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Not TEFL Certified? Then Don't Teach Abroad!

Kid in Brazil

In an industry as diverse and complicated as the English teaching abroad industry, there's often a great deal of confusion in regards to what credentials would-be teachers actually NEED in order to qualify for a teaching job abroad. It's a vast, world-wide industry, and as a result, hiring practices can vary considerably from school to school and location to location.

Among all the variations though, the demand for teachers with TEFL certification is one of the most consistently (though still not universally) listed job requirements. While it’s not extremely likely that you’ll be able to find a teaching job without a TEFL certificate (and if you do find a job, it’s probably not going to be at the sort of school that you really want to be working at), it is possible.

Just because you can teach abroad without a TEFL certificate, doesn't mean that you should.

Some schools are simply desperate enough for teachers or so poorly organized that they’ll really hire just about anybody. So if you really want to find a teaching job without any training or experience, it is theoretically possible.

However, just because you can teach abroad without a TEFL certificate, doesn’t mean that you should. There are many different factors you must take into account when contemplating teaching abroad -- from personal development to your impact on the community around you -- and we beg of you, please, think about what we have to say first and don't go abroad to teach without having undergone a TEFL or CELTA course first!.

Teaching Isn’t Easy

Classroom in Norway

Remember how much fun it used to be to have a substitute teacher that clearly had no idea what they were doing? The bleary-eyed twenty-something who seemed more like an older brother or sister than an educator and who quickly gave up on attempting any sort of actual teaching by throwing on a movie in attempts to pacify the rowdy classroom?

While those days were a lot of fun when you were a student, you probably didn’t learn a whole lot, and if you’re planning on teaching abroad without any training, odds are, you will be that poor bleary-eyed teacher -- but not just for a day or two. Sounds fun, right?

The truth is, teaching is hard. It's a real job that requires real practice. No matter what subject, age range or situation you’re in, educating a room full of people presents a unique set of challenges, and it takes a lot of preparation and training to be effective.

Getting TEFL certified will help you accomplish this. Especially since you should be choosing a TEFL course that includes at least 20 hours practicum component (practice in-classroom teaching), you'll have had time in front of real students teaching real lessons under the helpful eye of a teacher trainer before you're asked to fly solo.

Even after you've undergone some training, becoming a good teacher is a significant learning curve, and it takes time to feel comfortable in the classroom. By walking into the situation blind, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of really long and stressful days -- for both you and your students.

You're Doing More Harm Than Good

Your main goal as an ESL teacher abroad should be to make a positive difference in the lives of your students. Regardless of where you end up teaching -- whether it's as a paid tutor in a hyper-developed city like Seoul or as a volunteer teacher in Kenya -- you're in a position to help your students learn a new language and an incredibly desirable skill. As a teacher, when you enter the classroom less than fully prepared, the students are the ones who are really being let down.

When your students leave your class without a better understanding of the English language, it can have a much more pronounced negative impact than you might even imagine. One bad experience learning a language can deter a student for the rest of their life, significantly reducing their chance at a successful career or giving them the false impression that they simply "can't learn a language".

One bad experience learning a language can deter a student for the rest of their life.

To be fair, even thoroughly trained and experienced teachers aren’t able to reach every student, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to be as effective as possible. Earning your TEFL certificate from a reputable program will give you tools that you need to create coherent lesson plans, manage your classroom efficiently, and address the needs of your students in a thoughtful and organized fashion.

If making your own life easier isn’t motivation enough to spend a little time and money on the certification process, improving the lives of your students should be!

It's Harder to Find a GOOD Job Without One

Teacher in PeruPhoto Credit: Chris Carruth | Visionaria Peru

Putting your personal development and the betterment of your students aside for a second, there are also plenty of logistical reasons why teaching abroad without your TEFL certificate doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

At the risk of stating the obvious, finding a teaching job without any credentials is going to be a lot more difficult. Many hiring schools aren't even interested in talking to applicants that don’t posses a certificate and want "qualified applicants only." A lot of times, the hiring manager doesn’t even have discretion in the situation, and is simply following the school’s blanket policy.

But even if you are able to find a job without a TEFL certificate, you will likely be offered significantly less money than someone with credentials. You won’t have much of a leg to stand on in negotiating salary and your contract, and if you aren’t pleased with the school’s offer, they know that they can easily find someone else who will take it.

Earning your certificate might cost you a couple thousand dollars up front on the high end, but if it means the difference between a yearly salary of $10,000 versus $15,000 or $20,000 depending on where you teach. The math is pretty obvious.

Perhaps more importantly though, without any leverage in the job market, you are much more likely to wind up putting yourself in an uncomfortable situation at work. Working at a less than professional school might not sound like the worst idea right now, but when you find yourself pulling teeth to receive the compensation that was agreed upon, or managing an absurdly inconvenient schedule, you might wish that you had a few more job options.

A TEFL certificate is often seen as a minimum requirement by schools, with teaching experience and higher education credentials further improving prospects, so by not even possessing a certificate, you run the risk of ending your job search before it really even begins.

Some TEFL Courses Provide Job Assistance

On that note, if you decide you want to get TEFL certified in the country you're looking at finding a teaching job in, it's also a great way to circumvent some of the more difficult logistics of teaching abroad. For example, most will provide job assistance or directly hire stand out graduates to teach in their school (if they're an English language learning center in addition to a teacher training center).

Using teaching abroad as a means for extended travel and an international adventure is fine... but you still need to consider the impact you have on your students, and the community at large.

Even if they don't provide direct assistance, you'll be in the country and able to network and job hunt in person while you're getting TEFL certified. For most ESL teaching jobs, schools want you to apply in person and already be in the country. You'll have a support network, a place to stay, and a student or tourist visa to enter the country with while you sort out the stickier work visa application process.

Think About It

I’m not saying that teaching abroad without a certificate can’t be done, and if you really have your heart set on circumventing training and jumping right in, nothing anyone else says is going to stop you. But, you might still want to think about the larger picture a bit.

Using teaching abroad as a means for extended travel and an international adventure is fine, and certainly a big part of the appeal for many people. But you still need to consider the impact you have on your students, and the community at large. Don’t let travel be your only reason for teaching abroad. If you don’t take your role as a teacher seriously, you can’t really expect others to take you seriously either. In short, investing up front in a quality TEFL certificate will be worth it in the end.

Done reading? Convinced? Look for TEFL Courses now.

Photo Credits: Hannah Mills, Caitlin Crawford, Chris Carruth.
Steve Patton

Steve calls Boston home, though he spends as much time on the road as he does in any one place these days. He's part of the marketing team at LanguageCorps and a freelance writer, in between playing drums in various touring bands and trying to be a better photographer. Follow him on Google+.