Plenty of companies out there are trying to sell people qualifications for teaching English abroad. But are the courses worth the asking price?
No, is the short answer. You don’t need any teaching qualifications whatsoever to teach English in Taiwan. With teaching gigs offering full time employment in an interesting profession and excellent pay compared to the price of living, it’s little wonder many English speakers are considering leaving their home country.
What Do I Need to Teach in Taiwan?
Before you pack your bags, there are some things that you do need however, namely:
- A passport proving you are a native of an English speaking country, such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Australia or South Africa.
- A degree (in any subject – seriously).
- To be able to pass a fairly idiot-proof interview process.
- A clean criminal record check and a clean bill of health.
If you have those five things, then Ni Hao and welcome to your new life in Taiwan as an English teacher! Get ready to discipline those five year olds and indulge in a newfound love of dumplings. Depending on the company that you choose to teach with, you may even be able to squeak by without the passport or the degree (or even the interview), but for the vast majority of schools the above five things are enough.
Needless to say, not everybody who has all those things makes a good teacher, or even a competent one. Many people probably realise that they don’t technically need the qualification, but would like to do the training anyway to make sure that they are made of the right stuff. I tell you now, if you are the kind of person who realises that educating people, and children in particular, is important enough to warrant doing a training course, then you have already taken a good step in the right direction.
Should I Get a CELTA Qualification?
When Charlie and I went to teach in Taiwan for a year, Charlie had no teaching qualification whereas I had already done my CELTA. Which one of us made the right decision?
For those of you that don’t know, CELTA is like a month-long nightmare where they give you an amplified dose of the kind of stress you can expect from a real teaching job. It’s horrible, and it’s horribly good at making you into a teacher. It’s also endorsed by Cambridge University so it costs an arm and a leg (I paid £1,100 for mine). Yes, that’s a lot of money for a qualification I didn’t technically need, but having just paid £3,000 a year for a degree that involved about four contact hours with a tutor each week, it actually felt like a good deal.
I don’t regret getting my CELTA qualification and here’s why: it made me into a better teacher than I otherwise would have been in my first year. It was important to me that I did a good job because giving Taiwanese children the ability to speak English is vitally important to their chances of getting into their dream university and landing the job that they always wanted. It was important to me because some of the parents were putting in incredibly long hours in low-paid jobs to put their children through English school and I didn’t want to see their devotedness wasted. It was also important to me because I wanted to do well in my first job out of university.
Having said all that, financially it was a poor decision and I would be lying if Charlie wasn’t at least as good at teaching as I was by the six-month mark, if not before. Yes, I was less stressed than she was at the beginning of the year, but that’s only because I went through my stress during the CELTA course, not because the course enabled me to sidestep stress altogether. Yes, I also worked more hours as an English teacher than she did, which went some way to repaying the investment I put into the course, but typically the problem new teachers in Taiwan find is trying to lose hours not gain them and I’m sure any dedicated masochist could have got their fill of hours at my school, CELTA or no.
Is a Cheaper TEFL Qualification a Better Idea?
Having not done a cheaper TEFL, (or TOEFL or TESL) I’m probably not the best person to ask, but I remain sceptical. Seeing as you don’t need a qualification to teach in Taiwan, the only reason to do a course would be to improve as a teacher, and from what I’ve heard from friends, I’m not sure cheaper TEFL courses always gives you that. There are plenty of cowboys out there looking to make a quick buck by promising employment and training after all.
I can only imagine that I would do a cheaper TEFL if I wanted to teach English in a country that required all new teachers to have a qualification and even then I would make doubly sure that the TEFL I was looking into was a widely accepted provider. Even after that, I would meet the teacher trainer in person before parting with any cash. Only if the teacher trainer struck me as one of the good ones and the course involved real teaching practise would I think about it.
If you are thinking about becoming an English teacher in Taiwan…
Think again. Nearly two years later I still wake up from bad dreams about having classes that I’ve not prepared for. Though the hours are (relatively) short, it’s physically and emotionally demanding like no other profession. And that’s because it’s important. When you screw up in other professions, the worst that’s likely to happen is losing some company somewhere a heap of money. When you screw up in teaching, you mess with people’s hopes, dreams and futures – and when those people are children it’s even more vital that you get it right. But that’s also what makes it so rewarding and combined with giving me the ability to travel I can say without a drop of cliche that the experience was life changing.
For anyone still considering teaching, I’m convinced that the absolute best thing to do to see if you are cut out for it is to do some volunteering at either a local language school for recent immigrants or any kind of school that is in need of assistance. Schools for autistic and downs syndrome children are almost always in need of extra hands. Sign up for as many hours as you can, and if you can come out after a month smiling, then you might just make it through a year in Taiwan. Good luck!
Have you thought about teaching abroad? We’d love to hear from those who have already and are thinking about doing so. What’s your opinion on TEFL certificates?