How TEFL courses sell you an idea of teaching online and overseas

Buying a 120-hour TEFL/TESOL/CELTA certificate makes you eligible to teach anywhere in the world - sounds good, doesn’t it? Let's take a look at the reality.

The truth is, that’s the idea TEFL courses want you to believe. What’s wrong here and why the concept of "Get Certified and Teach Anywhere" has nothing in common with the real recruiting process in schools?

The purpose of typical short term TEFL courses (where TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language) is simple - to give you an idea of teaching, classroom management, and (maybe) some teaching practice that’s usually included in face-to-face courses.

TEFL and the obscure reality of the teaching market

Let’s get down to the bed-rock and talk about the jobs - the primary goal for most people signing up for the TEFL.

Meet Jack 👨‍💼, the owner of a small English school he runs together with his wife in Shenzhen, China.

Being an expert in education, he is keen to hire teachers based on their professional skills and natural teaching talents. On the other hand, he knows that customers will go to his school and pay for classes only if they are delivered by the young, energetic, and western-looking foreigners.

Since most of the qualified and experienced teachers are already hired by other schools that can offer higher paychecks, he will select from the rest based solely on their appearance, with little to no regard for their professional skills

A few years ago, it was relatively common for English to be taught in smaller schools by non-native speakers, who were presented to the clients as American or British nationals. (Reddit) or teachers without degrees (China Daily)

👨‍💼 Rose is the head of a small recruiting agency in Beijing. 

She is eager to close more positions and find a place in the school for every teacher, but her job now comes down to the selection of good looking teachers Jack can hire to satisfy his customers. 

That’s the root of all the bad practices like racism, ageism, and sexism, which recruiters are usually blamed for. Recruiters are not innocent, and here’s the list of popular tricks recruiters rely on to make you apply. Check this article if you are looking for a legitimate job.

Conclusion: Even if you are fully qualified, your chances to get a perfect job might be significantly lower than what your TEFL course told you. 


How much can I get? - big expectations vs. reality

Candidates usually expect their future teaching job to be fairly paid, allowing them to save some money or pay back loans in their home country. According to our statistics, 30 % of candidates without a degree, signed up for a TEFL certificate expect a salary of $1000-1500 per month, and 60% - 1500-2000 per month. 

Teaching destinations that don’t require a degree like Myanmar, Ecuador, Laos, etc. won’t be even close to matching these expectations. The situation with teacher’s wages is even worse in Western Europe, where the salary for fully qualified teachers isn’t big enough to cover the cost of living, let alone saving money.

The owner of the TEFL course, located in one of the big wannabe cities in Europe, admits a lot of students sign-up for the course every year just to renew the student visas that allow them to stay.

The reason: local schools are not ready to provide legal employment and visas for foreign teachers.

Most TEFL courses are aware of the fact it is impossible for 90% of graduates to find a position. However, the best strategy is to pretend the problem doesn’t exist - and sell the idea of “opportunities”.



Check some stats 📈

We ran some numbers to show you the insignificance of the TEFL certificate in the job search process.
We took China as an example since it’s the most popular destination for offline jobs and a few online positions. 

👩‍🏫 Offline jobs

The position requires a degree and a TEFL certificate
(well-known ESL school brand in China)

Qualified candidates applied 235
Among them with TEFL certificates 213
Accepted for interview 34

The recent coronavirus outbreak became a great incentive for TEFL companies to sell even more online courses with blunt statements like “you will be able to teach online and earn money”.

💻 Online jobs

An online school where the degree is required 

Qualified candidates applied 62
Among them with TEFL certificates 49
Accepted for interview 9


An online school where the degree is not required

Qualified candidates applied 97
Among them with TEFL certificates 80
Accepted for interview 13


Explaining that “you won’t find a job because TEFL is not a real qualification that makes you a teacher” or “online jobs are so scarce even qualified teachers have all-time low booking rates” is the same as shooting in their leg - it’s very bad for their sales and will probably just steer their audience to the other brand “who has a better course”.

That’s where the industry-wide fraud is happening.


Want to check which tricks TEFL courses use to make you enroll? - here’s your checklist ✔️.

Promise 1: You can teach anywhere in Asia
Reality 1: Your appearance, age, and nationality are the most important factors to get hired. Plus, most of the places require you to have a degree.

Promise 2: You can teach anywhere in Europe
Reality 2: Dreaming about working in Western Europe? Sorry to say so, but you can’t make it until you have some income outside of teaching since the salaries are laughable. Also, most employers won’t bother making working visas for you and will push you to get a business/tourist visa on your own.

Promise 3: You can teach without a degree
Reality 3: You can teach in a certain number of places without a degree, but you can barely earn a living. Oh, and in most of these places certificate is not necessary as well.

Promise 4: You can teach online without a degree
Reality: Your experience and personality are much more important than a certificate. Also, refer to Reality #1


When do you need a TEFL certificate? 📝

Before you step up to the classroom and have a chance to apply the knowledge you’ve got from your TEFL program, the only place where you TEFL is required is the embassy, as the certificate became one of the requirements to get a working visa. 95% of ESL teaching job interviews where the previous teaching experience is not required won’t ask you extraordinary questions about teaching you can’t be prepared for.

Go and try to find a job without a certificate - pretend for a moment you have a TEFL. Received lots of invitations for an interview - fine, go get certified. Sometimes, your future employer even reimburses part of the cost of your certification, which makes the approach even more worthwhile. You can always say you just started a TEFL and enroll the same day after the interview.


One last thing

We neither want to discourage you in any way from pursuing your dream of teaching online or overseas nor pretend that TEFL is a useless thing that doesn’t give you knowledge or skills.
The only purpose of this article is to help you find out whether being TEFL certified will aid you in your job search, and help you put your efforts and money into the things you really need. (Remember these half-read books on your shelf and online courses you enrolled for and never started?).

No argue, teaching abroad might be the greatest experience of your entire life. Just take time to research everything beforehand to check the list of locations where you are eligible to teach with your TEFL certificate and whether you can actually get a job there.

On teach.fm, you can create a profile and check if you can get an offer from schools online or abroad - TEFL is not necessary. First interview invitations usually come in 24 hours. 
And it’s 100% free.