IATEFL - How to get into English teaching

Thinking about teaching English?
English language teaching is a great job – it’s kept me interested and happy for over 30 years, but how do you get into it? Here's all that you need to know in a talk I gave at this year's IATEFL conference...

Introduction to initial teacher training courses
English language teaching is a great job – it’s kept me interested and happy for over 30 years, but how do you get into it? Let me tell you about it. I'm Jo Gakonga from ELT training.com. I started teaching English in 1989 and I’ve been working with people on initial teacher training courses for over 20 years. So I know a little bit about it.

If you’re thinking of a career in English language teaching, the first step is to get qualified. The industry standard for this is a course of 120 hours, often taken full time over 4 weeks, but it could be part time and longer, with 6 hours of observed and assessed teaching practice and most employers in reputable schools will look for that. The two main choices here are a Cambridge CELTA or a Trinity Cert TESOL. There are small differences between the two but they’re basically very similar, they’re both globally recognised and respected and they’ll both get you a job.

Now you might find that you can get work without a qualification, or with an online TEFL certificate, in some schools but remember that teaching’s a practical skill. You don’t learn to swim by reading about breast stroke – you have to get in the water ….and teaching is the same – you have to get in the classroom, in front of learners. You might also want to think about how serious a school is if they’re hiring unqualified teachers.

Health warning
OK, you’ve decided you want to do a CELTA, a Trinity Cert TESOL or something equivalent. I’ll start with a bit of a health warning. This kind of training course is short and very intensive. People don't do this lightly. But it's a great learning experience and almost everybody comes out saying ‘I really enjoyed it now that it's over’. Honestly.

Are you eligible to apply?
You have to be aged over 18. A lot of people are a bit older than that. But 18 is the minimum. There's no upper limit and I've had many successful trainees in their 60s and 70s. You have to have a university entrance level qualification; that means a level 4 qualification -probably A levels -but it could also be a professional qualification. And you have to have an English proficiency that's at least C1+. So your English has to be very good, but you definitely don't have to be a native speaker.

Do I need teaching experience before?
CELTA and Cert TESOL courses are designed for people with no teaching experience, but because they’re so well recognised internationally, a lot of people who are English teachers in their own countries want to do them. If you’re already comfortable in the classroom, it helps, of course, but you might find that the methodology is a bit different to what you’re used to. Remember that on the course, you’ll be teaching relatively small groups of adult learners. If you’re used to teaching a large group of children, it’ll be quite a change. The focus is on a communicative approach where the learners have a lot of chance to speak and practice, often in pairs or groups, rather than the teacher just delivering content.

Is it easy to get onto a course?
The pass rate for CELTA and Cert TESOL courses is very high, but that’s not because they’re easy, it’s because centres put a lot of effort into only taking on people who they think are likely to pass.

The first thing is to find a centre. You can Google this - centres have to be registered with Cambridge or Trinity and assessor’s make sure that all courses are run in a standard way. When you've done this, you fill in the application form. Every centre’s got their own application form but they all have a similar pattern. This isn’t going to be easy and it’s probably going to take you a while. So take your time over it, do your research, don't rush it. You WILL need to have some idea of grammar – parts of speech, verb tenses – that kind of thing. You'll also be asked to do a writing task - what makes a good language learner or something of that nature. This is a written English test. We want to see what your ideas about language learning are, of course, but we also want to see how good your written English is so proof read it carefully.

Assuming your application form is accepted, you'll be invited for an interview. You might feel really nervous about this but don't be, the centre just want to see who you are. They’ll be tasks to check that you know something about language terminology, a written task to check your written English and chance for you to ask questions about the course.

What does the course involve?
There are two parts to the course. Input and teaching practice or TP. It’s that second one, TP that's the big one, the most important part. You'll be teaching real learners usually at two levels, possibly upper intermediate and pre intermediate. You don’t need to worry that you won’t know what to teach – your tutor’ll give you a coursebook to base your lessons on and there’ll be guided lesson preparation beforehand where the tutor will help you to prepare your lesson. You have to write a lesson plan every time you teach, too – that’s one of the things that’s going to fill your evenings and weekends!

When you're teaching, you'll be there with your real learners, either in a physical or an online classroom - and then at the back of the room or online with their cameras off, will be your peers, probably about five of them, and your tutor.. and they’ll all be watching you. After the lessons the feedback is in a group. So everybody gets to watch and talk about each other's lessons. This might sound really daunting but it’s very helpful. Reflection is a really key part of the course – learning how to think about teaching and trying to analyze it. You teach eight or nine lessons during the course – a total of 6 hours so most lessons will be 40 -45 minutes– and every lesson is assessed. You get oral and written feedback from your tutor with a grade and these are the most important part of your final result.

What else does the course involve?
As well as TP, there’s also input - times when your tutor will teach you how to teach skills, how to lesson plan, how to teach grammar, classroom management techniques, all of these kinds of things. And this will be taught in a way that we want you to teach. There are four assignments on the course, too. They're not particularly long or academic. They're all under 1000 words but they do have to be done. They bring together what's been taught in input and in teaching practice, very practical. The course is assessed on two things then, your teaching practice and the four assignments – but teaching is the most important.

Can I do the course online?
You can do these courses in different formats. There’s fully face to face, where your input and teaching practice will be in a physical classroom or fully online, where you’ll teach your learners on a platform like Zoom or Teams and some or all of the input might be asynchronous, or a blended version where you do half the course in a classroom and half online. Which one you choose will depend a bit on the kind of teaching you want to do afterwards, but the skills you develop, whether you do the course face to face or online, will be very similar.

So that’s it. I hope that this has answered some of your questions about initial English language teacher training and if you’re looking for help and support before, during or after the course, you can find lots of useful material like this on my site, at ELT-Training.com.

It’s also worth remembering that these courses aren’t designed to cover everything. They’re designed to get you through the classroom door. Teacher development is a lifelong thing and organisations like IATEFL can really help as you carry on through your career with further training, webinars, special interest groups and a wonderful annual conference.

I hope that your English teaching journey brings you as much joy and interest as mine has. Good luck with it.
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