Expat Expertise: How to Become a Certifiably Great English Teacher and Increase Your Salary at the Same Time

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Illustration by James Tucker

Words by Todd Bruns
Special thanks to Alison Eastwood for her research help

How does one go about keeping students engaged in class?  What are the best ways to arrange a classroom and use classroom materials? What the hell is a transitive verb anyway? As the legions of ESLers here know, there’s a lot more to teaching English than, you know, speaking it.

The National Plan
While education degrees, MAs and PhDs are clearly the best routes toward plum gigs at international schools and universities in both Korea and abroad, these avenues are major commitments in time and money. A lot of expat English teachers are not in the ESL (English as a Second Language) game for the long haul. For this large contingent, chasing an advanced degree in this field is no more practical than mastering underwater welding before taking a summer job as a life guard.
Fortunately, for those who want to widen their pool of potential jobs, or who wish to learn more about teaching methods, or to simply get a bump in pay, there are other options available.  Amongst the sea of options, the most frequently available are the online TEFL or TESOL, the in-class TEFL or TESOL, and the in-class CELTA. Classroom TEFL, TESOL, and CELTA courses are available in Seoul as well as other locations around the world.

Alphabet Soup
Like any field, ESL loves its acronyms. What exactly are TEFL, TESOL, and CELTA? TEFL stands for “teaching English as a foreign language,” while TESOL refers to “teaching English to speakers of other languages.” These terms are largely interchangeable. The primary difference is that TEFL is the more common term in the UK, and TESOL is used more in the United States. Korean public schools treat both certificates the same way. In fact, coursework for both certifications is often identical. CELTA refers to “certificate in English language teaching to adults.” It is a 140-hour certification awarded by Cambridge University, and is essentially a brand name for a specific type of TEFL diploma.

Online TEFL or TESOL
This is the least expensive, least time-consuming way to receive a certificate. A 100-hour online certificate starts at $200 through a number of sources. For those who don’t like taking tests and want more personal attention, 120-hour courses with online tutors run around $300. Value-wise, online is the most attractive choice for hagwon and public school teachers that are not looking to work outside of Korea. So far as EPIK, GEPIK, and SMOE are concerned, online certificates are equivalent to pricier classroom study pay-scale wise. Online courses do help with English teaching methodology, and they also pay for themselves within two or three months. These certificates are also useful for hagwon teachers, as hagwon owners will often pay more for teachers who hold them. That, and a teacher with some classroom management knowledge will be less likely to be fired by a fickle hagwon owner. Many options are available. I used ITTT (International TESOL Teaching Training) at tesolonline.com.

In-class TEFL or TESOL
This is another common ESL certificate. This option, like all classroom options, is considerably costlier than its online cousin. This course increases its graduates’ options for Eng-lish teaching jobs outside of Korea. Within Korea, this course is as useful in moving up the public school pay scale as the online version. A variety of courses are available throughout Seoul and around the world. An eight week night or weekend class is the standard length in Seoul. One representative program is TEFL International (teflinternational.org.uk/seoul). As of June 2011, they cost W2.48 million ($2,180). Four-week TEFL or TESOL courses are also available throughout the world at varying costs. TEFL Life charges $1,490 in Cebu, Philippines (tefl-life.com/cebu-philippines) and $1,590 in Ban Phe, Thailand (tefllife.com/banphe-thailand). On the pricier end, they offer courses for $2,290 in New York (tefllife.com/newyork-usa). These prices cover instruction only: room, board, and transportation are not included.

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CELTA can be completed over four weeks or three months in 54 countries worldwide, including South Korea. The course not only teaches basic classroom skills, but gives practical experience in real-life teaching situations. While CELTA is aimed at teaching small groups of adults, the skills are transferable. As well as improved teaching ability, CELTA certification is widely recognized around the world. The International Graduate School of English offers courses, as does the British Council. IGSE
(edulife.igse.ac.kr) is in Gangdong-gu, Seoul and courses cost W2.35 million ($2,180) for a 4-week full-time program or a 14-week part-time morning course. The British Council
(britishcouncil.org/korea-teacher-development-courses-celta.htm) also runs 4-week full-time courses in Gwanghwamun, Seoul for W2.57 million ($2,390).

All of these programs are open for everyone, regardless of teaching experience. Non-native speakers are welcome as well, so long as they are proficient enough to teach English to a range of levels. An extensive knowledge of grammar is not a prerequisite, but knowing the basics is certainly an advantage as you will be expected to teach it during the course.

Worth it?
I can definitely see that my teaching has changed for the better, especially where classroom management is concerned. As I opted for the online route, my certificate has already paid for itself via a pay raise from my hagwon. I’m more marketable in Korea. Should I later decide to take a classroom course for the sake of pursuing an ESL job in another country, my online studies will make the curriculum easier. And best of all, I know what a transitive verb is.