A BIG secret

I have a secret and it’s a BIG one. So big that it may destroy my career but I’ve decided to share it before I am uncovered by the EFL press and unmasked as a fraud.

For underage, elderly or any readers with weak constitutions, look away now!

My secret is…..

               I taught English BEFORE I had the CELTA!

There it’s out now, I feel liberated.

Why? How? What you may ask. Well, in my defence I started off doing 121 English tutoring at uni and then did a weekend EFL course which seemed to fulfill the ‘TEFL certificate’ for many schools. I actually got work in many places and also taught abroad.

Maybe back then (over 10 years ago) the CELTA was not the standard it is now or maybe smaller schools weren’t/aren’t bothered. The same still exists in some places.

Now that I think back I realise that perhaps what I was doing then wasn’t too bad and not that different to now. I used to do lots of talking and authentic materials, I don’t remember any coursebooks as places didn’t have them. They all said “use your own stuff” or “bring English magazines”. Schools seemed more interested about immersing students in real British materials and talking. Particularly the Italian trainee nuns (+2 boys) I taught in a fort (not kidding). They had a very grammar-driven English education so I was there to ‘activate’ their language. While in foreign summer camps, I was there to talk and encourage use of English. I also got into EAL support helping refugee children which consisted of supporting them with their class work and working with child psychologists, all in English.

All this meant that when I did do the CELTA I had to be completely rewired into drilling, eliciting, coursebooks and completing every Teaching Point. I think I was the only one on the course with teaching experience but it was not classed as REAL teaching experience without the CELTA. Yet, I was frequently asked to comment on things I’d done or how I had taught.

Now I tend not to do many of the CELTA methods religiously and like using authentic stuff. Yes, I think the CELTA was very useful for a language school job but working in other situations needs adaptation.

So, my career is over now. What shall I do next I wonder?

Do you think we really need or want the CELTA? Many commenters on this blog have pointed out that not having an EFL qualification and just being a native is enough to get decent hours? In fact, with the costs of a BA (4k+/yr)/MA (5/6k+)/CELTA (£1200+)/DELTA (2k+) you are looking at serious financial debt around your neck for decades to come and not to mention 5/6/7 years of your life gone.. So, if just being native is enough you can quit school at 18 and go off to make your fotune. If a BA is essential then do it in a country where education is free, like France or online. That would save you A LOT of money, you’d be a native and fluent in the language AND have a local qualification. All these would probably help you get a job.


Is pre-CELTA experience valid?

Should a degree be compulsory in order to do the CELTA?

Are other EFL teaching qualifications valid?

Could you make a career out of EFL with no EFL qualification at all?


15 thoughts on “A BIG secret

  1. Hi Phil
    I also had some pre-CELTA experience and was employed by the BC right after completing my CELTA even though I didn’t have two years of compulsory post-CELTA teaching experience.
    I guess you can make a teaching career without a CELTA even though my CELTA experience was eye-opening to say the least. I’d say you do need a degree to do the CELTA and pre-CELTA experience is valid but I am subjectively biased here 🙂

    P.S. You really wouldn’t want to do your degree in a French university although it’s free

    • Thanks for the comment Leo, always nice to hear your thoughts.

      But WHY do you need a degree? The CELTA isn’t a PGCE or MA. I had 2 friends who had the CELTA but no degree (1 was doing a BA). They were hired, taught and were popular. They were in no debt, started their EFL career very early and then could do the DELTA 2 yrs later and become a senior teacher. After all, most people do degrees in completely unrelated fields to EFL.

  2. Hi Phil, interesting post. I don’t find your revelation too shocking though. I know lots of teachers who started off as tutors, or even academy teachers, without any kind of teaching qualification. I know a few now who have dodgy online TEFL qualifications that taught them nothing – and they’ve had to learn on the job and through other teachers.

    An NQT has been given some strategy, teaching experience and framework to help them, but they also have to learn through real-world practical experience. I started teaching about 5 years ago and I did so on the back of a “5-day intensive” training session, which of course prepared me for anything and everything. “Right, you’re ready to teach kids of the next year. GO!” Obviously, it taught me nothing, although I did learn that doing exams whilst being very jet-lagged is rather taxing. I also picked up the hardcore teacher coffee addiction there.

    I feel sorry for the kids I was supposed to be educating, but through the sheer need to survive, I learned quickly. And when it came to getting the qualification 15 months later, I felt I was at an advantage having had so much time in front of a class.

    New teachers learn quickly, and they might not have a huge knowledge-base, but I don’t believe that successful teaching is only down to pedagological finesse, but rather it comes down to presentaton and classroom-management, routine and a plan (that is if you don’t do dogme) – when teaching YLs. I think I was able to develop classroom management techniques and a teaching persona in the time I was working in the academy, I had to, or they would have killed me. My survivial instincts were clearly a big help later on. Needless to say, taking the qualification improved my teaching a great deal.

