The focus of my research on this topic has been in the Asian market, so results will vary depending on where you would like to teach. Also, due to the protean nature of the business, certification may make you king of the hill, or the leper of job applicants, depending on the way the wind is blowing in the market. This is just a review of some options on the web and does not include other factors, e.g. whether or not the country requires a bachelor's for teachers, etc. A topic for another week.
To understand the importance of online certification, a few words must be said on the in-person, face-to-face, brick-and-mortar process of actually going to a school and learning from a human teacher kind-of-certification. There really is nothing cooler than the internet and/or cyborg schoolmarm, but the present perception is that a “brick & mortar degree” is superior primarily because those in-person programs are based around real learning and teaching exercises, and almost always taught in-person by an experienced instructor whom has taught TEFL classes before. These classes are usually more expensive, due to the fact that they require an actual teacher, not to mention an actual classroom and paper learning materials.
The two big certifications are University of Cambridge's Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (more commonly known as the CELTA) and Trinity College's Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (more commonly known as the certTESOL.) Both colleges offer extension courses as well as a higher-level of certification which require considerable teaching experience and take several months to complete (for Cambridge it is the DELTA and for Trinity it is the DipTESOL. They are to be soooo alternative.)
There are a number of other TEFL/TESL/TESOL degrees of varying quality, many of which are offered both on-line and in-person. Those with a Bachelor's degree in either education or English will likely to find that they need none of the above to acquire employment, at least in the Asian job market.
In the Fall of 2010 Cambridge began offering an internet-based alternative to their present degree. The degree was met with the typical pessimistic reactions of the TEFL message boards such as Dave's ESL Café, with commentators opining that the on-line degree would soon render Cambridge's much-vaunted CELTA as useless as a lone chopstick.
However, it is presently thought that if Cambridge's online degree is perceived as a fiscal success, if nothing else, one can soon expect to see Trinity follow suit. Trinity presently offers an optional on-line TEFL starter course that is either 225euros or 175euros if paid along with the course fee.
It's mainly intended as a refresher course for grammar and spelling, as well as a great chance to read Jeremy Harmer's book How to Teach English. Many of the commentators on the various message boards are making the case that when Trinity follows suit, it will soon herald the downfall of both degrees. This will cause hiring schools to raise their standards for prospective teachers to requirements of Masters and DELTA or DipTESOL certification. At this time, Trinity has not released any information about the plausibility of offering an online course in the future.
Cambridge University has done a great deal to emphasize that their new online course will be a direct equivalent to their present face-to-face course. From the looks of it, the effort shows; the subjects and required reading is identical to the assignments of the practical class, including face-to-face in-class training and ensuring that potential teachers still get the in-depth experience that has made their certification the gold standard in the TEFL industry.
When I wrote Cambridge inquiring if the on-line CELTA's certificate would be physically identical to the one received for taking a face-to-face course at a brick-and-mortar school, I did not receive a reply. If so, this would lend considerable value to the online certification, at least while the entire brand carries its present level of prestige.
Less prestigious are the two major alternatives online courses likeOxford Seminars. They offer certifications in person as well as several blended courses that include face-to-face teaching classes as well as online coursework, all available on their website in a pick and choose manner not totally unlike the value meal selection at McDonald's.
Oxford Seminars has gained some prestige in the last few years by making efforts to acquire more seasoned teachers. They've also held out against the obvious choice to offer an online course. On the message boards, active members will decry both of these as degree mills, popping out graduates regardless of their level of comprehension. That said, one must remember that all four of these programs average over 95% of their students graduating.
Herein may lie the biggest issue with TEFL certification. It is difficult not to label anything with a graduation rate over 95% a degree mill of sorts. As when choosing a proper sweater, or pair of running shoes, the big brands hold the most sway with insufficient reason explaining as to why they have such staying power.
The lack of accreditation in the TEFL certification industry may be no more apparent than the fact that a Cambridge online CELTA course is more expensive than the in-person course, completely bucking the trend of charging less for an online course, which one can assume only requires the expenses of some code, a server, and limited moderation to complete.
Just as the CELTA-branded certification comes at a significantly higher price than other TEFL degrees, Cambridge is attempting to keep the tarnish off of their brand by going against the common logic and charging a heftier price for their online course, though one may assume that it's operating costs will be, over time, significantly lower.
That being said, one wonders what is lost when a teacher is replaced by form data. Questions will go unanswered, learners with difficulties or misunderstandings aren't individually assessed on much of the material and, perhaps most importantly, the colorful anecdotes and battle-hardened insights that seasoned instructors bring to the course will get replaced by a sterile web page and a whittled-down just-the-facts attitude.
For certification, the best English teaching course is the CELTA, followed by the DipTESOL. Then any TEFL/TESOL/TES degree that includes actual in-class hours, of which i-to-i would qualify. And then you have all the online TEFL/TESOL/TESL degrees, which can get pretty murky. If someone was to get one of those, they'd be wise to get some actual teaching/childcare experience back home.
While CELTA is undoubtedly the way to go, it requires more time and money than the rest. As a nice compromise, I went with oxford seminars and have been pleased with the results.
But then again if you're a crafty Photoshop image manipulator, why not just create your own accreditation since no one checks that anyway.
How to Teach English in China - Advice on how to land a job teaching English in China
TEFL for non teachers - Teaching English offers another less obvious perk: Time to pursue other interests.
A Lesson in online English credentials - There is a lot to consider when choosing a TEFL course.
American English teacher in China - We interview an American on life in The Peoples Republic of China
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