TEFL hacks Part 3: Is your TEFL certificate what it says it is?
When you start planning your career in English language teaching, you will probably be thinking about where in the world you would like to travel. The regulations imposed by different countries will affect the type of qualification you choose, as different courses are recognised in different ways in different regions of the world.
This article looks at some of these restrictions, and the qualification package you will need to present as part of your visa application and employment processes.
Do you need a bachelors degree to teach English internationally?
In many countries, it is the law that all teachers need a first degree, sometimes in a field related directly to what they will be teaching when they arrive. In other countries, an initial teaching certificate is enough to obtain a visa and start work there (though unfortunately some countries only grant visas to ‘native speakers’, no matter what levels of qualification they hold).
The qualification and passport requirements are the first thing you should look into carefully before deciding on a plan of action. It is easier to list countries which do not require a degree to teach English (this is not a complete list, and is true at the time of writing, so you will need to check this thoroughly yourself too):
Asia: Cambodia, South Korea, Laos
Europe: Spain, Greece, Germany
Central / South America: Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica, Peru, Brazil, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Uruguay,
Central / Eastern Europe: Russia, Ukraine, Romania, Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Slovenia,
Middle East: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon
Can visa and employment regulations change?
The simple answer is yes. As with all government policies, the requirements for educators in different countries changes from time to time, meaning that you have to keep your eye on current information. Beware of outdated blog articles (like this one will be…), and get information from a range of sources. Many teaching organisations have a vested interest in providing information which will influence you towards working with them, and not all agencies and recruiters operate strictly within the law.
What levels of TEFL qualification are recognised internationally?
Individual countries accept qualifications from various different accreditation bodies (depending on their own national criteria). Many cheaper online qualifications may have internal accreditation or their own system of grading based on course attendance, and these are enough to present to visa authorities in some countries. However, unless you have other experience in the classroom or a background in education, these quickie certificates are unlikely to give you the skills that you need when you go into the classroom. Teaching is a tough job to get right, and having a dependable skill-set and a range of methodologies and activities to draw on when you arrive in your new job is indispensable.
The only guarantee of qualifications recognition from any country is a totally independent level of accreditation through a national body such as the UK government’s qualifications body Ofqual. Ofqual oversees a Regulated Qualifications Framework, which applies levels to qualifications according tot he level of academic and professional content which is included. The benchmark for international TESOL and TEFL qualifications is RQF level 5, which is equivalent to a graduate certificate achieved after the second year of a bachelors degree.
Along with the level 5 status, many countries also require candidates to have completed courses which include at least 120 hours of instruction, including a minimum of 6 hours of assessed teaching performed with real language learners. The combination of level 5, 120 hours and 6 hours of teaching is the minimum that is accepted for visa applications in China, for example, and is even becoming a requirement for teachers working with Chinese students online from anywhere in the world. This makes such benchmark qualifications a future-proof choice for anyone considering an international career in the TEFL industry.
To check the status of a qualification you are going to take, the Ofqual register is open-access and can be used to search for qualifications by provider or course title. Be aware that many course providers label their qualifications as ‘level 5’ without appearing on the register, and many teachers get caught out every year when they come to apply for visas and are turned down at the last minute. Check the real accreditation level of any qualification that you take in order to avoid a shock at the embassy.
Overall, it is worth taking the advice of the many people who post the benefits of level 5 courses such as the Trinity CertTESOL and Cambridge CELTA online, saying that despite the higher cost, these courses and qualifications are worth it. They typically lead to better positions, greater prospects of career development and higher salaries, as well as the confidence to apply for teaching positions anywhere in the world.
Tom Garside is Director of Teacher Training for Language Point Teacher Education, a training provider which is validated to deliver the internationally recognised RQF level 5 Trinity CertTESOL in a totally online mode of study, and the new RQF level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification for online and classroom language educators with a language proficiency of CEFR B2 and above.