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The Emperor's New Clothes

January 10, 2006

Almost every teacher’s job application I have read contains the sentence: “I am a qualified teacher”.

Hello everyone,

The claim to be "a qualified teacher" almost invariably means the candidate has taken a four-week training course and has a certificate to prove it. However, I am not sure in what sense they can believe they are “qualified” teachers.

By far the most dominant certificates emanate from respected UK institutions. Some ten thousand people complete a CELTA course each year, for example. However to obtain qualified teacher status (QTS) in the UK and be able to work in state education you need first a degree in an appropriate subject, then a minimum of one year’s fulltime postgraduate training and then successful completion of a probationary teaching period. Holding a four-week certificate, which may be obtained without a degree, and comprising six hours’ teaching practice certainly does not give you official QTS in the UK.

Now I have to be realistic. The worldwide demand for teachers and the rapid turnover of staff makes these four-week courses something of a necessary evil. Also many of the trainees have no intention of pursuing a long-term teaching career. But let’s not fool ourselves into believing that a young person with little academic background and no teaching experience can be turned into a fully fledged teacher in this way.

My concerns about the courses are many but here are the main ones. Firstly, the trainees often have scant knowledge of the formal characteristics of the English language. But a training course should focus on how to teach not on providing the specialist knowledge the teacher has to impart. Secondly, teachers can find themselves in wildly varying teaching situations but four-week courses cannot scratch the surface of all these.

And I worry that the style of teaching and learning is assumed to be what is normal for the western world and so does no equip teachers to deal with radically different education systems.

Well, that should put the fat in the fire!

Back soon,


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  1. Carol Says:

    It's me again.

    I myself struggle with this very thing. I only realized that I was interested in education after I obtained my bachelor's degree which is neither in English nor Education. Are there any other options for us if we want to get a job in the education sector in an English-speaking country than to go back and get another bachelors degree?

  1. PDean Says:

    Carol, much depends on what you want to teach and at what age level. For all UK state schools you will need a PGCE(normally a one-year course). Slightly different possibilities may be available for further education. For subject specialization at secondary level you require a degree in the subject you wish to teach. Take a look at this site:http://www.tda.gov.uk/Recruit/thetrainingprocess/typesofcourse/pgce.aspx. Hope this helps.

  1. Jane Keeler Says:

    I accepted my first ESL position at a Korean hogwan fresh out of college, mainly because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. My recruiter told me lots of nonsense (which I foolishly believed) about how the job would be easy and I how would receive on-site training, etc. The experience was pretty horrific, although not enough to put me off of teaching ESL. I decided to try again (this time in Russia), and prior to hunting for a position, I took one of those short, online TEFL courses (OnlineTEFL). Honestly, I felt it was a waste of money. Afterwards, I invested in several books on ESL teaching techniques and on on grammar for ESL teachers, which were far cheaper and substantially more useful.

    Unfortunately, take a look at what OnlineTEFL claims on their site:

    Teaching English as a Foreign Language - aka TEFL - is your passport to working and travelling overseas. The demand for English teachers is enormous and with an i-to-i TEFL course under your belt, you’ll have the skills, knowledge and practical know-how to teach anywhere in the world – and the certificate to prove it!


  1. Joseph Says:

    I have been an esl teacher in China for a year and a half now.I took one of those T.E.S.O.L courses and it was completly useless for teaching here.Like the old saying goes"experiance is the best teacher" and I have learned a lot from my Chinese co-teachers.The one problem I CONSTANTLY encounter though is when you work for most schools they think they own you.They expect you to drop anything you are doing or cancel any plans in an instant to be at their beck and call.I realize this is the way they do things here.They do not inform you if a class has been canceled.I wish they would learn to give us some respect and consideration.It would go a long way.
    Another thing I dislike is how most teachers come here just for a cheap drink.It gives us respectful teachers a bad name.I take my teaching seriously.

  1. Marlen Says:

    Patricia, I often ponder the same question...Living in a country (Japan) where nearly every foreigner is a "teacher", I often have to remind my friends that the 45 minute English lessons they are paying 30 Euros for at the "eikaiwas" or English Conversation schools are being taught by people who have never taught before and likely don't give a darn about teaching or student goals.

    That being said, and though the majority of "teachers" I have met have concluded that teaching is simply not for them, there is a small number of us who are quite taken with the profession and the opportunities for creativity and connection that teaching affords. As you've hinted at, the online courses (and now online doctoral and masters programs) in my opinion can in no way prepare an individual for the actual experience of teaching in a classroom. And considering the vast variety of classroom settings available to teachers, as Joseph wrote "experience is the best teacher." I couldn't agree more strongly. Not only experience with the subject matter or the art of teaching, but experience in one's lifetime.

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