As in shopping and business generally, the things that you should be especially careful of when shopping for a TEFL course are the times when the course provider is not actually lying but is nonetheless playing the truth in a way that is only designed to deceive. This article should help you spot the most common such traps.
1. How happy their “graduates” are
It is a general rule in education that people are much more likely to complain about the air-conditioning and transport problems than they are about whoever is training them, and the same is true of TEFL courses. Course providers getting these basic things wrong would be a bad sign, but a lack of complaints says nothing about the actual standard of training. If it did, we wouldn’t need accreditation of any educational establishments or qualifications, would we?
2. Hours of instruction (for online courses)
A basic level TEFL certificate should have at least 100 hours of instruction. For a face-to-face course, the hours of instruction are the hours you spend with a trainer actually being trained. On top of this, you will do reading, lesson preparation, etc. Many online courses not only include reading as part of the hours of instruction, but seem to make up arbitrary lengths of time for how long it will take you to do things like reading and online questionnaires. More generally, you have to consider very carefully whether the things they are asking you to do online for 250 hours would have the value of the things you would do in a proper face-to-face course for 100 hours.
3. Links to universities
Some TEFL courses in universities are run by university staff who are well qualified and also have years of practical teaching experience. Some of those are Cambridge CELTA or Trinity CertTESOL courses. Ones which aren’t might have problems with recognition, especially outside the country where they are based, but a genuine university course can be a good indication of the quality of instruction in some places, e.g. the USA. A link to a university, especially one that is loudly trumpeted on the course provider’s website, might not always be such a mark of quality. For example, some “university TEFL courses” have a tenuous link to the university whose name they are using. The trainers are often far less qualified than the proper university faculty, and it might even be that the TEFL course providers are simply renting premises in the university or paying to use the name without having any institutional or academic links to the university.
4. “Meets the criteria set by the British Council”
The British Council sets out some very basic criteria for something to be considered an introductory-level TEFL certificate (TEFL-I level, as against TEFL-Q for the Cambridge Delta etc). A course must have at least 100 hours of instruction and 6 hours of observed and graded teaching practice, and be accredited by a recognized exam board or university. This is often claimed by TEFL courses even when at least one of these, especially the final one, is missing. Even when that statement is true, that doesn’t mean that British Council inspected schools in the UK and British Council schools worldwide accept all certificates that meet those basic standards, let alone that employers would consider them equivalent to certificates from Cambridge, Trinity or SIT. It also certainly doesn’t mean that the British Council accredits or inspects all such courses. In fact, the British Council doesn’t even inspect or accredit teacher training courses in British Council accredited schools in the UK, as their school accreditation is strictly limited to the actual teaching of English. When British Council schools in their own worldwide chain offer TEFL certificate or diploma courses, they are always accredited by other organizations such as Cambridge.
5. The term “Diploma” or “Advanced course”
Although people can call their qualifications anything they like, the standard industry definition for a TEFL diploma is a course for people with basic training and at least two years’ (and very probably more) relevant full-time experience. Calling any other kind of course a “diploma” is misleading at best, and although “Advanced course” is not a term used by any well-respected certifying bodies it would probably mean something similar. Schools that ask for a TEFL diploma almost always mean the Cambridge Delta or Trinity DipTESOL. See TEFL Diploma FAQ for more details.
6. “All our graduates find jobs … Guaranteed job placement … Lifetime job placement service”
Any native English speaker with a degree can find a TEFL job. It is obviously true that the kinds of employers who accept twenty-three year old native English speakers with any old degree will not suddenly reject them because they have a weekend certificate, have done an online course, or have done some random four-week TEFL certificate in someone’s kitchen. However, those things are unlikely to get you the kinds of jobs that you could get with a well-known and well-respected TEFL certificate such as the Cambridge CELTA.
7. “TESOL / IATEFL institutional member”
This simply means that they send a cheque to said organization once a year and get a few magazines in return. Literally, anyone, including people with no connection to TEFL, can become an institutional member. No one has ever had an application for institutional membership (which is anyway just a form asking for your address and payment details) rejected, and it is therefore zero proof of standards. In fact, any mention of this is a pretty good reason to avoid a school. If the school has trainers who have been high up in the management of one of those organizations or regularly give major workshops at their events, that might well be something to be impressed by. Well-respected training organizations generally find no need to boast of such things even when true, however.
8. The use of logos
IATEFL has the simple policy that no one except themselves can use their logo, and any other organizations doing so are almost always trying to add some respectability that they do not have. The same is true of most organizations with half a page of logos of NGOs, big companies, organizations for teachers, etc, even when they are unaccompanied by actual lies like “accredited by”. The mixing up of accrediting agencies, business partners (whatever that means), schools that accept their teachers etc all on one page is a particularly bad sign.
9. Famous people
The same schools that turn once using the services of a company into a logo on their site tend to do the same thing with the names of people who are famous in the world of TEFL. Some of these people get used unwittingly when they give a workshop there once and are given a brief tour of the building, while others simply sell out and are willing to put their names to anything that pays well enough (the Beckhams of TEFL?) The other possibility is that the people mentioned might not actually be that famous – how, after all, are most people who haven’t yet entered the profession to know?
10. Cambridge exam centre / Cambridge exam centre number
This one is rarer than the bogus claims of special links to IATEFL and TESOL, but some organisations do try to use the fact that Cambridge is willing to use their premises for a KET test (a low-level test for learners of English) once a year as some kind of proof of standards of their teacher training courses. It is not.