    I know several excellent TEFL teachers who don’t have uni degrees, some are very young and some are older – I don’t think it’s a question of having life-experience, it’s more about mindset and personality. Teaching is about leadership – you can have a MAed and still be a crap teacher. I don’t think it should be made a requirement, we’d lose a lot of quality and not necessarily gain any.

    I’m saying all this with a little niggle though. I work at a teacher-training school and took trainees in as tenants for a period of time. I met a variety of people, but one guy stands out in my mind. He had had 15 years teaching experience, on the back of no qualification. Not taking a qualification after a certain length of time is perhaps a sign that you are not all that serious about professional development. If that’s the case the likelihood is that you’re not much of a good teacher either, because you haven’t tried to push yourself forward. His bad habits had set in stone, he was unable to follow basic teaching theory, he failed exams, had no knowledge of grammar and eventually quit the course … and went back to unqualified teaching. I believe that if personal and professional development is a common aim in our profession, one needs to try new things, experiment and learn. That probably means getting a certificate early on, and then continuing to push yourself in new directions.

    I like your blog 😀


    • Thanks George, nice to see you here.

      Hmmm. Yes, I’ve known people who are 40,50+ who’ve teaching EFL or ‘English’ for years and have nothing. I also remember during examiner training some people had in-house TEFL certificates which were accepted. I’m not sure but in our Cambridge dominated industry are they accepted? Maybe they are good but as they are not recognised and don’t have the reputation of a CELTA should they be used?

      I took my first one over 2 days at a place I thought was good. Looking back it was basic and just had a peer to peer practice segment, I then took an online extension but the school/company then said everyone was qualified and offered us all foreign work. The catch was that this ‘voluntary work’ had to be paid for. Doesn’t seem right really.

      Years and years ago I was in the ‘underground industry’ of unaccredited schools and teachers and still know people in it. I also recall 2 blokes acting as inspectors to fake accreditation for some dodgy school. My god, the lengths some places go to.

      Trainee tenants? That sounds like a great comedy series as too would one about host families. I remember one poor Japanese girl came to class petrified and when I asked why she said she hadn’t slept. Eventually she told us about her drunk host father confusing her room for his and sleeping the night on her floor. Another lived on a diet of tinned beans.

      • Haha, yes, the trainee tenants would be a great series – I only hosted 5 or 6, but even then I have lots of stories. One guy had intended to get on the metro train and travel two stops (about 4 minutes), but he ended up getting on an overland train and going to another city (about 2 hours). He called me about mid-way – “Awww mate, I think I’ve messed up.”

        I think we live in a CELTA/TEFL dominated teaching bubble in Europe, but a lot of the guys who want to teach without one can find jobs fairly easily in places like Korea, Thailand and so on (though they do usually need some kind of degree for that). I’m not sure how accepted in in-house TEFL certs are here, but I think if you *know* people you can get a job – like in any industry I guess.

        • Sounds fun. I got talking to a guy in Singapore airport and he said a new passport/ticker checker at the gates didn’t check either and a few people ended up in different countries. How do you explain that one to your partner?

          Yes, Europe is Europe but in France I have only met a few bosses who knew CELTA and few less who knew DELTA. Why? Because neither are needed or recognised. When I was in Poland and Finland just being English seemed to get me FT work.

  3. Very interesting post Phil and perhaps this is how most people got into teaching in the first place. For me, I was teaching in South Korea and all which was required was a degree and for the applicant to be a native-teacher. However, after 1 year of teaching, I decided to do the CELTA Course. Obviously, it provided me the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals and enhance my skills as a teacher. I was in the fortunate position to complete an MA in English Language Teaching and I really enjoyed the experience. For post-CELTA qualifications, one should really look at doing an MA which combines a TEFL-Q practical qualification (which is offered at the University of Sussex) and I don’t really feel the need to do a DELTA now. What is available for post-MA I hear you ask, well if you think about it there are opportunities to publish in various ELT related journals, pursue research and develop oneself as a professional language teacher.

    Finally, I do feel sorry for those students that I taught in my early days of my teaching career but without this experience, I wouldn’t be the teacher I am now. You should realise that a CELTA (or the Trinity equivalent) is not necessary in some countries but this is where the ‘back-packer’ vision of ELT is portrayed. For those that want to professionalise the industry, it is necessary to undertake various qualifications and develop the industry as a whole.

    • Hi Martin, thanks for the comment.

      Post-MA? Interesting point. Financially do you think article writing, research and being more professional is worth it? After paying 4k+ just for tuition fees shouldn’t an MA help you money-wise? As mentioned in some other comments on this blog, there is definite confusion about the whole MA/DELTA situation as regards recognition. I do think perhaps there are just too many qualifications as there’s also the Business English certificate too. In one school people had in-ouse certificates, CELTAs, Trinity certificates, DELTAs (new and old), BA Ed, PGCEs (from primary to A levels, English and ESOL), BE certificates and MAs in TESOL, EFL and Linguistics. This makes recognition a tough call.

