9th January 2018

Unqualified EFL teachers are doing themselves and their students an injustice

By Tom Garside

With so much global demand for English teachers, and with such a broad range of different TEFL, TESOL and TESL certificates out there, it can be difficult to decide how, or even whether to get qualified before signing up for an English teaching job. Any teacher who has done a 120-hour, face-to-face course will tell you that it is worth it, yet thousands of teachers worldwide continue to work unqualified and uncertified. The simple fact is that until you take part in an externally validated TESOL training course with face-to-face input on your teaching from externally standardized tutors, there is no guarantee that a teacher will provide the level of quality that is expected of them.

There are hundreds of different English teaching courses available online, but without external validation and face-to-face content, there is just no guarantee of the quality of service that you are going to get. Yes, the course can be cheap, but if it is not accepted as certification in other countries, is there really any point to taking it in the first place? Also, without external quality assurance from a regulated body, there is no way of knowing if the training you get will enable you to do a good job once you get into the classroom, which can make things difficult for you, and frustrating for your students. Getting into the industry without properly quality-assured training means that teachers run the risk of working out of ignorance of best practices – put simply, unqualified teachers do not know what they do not know.

Here are three important areas where unqualified teachers typically have problems, and which have detrimental effects on learning for their students. These serve as strong reasons why someone who is serious about a teaching job should look at doing a regulated qualification in TESOL:

1) Unqualified teachers often do not know how much their students are learning

The more you teach, the more the students learn, right? Actually, there are many reasons why teaching does not equal learning, especially in the field of language education. Unlike most school subjects, which are content-driven (i.e. success in the subject depends on topic knowledge and the ability to process information in the students’ first language), language education presents information about the language in the language being studied, and requires students to apply skills, strategies and principles to change their own use of language. This means that the focus of language lessons should not be on the teacher, but on how the students are performing in the language being taught. There is a lot of evidence that the more teaching a teacher does, the less learning actually takes place. This is usually because more teaching means more time in the lesson being given to teacher talk, and less to student production. In addition, the longer the teacher explains, lectures and presents, the more likely it is that the students will switch off and not retain any of the new information they are being given. The reasons behind this, and the range of ways to break these typical habits, can only be learnt from first-hand experience in the classroom, with time and guidance to see the effects of the different planned teaching choices that are made during lessons. Otherwise, bad habits go unnoticed, students get disenfranchised with the lack of attention to their real needs, and problems fossilize until the end of term, when the cycle begins again.

Defining clear outcomes for lessons, building staged instruction to work towards main and subsidiary lesson aims, planning tasks to address specific aspects of language, with a view to student production of the language you are teaching (phew!) are, unsurprisingly, highly sophisticated skills to achieve effectively. Only by working to these objectives can you truly confirm and track your students’ progress through a lesson, or across a series of lessons. Without attention to achieved outcomes, a teacher simply has no evidence of how well their students are processing the language they are learning, or if they can use it themselves. No-one would ask someone to build a house without the proper plans, equipment and a well-ordered set of construction stages. Why should this attention to detail be any less in the high-stakes environment of English language teaching, where success or failure can mean the difference of university or professional choices in the students’ futures?

2) Unqualified teachers often do not know how to present new language to students

Good morning class. Today we are going to learn about the past continuous. Like in the sentence ‘I was walking to the shop when I saw my friend’. Does anyone know why we use the past continuous? Every time I hear this opening to a class (which I do on a regular basis), a small piece of me dies inside. This is an excellent example of how not to present a new piece of language to learners. It is, on the other hand, an excellent way to make students stare at you with blank expressions on their faces, making you feel like you suddenly walked into your new dental practice.

Introducing new language to students is the basis of everything we do in the language classroom – without new language to study, progress is impossible. You can read all you like about techniques for presenting new information to speakers of other languages, but there is no substitute for going through the presentation stage yourself, with real learners, and feeling the effects of different procedures and methods for setting up the point you are teaching. Without guidance, you can try things out, but will you ever get access to the wide range of choices available to you without a structured post-lesson discussion with objective observers? Often, sadly not.

3) Unqualified teachers often do not know what they are doing right, and what they need to improve in their teaching

Even experienced teachers who join courses such as the Trinity CertTESOL or Cambridge CELTA have an enormous amount of unlearning to do before they start developing their classroom work towards fully effective, communicative methods. When in-service training and development from school staff is focused on school policies and broader classroom management issues (as is commonly the case in public schools), finer points of methodology and class-by-class outcomes can be overlooked. With busy schedules and exams to prepare for, there simply may not be time for teachers to develop approaches and techniques that benefit the learners, so bad habits can become routine, with little guidance on how or why to break them.

From experience, the biggest ‘lightbulb moments’ on teacher training courses come from realisations and rethinkings of what teachers have been doing for their entire careers without realizing the negative effects that they have had on their students. The focus on specific aspects of teaching and learning that is possible on a dedicated Certificate course such as the CertTESOL or CELTA course can hone every moment of a lesson, bringing out the biggest benefit for all students in a time-efficient way.

Talk to any Certificate-level course graduate and the first thing they will tell you is that the CertTESOL or CELTA course is one of the hardest things they have ever done. This is unsurprising when you consider that the level 5 status of both of these courses (on the UK Registered Qualifications Framework) means that they hold the equivalent weight as an entire second year of a degree programme at university. Nevertheless, the second thing they will say is that it was the most eye-opening, rewarding and mind-changing thing that they have ever done, whether they have experience as a teacher or not. The quality assurance and standardization process, along with the external assessment from Trinity College London or Cambridge ESOL, adds recognition, reliability and ensures a high level of outcomes for all trainees and their future employers.

**if you are looking for a benchmark qualification in TESOL, such as the ones mentioned in this article, check that the courses you are looking at are regulated on the RQF framework by going to https://register.ofqual.gov.uk/ and searching for the qualification title. If it’s not on the list, it’s unlikely to be an internationally recognized qualification in the industry.

Are you looking to learn more about the CertTESOL course? Join one of our free TESOL taster workshops held here in Hong Kong.

Tom Garside, EfA’s Director of Teacher Training, has 18 years of teaching and training experience in Europe, New Zealand and China. He holds a degree in Linguistics and French, Cambridge CELTA and DELTA qualifications, a Post-Graduate Diploma in TESOL and an MATESOL. He has trained teachers in Europe, as part of the European Union Comenius teacher development project, provided initial training for the Trinity CertTESOL and provides in-service training for native and non-native-speaker teachers in a wide range of teaching situations. He is the author of the essential CertTESOL course supplement, Tesol: A Gateway Guide for Teachers of English.