not plan to study for your qualification overseas!). Inquire about taking a tour or look for free introductory sessions where you can meet the trainers and find out about the curriculum. She insists that the most important part of the course is the hands-on, practical component. It's this, she explains, that prepares you for the real-world classroom. Tyers advises students to choose a course that offers observational learning, peer teaching, and/or practice teaching with supervision.
Once you have all the information you need about the courses available, take a few minutes to sit down and figure out what course is best for your particular situation. There are a few decisions you'll have to make.
Why and where?
First, determine your motivation. What do you want to do with the course? If you're not quite sure teaching ESL is for you, you might consider taking a shorter course, or an online course to feel it out. The trouble with that, however, is that the part you'll want to try out is the real live teaching—and you won't get that experience online. Plus, if you do like it, you'll have to take another course to get that practical component.
Next, decide if you only want to work overseas. If you think you might want to teach ESL when you return to your own country, you'll need to take a course that meets standards there. Canadians can check out the TESL Canada guidelines (click here for more). If you think you might like to teach for immigration programs in Canada such as LINC, you may also need a course that fulfils TESL Ontario standards—it's the only province with customized regulations, says Tyers, and they're quite stringent. Similarly, Brits should check with the British Council or English UK. In the United States, requirements tend to vary by state.
Show me the money
Once you've selected some potential international destinations, consider why you want to teach overseas. Schools tend to pay in accordance with the cost of living in their country, says Roberts, so if you are hoping to save money or pay off student loans, be sure to choose a country with a more lucrative market like Taiwan or Korea. China currently has a huge demand for teachers, and their cost of living is very low. So you can expect to live comfortably while working, and probably save some money on the side.
Considering which country you would like to teach in is an important step before you select a TESL course because you want to be sure you're paid properly—and legally. Some countries require a TESL certification; at the time of writing Taiwan requires that the TEFL course be classroom-based (online is not acceptable). Many countries, especially in Asia, require evidence of a completed degree from a recognized university in order to secure a working visa. These are separate from the requirements of the employers, says Tyers, so be sure to check that the course you choose will satisfy both these levels of regulatory standards in the country where you want to work.
Finally, you need to decide how much time and money you can commit to a training course. Though they vary in cost and duration, you can choose the one that best suits your needs and your budget once you've answered all the other questions. Most courses run between 60 and 120 hours, estimates Tyers, and fall somewhere in the price range of $1000 to $2500. Those with practical components will be on the longer and more expensive end of that range, while theoretical or correspondence courses will be shorter and cost less. Keep in mind, however, that a course may be a good investment: some schools pay TESL qualified teachers a higher wage, and you may earn back your course costs before too long.
The more questions you ask, the better—of the school offering the training and of yourself. Since everyone's situation is unique, careful research will help you choose the course that best suits your needs. And if you're well prepared, you're far more likely to have a safe, fun and rewarding teaching experience.