      Most commenters have agreed that the industry needs professionalising but is it our job to do it? After all, most of us spend our time trying to find enough work to pay the bills. When I was a contracter in the UK I think I was a bit sheltered about what EFL really is. Now I’m a freelance abroad, however, there doesn’t seem to be much of an industry. Thankfully TESOL France are pushing things in that direction but when schools are mainly worried about profits it’s tough. A friend who runs a school explained why he can only pay 15 Euros an hour (brut) the other day and it made sense. Schools compete on price and then have to pay franchisers, tax, bills, admin salaries etc so can’t afford the best teachers. But if you work in that industry and need work you’ll have to take it. That then means bosses will think it’s OK and lower their salaries too.

      Yes, I’ll admit that I think I’m worth more than 15 Euros because of qualifications/experience and would turn down such a job but would that change anything? Of course, if we all made a union and went on strike perhaps but saying that it happened at a place I worked at in London and apparently all the teachers were fired.

      I thank the world for the British Council because of all the places I’ve worked they have been the best although they seem to differ from country to country. I learned more from examiner training then most other training I’ve had and the constant support, FB and amazing colleagues just add the icing on the cake. They do an amazing job of showing how professional ELT can be as well as innovative, just look at their fantastic online material. If we had a BC office in every main city I think we’d be pretty professional in no time.

      Thanks again and good luck with the book release.

  4. Some secret – didn’t most of us teach abroad at some point with nothing more than a BA and the fact that we were native speakers? 😉 Everyone my age I know certainly did (aside from the middle-aged women immigrant teachers who do our settlement program some justice…).

    CELTA still isn’t a standard around here. In fact, doing it doesn’t guarantee you the accreditation you need to teach programs in my province (though it’s a good start). Having said that, It’s not that CELTA is any worse than what my province requires. I just mention this to indicate the lack of CELTA popularity in Canada.

    You know, there are still plenty of language school teachers here that have no formal qualifications to teach at all. That’s readily changing, but the old guard that could or were grandfathered into their qualifications has only experience to draw on. Shame.

    • OK, not very big but I recall on the CELTA it was frowned upon and some schools said “you are not a teacher without the CELTA” even if you had a TEFL cert from somewhere else.

      Ah, the ‘old guard’. I’ve heard that quite a lot in unis where people have been heads of dept for decades and still live in the 1970s. This is reflected in their mentality but also what and how they teach. Since England introduced tuition fees unis became competitive so you’d think they’d be competing on quality and modernity of courses but not always. Yesterday I looked at various MA TESOL courses and saw some stark differences:


      Theories of language learning
      Teaching methods
      Research methods

      Blended learning in a digital age
      Developing researcher competences
      The education of language teachers
      Psychology of language learners

      Describing language
      Communicative language teaching
      Language discourse and society
      Classroom research
      Pedagogic grammar

      ELT management
      Curriculum design and assessment
      Current use of technology in education

      They may all be coming from the same place but some definitely sound more interesting than others and certainly worth more money. As UK tuition fees rise I hope quality does too rather than just the prices.

  5. Should a degree be required to do CELTA? Mmm, what’s that? Some kind of newfangled Celtic dance?

    Question: should a degree be required before you’re allowed to start up companies like Facebook, Microsoft and Apple?

    • No.I used to go to lots of business conferences with students and most big entrepreneurs quit uni. When you work with people who have degrees in geography, art, history or something else that’s cost them an arm and a leg were they useful when they switch to EFL. The women I worked with who didn’t have degrees did perfectly well, so did the ones who got onto PGCEs via an equivalency test.

  6. I think a CELTA is useful but not essential to work in a language school, I personally would be hesitant to employ someone in a language school who didn’t have a CELTA or equivalent, I would probably just ask to see more demo lessons and lesson plans, but to say you are not a teacher without one is ridiculous. Here in Korea it would be reasonable to say the majority of teachers don’t have a CELTA, and the majority of academy owners don’t know/care what a CELTA is, and yet there are many fantastic teachers here! It actually quite frustrates me when I see job advertisements that states 2 years post-CELTA experience as to completely disregard a persons experience before that is plain ridiculous.

    This is especially true when you take into account the limited scope of the CELTA (highly motivated, adult learners in class sizes of around 12), for example what about public school teachers who teach unmotivated students in class sizes of up to 50 or so effectively and successfully, or teachers in India with no course books or photocopiers and successfully teach English? I actually talked about this in a bit more detail in my blog here…… {http://www.alienteachers.com/1/post/2011/10/is-a-celta-worth-your-money-or-time.html} but basically, CELTA’s are useful, I do feel their usefulness is, at times over stated though. In fact, I think having been a teacher before taking your CELTA allows you to get more out of the course when you do take it.

    • Hi Alex,

      Nice to see you here, thanks for the comment.

      So, you think pre-CELTA experience is essential? I’d go with that but I remember on my course they didn’t view it well. Probably their way of saying how important being CELTA qualified is.

      I think any teaching experience is valid and should be taken into consideration. I’ve heard silly things like:
      “you don’t have experience in this specific area”
      “you don’t have experience in this country”
      “you haven’t worked with our clients”

      Just silly.

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