Friday, February 19, 2010

Certification--is it really necessary?

A couple months ago I had a discussion with a Director of Studies of a new live online language school and he mentioned that it didn´t matter to him if the trainers he hires has any sort of certification in teaching English let alone live online--what mattered to him was whether the teacher could teach and whether he/she had experience in the industry that the student was working. In fact, work experience as a banker was more important to him than teaching experience if the students were bankers. I thought to myself and possibly even said it--the same old debate about whether qualifications makes someone a good teacher and I inwardly groaned.

To understand my reaction, one should probably understand how I got into teaching. I was working at a multi-national company in sales and was bored out of my mind--every month I doubled my sales quota and really needed a new challenge. I started looking and saw an ad in the newspaper: "Teach in Korea--no experience necessary" In fact, the ad said that all the teachers needed was a BA in anything. So, I applied for the job and two months later I left for Pusan, S. Korea. I was told that I would have a couple days of orientation before I entered the classroom and I was fine with that--didn´t know what I was doing, but I was on an adventure... Anyway, I arrived in Pusan at about 10 PM on a Sunday night and the next day the boss picked me and my roommates up and I was given a textbook and told to teach. I remember that I looked at them and said, 'but what do I do?' I had gone from the corporate world to a classroom of 14 university students and had no training or even induction. The head teacher told me to go in and introduce myself and then have them introduce themselves and you should be okay. So, I started teaching with absolutely NO training, induction, etc. My training was on the job and my colleagues and I just shared ideas and I learned a lot from the people who had gotten their four-week tefl and/or esl endorsement. I actually stayed in Korea for just under two years and fell in love with teaching.

When I went on and got an MA TESOL, I already had two years teaching experience and was already successful as a teacher. Did I need certification? Was I just wasting my time? After I finally got training, I realized that I still started all the classes the same way I did on that day in S. Korea when I didn´t have a clue what I was doing. Did I need to spend two years in graduate school to continue with the same routine? I then realized that because I was teachable in graduate school, I learned new techniques and was already a good teacher, but the two years in grad school made me an even better teacher.

So, the debate between certified and uncertified teachers surfaces every once in a while and I inwardly groan and think to myself--I started with no training, didn't change the way I start a class, but boy did I learn a lot when I was jumping through the hoops to get certified. So, my conclusion is that if a person who is already a good teacher seeks certification and is teachable, they actually become better teachers. The key is to be teachable!

Of course, I hear the teacher (usually ones who has never bothered to jump through the hoops to get qualified) say that the worst teachers are the ones who are the most qualified. I have to admit that many PhDs and teachers with MAs are bad teachers, but is that really a reason for a person who is a good teacher to balk at the idea of getting certified and learn more about their profession? I guess in my mind, it is professional development and in every other ´professions´people have to get qualifications--why would language teaching being any different?

How about you--should you get qualified? Is a CELTA or TEFL enough to teach live online? Probably. Should you hone your skills as you move into live online language teaching? By all means. Should the live online teacher really get certified or is a certificate concentrating on face-to-face teaching enough?