Some estimates say more than 500,000 western teachers are teaching English abroad at any one time, and at least 50 percent of them are uncertified teachers. What does that mean? That in most cases the people teaching English to non-native students have absolutely no teacher training whatsoever or any qualifications to prove they can actually teach and, in many cases, they really can’t.
As a long-term former English teacher in Thailand, not only did I have teaching experience in the United States before I moved to Asia, I also made sure I became TEFL certified before I attempted to get a teaching job here. That’s because I wanted to be sure I had the necessary training to be able to teach English to non-native speakers well, so that my students weren’t short-changed, and that I had all the qualifications necessary to get a legal work permit.
As more countries in Asia require teachers to be certified before they will be allowed to get teaching jobs or apply for work permits, it’s becoming almost mandatory to have some type of teaching certification if you want to teach there. Beyond that, however, there are some excellent reasons why becoming a certified teacher before you go to Asia to teach English is the right thing to do. Both for you and for the students you’ll be teaching.
More job opportunities – The vast majority of teaching jobs in countries like Thailand, Korea, Japan and Vietnam now require an undergraduate degree and teaching certification. Whether that teaching certification is in Education, or is a CELTA, a TEFL, TESOL or TESL doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that you have it. Once you do, of course, a huge number of job opportunities will open up for you. Opportunities you couldn’t possibly take advantage of if you remained uncertified.
Higher salaries – Once you become certified to teach English overseas, your chances of making a high salary increase enormously.
Take Thailand, for instance. When I accepted my first teaching job in Bangkok, my salary was 50,000 baht a month plus a 2,500 housing allowance — or the total equivalent of approximately $1,695. A non-qualified teacher at that point was making 32,000 baht or $1,032 — a difference of $663 a month.
When you factor in the difference in the cost of living between Thailand and the United States, that $663 a month extra was the equivalent of buying power in the US or around $1,400. A huge difference, and one well worth becoming certified for.
You’ll be trained in various EFL methods – One thing I’ve noticed about most uncertified and untrained teachers in Asia, and I’ve met many of them, is they often don’t understand basic EFL teaching methods — methods that can mean the difference between your students succeeding and not.
On a certification course, you are usually taught the main two EFL methods as well as variations on each theme. Once you understand a method of teaching and implement it in your classrooms, your teaching skills automatically improve. Without training you stay in the same spot – not really sure what you’re doing, but doing it nevertheless.
You can get a work permit – In some Asian countries, and more are likely to be following suit, it’s almost impossible to get a work permit without having some form of teacher certification. That means you will be always working illegally and stuck with the low-paying jobs.
Your opportunities will never improve – When I first began teaching English in Thailand, my salary and housing allowance was 52,500 baht ($1,695). By the time I quit teaching seven years later, I was making 80,000 baht a month, or $2,580. That in a country where the cost of living is less than 40 percent of the United States.
Many of the other teachers I knew, who were uncertified, were still either doing the same jobs, as they weren’t qualified for a better job anywhere else, or they were in a different job but still at the same salary.
Unfortunately, even though some of them were extremely talented teachers and worked hard in their classrooms, without teacher certification the better-paying jobs and better opportunities would never come their way. By not becoming teacher certified, they were short-changing themselves and missing out on any possible career development.
If you want to teach English in Asia, sign up for a teacher certification course. Whether it is the CELTA, a TEFL certification course, or you decide to go back to school and get an Education degree, it will improve your chances of getting a great job by an enormous percentage as well as making sure your future opportunities are just about limitless.