Disclaimer: I was given the chance to try the 150 hour TEFL Express course for free. As always, this does not influence anything I say, and all opinions are my own.
When I decided to move to China I knew I wouldn’t necessarily need a degree, but I also didn’t even have a TEFL certificate. I basically decided to wing it, and took advantage of the fact that the Chinese schools like to show off how “white” their teachers are, and Caucasians are basically given their pick of jobs, regardless of how qualified they actually are.
Winging it is fine when you’re trying to get a job, but what happens when you actually get a job and realise you have no idea what you’re doing?
Luckily I was given the opportunity to try TEFL Express. I knew if I was going to do my TEFL it would need to be done online and in my own time, since I was working two jobs and commuting for 3 hours a day. So when my friend Romana mentioned that her company was in the process of designing a brand new online TEFl course I jumped at the chance to give it a go.
I did the 150 hour course, which is broken down into different sections:
The course is made up of both video and reading units. I’m a crazy-fast reader, so I much preferred the reading units, although it’s good that TEFL Express are catering to different learners. There were also a number of observation units, where I could watch the skills being put into practice.
At the end of each unit there is usually a small test, which ensures that you’re actually absorbing the information. If you don’t understand (or fail the test) you can then go back and review the part you missed.
When I started teaching for the IELTS test, I quickly realised that I was waaay out of my league. I was supposed to teach grammar points that I couldn’t even remember learning myself in school (anyone remember learning the past perfect tense?) so I had a stressful few weeks while I began brushing up on all the grammar I had forgotten.
Chinese kids are also really grammar focused, and while I was pretty good at teaching writing and speaking, when it came to grammar their constant questions had me questioning myself!
Apparently it’s not enough to just give students a grammar rule and tell them not to break it, and you actually have to explain why. (Who knew?) I quickly learned that “because it sounds wrong that way” isn’t an actual answer, and my students weren’t going to respect me unless I could immediately explain the intricacies of each grammar point.
One example would be state verbs. I had no idea what they were, I just knew that when a student would say “I am disliking garlic” it was wrong.
I would end up looking up answers on my phone and telling the kids I would get back to them later. Thankfully, around this time I reached the grammar section of TEFL express, and eventually understood the theory behind what I had been teaching the kids.
I found the course itself to be well set out and interesting. There were times where I really couldn’t be bothered learning, or I was too tired from working all day, but because the course is broken down into such small units of information, it was easy to convince myself to just do one or two.
You do only have a limited amount of time to complete the TEFL course with TEFL Express. I had to get it extended once, and you can choose how long you would like it to be extended for (from two weeks to twelve months). The longer you extend it for, the longer you will have access to the program, so you can go back and revisit any points you’re not sure of.
If you don’t want to pay to extend, it’s great motivation to actually finish the course. After all, when you’re doing your TEFL certificate online you don’t have classes to show up for, and you have to take the time out of your day to learn on your own. This means it’s easy to procrastinate and promise yourself you’ll do double the next day (I never did). With TEFL Express you can see exactly how many days you have left to finish the course, and plan your learning time accordingly.
Some of the acting is a bit dodgy in the observation units, but for me this made it funnier and more entertaining. I could still get the point of what they were saying, but it was often a little over the top.
I wish I had taken the time to get my TEFL certificate before I even arrived in China. I think it really made me a much better teacher, probably because I felt so much more confident after finishing the course.
Actually being able to answer all of my students questions made me feel like I was the best teacher around (yup it went straight to my head), and the classroom management units were helpful when I had a class of 25 kids who thought they could walk all over me (spoiler alert: they were wrong).
I would definitely recommend TEFL Express. I began the course just as it was released, and they’ve continued to sharpen the course and improve the user experience since then. I’d like to head to South America next year, and if I choose to teach I think I’ll find it much easier to find a teaching job now that I have a TEFL certificate.