TEFL – Part II: Getting Certified

These are my opinions and based on my personal experience.
This is a long post but it contains some great information. Thank you for reading!


Do you have your reasons for why you want to teach English abroad? Great! I trust they are good reasons and that one of them is to actually help children learn the language. Here comes a stressful part of teaching English: the certification and qualifications needed to teach. There is one major requirement to teach, it’s having a Bachelor’s degree in any discipline. Don’t have a Bachelor’s degree? Don’t fret, there are still options for you. I will touch on these further into the post. There is one important question I get a lot when asked about teaching English abroad: do I even need to get a certification?

It’s a great question and a valid one. Why spend the 100’s of dollars and waste all of the time studying to get the certification if you don’t have to? I always respond with a question of my own: would you pay thousands of dollars to have your child learn a foreign language from a teacher with no qualifications? The answer is usually “no”. Having a certification won’t make you a good or effective teacher, but it will help you in becoming one; having said that, I do know teachers who never got a certification and are amazing in the classroom. They may not have a certification but they bolstered their qualifications in other ways, such as actually working in the classroom as a tutor or substitute, or even learning about teaching through self-study. In almost all of those cases, which are rare, they had a passion for teaching and educated themselves on the subject in some form or fashion.

I always recommend getting certified because most reputable schools and organizations require it. Not only that, it truly does help you in the classroom when teaching. You should always strive to set yourself up for success, because in most cases, you will be spending an entire year away from your home and not running a successful classroom can be a huge hindrance in your overall experience. There are far too many bitter English teachers (you can find a lot of them on internet forums) who complain about work life balance or horrible classroom experiences. I attribute most of this to them not having prepared adequately to teach abroad or not being qualified to teach at all. Some even complain that they have to actually work! Can you imagine an employee at your current place of work who complains about having to do the job they are being paid to do??

Ridiculous.

This brings me to my next topic: do you have any experience teaching?

In some countries it’s not necessary and others, it is. There is nothing wrong with not having experience; it just means that you have to get a quality certification where you can learn the skills needed to teach. Will you learn everything that you need? No. Teaching for me is:TEFL Part II - Teaching SkillsIt takes an equal amount of each to be an effective English teacher. To break it down even further, specifically with skill, I believe that 10% of it is learned from your certification and the other 15% is trial by fire. You have to be able to experiment to see what works for your class and for your teaching style. What is effective with one group of children may not be effective with another. You need to have patience with your students because for one, they are children. They may not even want to learn English but their parents are forcing them to. Learning a new language is daunting so patience goes a long way for your students learning as well as your sanity.

Actually caring about your students is important because they are the reason you are in their country to begin with. Pay attention to your student and study their learning styles. This will help in planning your lessons. Your students will be able to tell if you actually care about them and want to be there, as opposed to not caring. They will be more apt to learn from you if you show them you care. Be creative, as creative as your school or curriculum allows you to be. Teaching English is a fun job so have fun with it. Play games, watch videos, ask interesting questions and get your students involved. Cook your favorite cookies from home and bring them to class, use them as a cultural lesson and teach your students about where you’re from. This is the best part of being a teacher, teaching your students while they learn something about you in turn.

Think back to your favorite teachers growing up: how did they teach you and was it effective? Why? Were they personable, or maybe they made the lessons fun? Were the lessons visual and interactive or were they lecture driven with a lot of reading and writing? Did you play games? Were the lessons a combination of a lot of different elements? Pay attention to what you find when thinking of this because it could be a huge help once you start teaching. Drawing from these experiences can be the perfect resource for you if you don’t have any experience teaching. I’ve found that first time teachers who do this become more confident in front of the class, which translates into students who pay attention more to your lesson.

I was an English and Math tutor for 3 years while pursuing my Associates degree and after graduation. I also served as a guidance technician (counselor assistant) for a year before going back for my Bachelors. During this time I learned a lot about the psychology of teaching, as well as building some rudimentary skills in the classroom. I tutored and counseled students from the 1st grade through the 8th grade. I recommend getting some experience volunteering (or working if you have the time) in a school in order to see what actual classroom teaching feels like. Being able to be around children and having that exposure helps in managing classrooms once you start teaching. Being a child is universal, no matter which country you live in. They all want to play, spend time with their friends, and laugh when you say “fart” or “balls” (if you chuckled then good for you). Having a sense of humor will go a long way in the classroom; children tend to be unforgiving and will laugh at your every mistake.

What does any of this have to do with getting my certification? Glad you asked.

Having or not having experience will determine which type of certification to get. See the infographic below to get an overview of which qualification may be for you:TEFL Qualifications InfographicI mentioned in my last post that you should research the country you want to go to because it will affect the type of certification you want. Most countries want a 100 hour or more TEFL certification but other, more competitive countries may want you to have a more in depth certification, like the DELTA. Take a look at the job postings to get a general sense of what they are looking for. You also need to look further down the road into the future and decide if you want to spend one or more years teaching. If you are more serious about teaching, getting a more in depth qualification may be for you, perhaps even a Master’s degree. It may not be something you need right away but I believe, again, in setting yourself up for success. It may take more time but getting the DELTA or a Masters may keep you from running into trouble further down the road if this is a career path you have chosen for yourself.

Let’s say you don’t have a Bachelor’s degree but you still want to teach English abroad. As I mentioned before, there are options for you. Check out this post by Oxford Seminars that lays out your options. It’s not impossible and your expectations should be realistic. Those without degrees typically make much less than those who do but positions are out there. Do your research, learn about the market, and submit your application! Obtaining some qualification, like those above, will definitely help you in your search.

I created a spreadsheet with the information contained in the infographic above for a more in depth view of the qualifications you can pursue. See the spreadsheet here.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading! I know it’s a lot of information to take in but it’s important for you to know. If you have any lingering questions after reading this post then please comment below or contact me, I will be more than happy to help. I really do hope this helps and if you are still interested in teaching English abroad, please read Part III of my TEFL series: Landing the Job.

– Alexanio

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