Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

Whatever happened to that girl who didn’t do a TEFL?

I often see questions in ELT forums and Facebook groups with people asking if they should fork out for a full TEFL or an online version and whether they really need them to get a job teaching abroad. Answers range from “depends where you’re going” to an absolute and unbending “YES!” with offence taken at the idea anyone might try and teach with no 4 week qualification.

A recent kerfuffle on ELTjam shows the level of outrage that’s possible. I had my own take on it here where most of the commenters agreed with me — that the course isn’t necessarily needed.

Funnily enough, no-one minds that authority figures in in ELT might have been not only have been teaching with no TEFL qualification, but writing books that are used on those same TEFL courses. Maybe you get immunity after a certain number of years or books? Or there’s some other reason I can’t think of why Michael Swan has got away with saying this on his website:

I feel bound to confess that, as I drifted into English language teaching and applied linguistics with no professional training in these areas, I have no qualifications whatever for the work that I do. If I applied to myself for a job as a research assistant, I would have to turn myself down.

Swan’s not the only one either and I suspect there were plenty of other ELT luminaries keeping quiet when Hristina’s announcement she was off to Vietnam to teach with only an online TEFL set off a storm in an ELT cup. That was two months ago and I thought some of those concerned about the ethics or practicalities of Hristina’s situation might be wondering what happened to her.

So I asked.

So, Hristina, did you find a job, despite only having an online course?

Yep! A job teaching primary English (and science) in a public school where kids come not from underprivileged families, struggling to scrape a dollar together, but from wealthy upper middle class families. The school also offered teacher training. The school system is very different from mine, and maybe a lot of Asian countries, in that there’s an enormous focus on ‘fun’ and games rather than hard-core drilling, though this may be just for the English and Sciences classes that I teach.

I also teach at several private schools where the kids are usually quite young (anything between 3-6).

I reckon I’m doing a good job so far and probably to do with the 10 months I spent at ELTjam.

People were concerned you would be undercutting a qualified teacher. Do you think your job came at someone else’s expense?

No way. The demand for teachers in Vietnam is, as I expected, huge. So there is no ‘undercutting’ going on here.

Are you legal? I mean work permits and the kinds of protection a qualified teacher would expect?

I was immediately — the very same day — offered help with acquiring a work permit and $24 US** an hour.

You say you reckon you’re doing a good job so far. How can you tell?

I’ve been able to sit in on other classes where English is taught as a second language so I’ve been able to observe and compare what I do with what others do. A lot of them have had years of experience and it’s been great to have that sort of guidance. I also have a Vietnamese TA who isn’t exactly a TA but more of an assessor. So if I’m not doing something right she will step in and tell me what to do. (I later found out my TA is the head of the English department which explains why she’s a lot more demanding than the other Vietnamese TA’s.) The TA’s provide invaluable feedback which is why I think I’m doing an OK job.

What aspects of teaching are you enjoying the most? And what do you think you’ll improve at?

I’m actually really enjoying teaching Science in English. I also really like the kids. Sounds like a bit of a clichéd thing to say but the young little ones are super cute.. And bright. Really, really bright. They love to be challenged. I like to get them all hyped up, then I know they’re enjoying themselves.

If I decide to keep teaching however, I would definitely consider doing the CELTA or equivalent. I think it would definitely help if I were to competently teach adults and give private lessons, which is probably what I would want to do if I decide to keep teaching.

Big question … you’ve only been there a month but how do you feel about your decision not to take an official TEFL qualification yet?

I’m quite happy with the decision I made. I’m glad I didn’t dish out a grand and a half on a CELTA. It’s just way too much money and at this stage, it really doesn’t feel like I need one.
** This is approx. £15.40 or €19.77 which makes it equivalent to the last time I taught in the UK (2010 with my TESOL and 10+ years’ experience) and more than last time I taught in Spain (2012 with an added MA in ELT).




20 comments on “Whatever happened to that girl who didn’t do a TEFL?

  1. ketaninkorea
    January 20, 2015
  2. ketaninkorea
    January 20, 2015

    This is an interesting read, and a constant debate among ESL teachers. While I don’t think having a TESOL certification necessarily makes one a good teacher, it does give that person the skills and some methods for teaching ESL. I have a TESOL Certificate, along with six years of teaching experience. It’s important for teachers to understand the benefits of having a qualification when it comes to finding jobs overseas.

    • Nicola
      January 20, 2015

      I think that side of the story is told often and anyone thinking about teaching will find out about the benefits. And the pitfalls of not having one. It is the pitfalls when you have one and are at a bad school OR the fact that you can get a good job without one that are the more untold stories!

      • ketaninkorea
        January 21, 2015

        yeah, definitely! Sometimes if you end up at a bad school, no matter what your qualifications are, you’re screwed!

  3. Adam
    January 20, 2015

    It’s nice to know that she actually exists; I initially thought she’d been invented as a sneakily convincing way of writing a sponsored blog post for a new language app. Apologies for my cynicism, Hristina.

    As far as I was concerned, there was no way I would have entered a classroom without having taken some kind of foundation course. However, I don’t see what she is doing as being that big a problem: there’s a huge difference between doing absolutely nothing and landing a job and doing what Hristina has done. She seems conscientious and is being proactive in terms of developing her skills. In this case, I think both her and the employer have been lucky. She has landed a good job without being particularly well qualified; they have landed an eager-to-improve novice who isn’t there for a bit of spending money on her foreign adventure. Very good luck to you!

    A couple of points stick out for me and might stimulate further discussion:

    – huge demand for teachers (jobs tend to be easy to obtain in such markets)

    – extreme ease in getting a work permit (trust me, this was easy)

    How might things have gone elsewhere without a CELTA?

    • Nicola
      January 20, 2015

      I think there are much more effective ways of promoting products than inventing staff 🙂
      I think the huge demand for teachers is something it’s easy to forget when railing against a certain way of perceiving standards of quality e.g. Duolingo, Sugata Mitra and online TEFL courses/
      I think it varies so much country to country. I reckon a European entitled worker could get work almost anywhere in Europe without a recognised qualification. The quality of the school though – that’s another question.

  4. teachingbattleground
    January 20, 2015

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  5. egcloyd
    January 21, 2015

    Reblogged this on egcloyd.

  6. aiyshah2014
    January 24, 2015

    My feeling is that I know a number of non TEFL certified teachers who have taught children in Japan and after they finish their teaching jobs, I notice that their experience there is never able to be transferred to another school in another country.

    I guess what I am saying is that these kinds of teachers hit the professional ‘wall’ pretty early on in their career.

    My feeling is, if you are serious….get a CELTA.

    And in Malaysia, there will be no visa without a degree AND a tefl certificate (which by the way takes a lot longer than a day – 3 months more like), and I shudder to think of what kind of language school in Malaysia will take these kinds of teachers on. I feel sorry for the teacher.

    • Nicola
      January 24, 2015

      I think having the qualification will mean having the widest range of possible job choices so, most people, staying in for the long haul – which I seriously advise against! – would take it. And those with experience will pass that course with a higher mark. But, then again, you can get university jobs with no formal TEFL course and that’s probably one of the best kinds of jobs to have. Not to mention jobs in bi-lingual private sector mainstream schools. Getting out of the private language school sector is the best thing for a long term teacher and I wonder how much that particular qualification matters then.

      • aiyshah2014
        January 24, 2015

        So ….. what is it that you ‘seriously advise against’? Not sure what you mean. Is it….. Staying in for the long haul?

        Also in terms of University jobs are you referring to teaching ESL jobs at University or being a lecturer in another subject?

        I agree to a certain extent about the private language school sector, as there is usually only so far you can go. However if you have other managerial skills and you work for a centre that is international, you could move up the ladder a bit more.

      • Nicola
        January 25, 2015

        Yes, I advise against staying in EFL in the private language sector for longer than a couple of years. It is a job unlikely to lead to financial security or even fair terms like holiday pay, pension, health insurance. So many people get stuck and even higher positions rarely pay what a university graduate with ten year’s experience could have been earning had they chosen a different field altogether or just another kind of teaching i.e. mainstream education.
        I confess I don’t know enough about university work to say whether the TEFL is necessary for which kinds of teaching positions.

      • aiyshah2014
        January 25, 2015

        Okay I understand. Yes, for sure anyone with a masters degree in some field is far more likely to be further down the track financially and career-wise after 10 years than if they had stayed in a language centre.

  7. Singbetterenglish
    January 26, 2015

    Hi Nicola – when I read your interview with Hristina I was struck by how her teacher training ‘on the job’ experience mirrors the School Direct and Teach First teacher training programmes in the UK for state school teachers

    With Hristina’s enthusiasm and the knowledgeable TA in class with her, I’d say she’s doing her students proud.

    I trained long, long ago as a TEFL teacher. It was just before TEFL courses started being marketed as the necessary passport to ‘living the dream’ and travelling abroad. Weekend TEFL courses sprouted like mushrooms. They were like a vaccination for world travel.

    Which isn’t to say that TEFL teachers shouldn’t take their own language study seriously. We should. But, as you say, TEFL is one of the industries where you pay to train yourself and the cost of the training (‘a grand and a half’? wow) isn’t reflected in the salary. Unless you’re very lucky. There’s no rarity value in being a TEFL teacher, even one who’s spent £1,500 on a course.

    • Nicola
      January 26, 2015

      Always interesting to compare the state schools with ELT and I often wish I knew more about them as they seem to be further ahead on lots of things! Thanks for the comment.

      • Singbetterenglish
        January 26, 2015

        They’re ahead and not ahead – the Teach Direct thing, well-managed, is good training. But, sadly, a lot of graduates are dropped into classrooms full of teenagers with very little proper mentoring or help. They sink or swim. It’s cheap for the schools to put a trainee in front of a class, and that, sadly, can override other considerations.

        But Hristina’s experience in Vietnam, with the experienced TA mentoring her, sounds perfect. She’s fallen on her feet.

    • hristina h vasileva
      March 16, 2015

      That´s funny you should say this as I am now applying to teach first to teach history – the application process is quite lengthy and tough !

      • Nicola
        March 25, 2015

        Love to hear about how that goes! Will be in touch!

  8. Justin Ehresman
    April 14, 2015

    I also started in Japan with no certificate. (I now have one) For me the biggest thing was having to do so much work on my own and I felt alone. I was also observed, but five years later when I did the CELTA, I felt so much less frustrated. My advice, get some experience THEN do the CELTA, you’ll get more out of it! I saw people on my course who had never taught at all and they were so lost. Those who had some experience (be it 6 months or 5 years) performed much better, understood much better and generally got more out of the course. And of course there will always be teachers who are not good in spite of the CELTA and those who are in spite of not having the CELTA. If you are serious about teaching and want more support, do the CELTA. If you want to make lots of money for a year or two and don’t want to invest your time, money or energy, then head to Asia or the Middle East. Either way, know what you want and how to get it. 🙂

    • Nicola
      April 15, 2015

      The only person on my TEFL course who got an A was someone who had taught in Japan too!

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This entry was posted on January 20, 2015 by in ELT, Teaching English and tagged , , , , .
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