“Your Female Teachers Should Smile More”

or, Things Not to Do/Say During Your Demo Day, Part 1

Let’s start with 3 premises that we can all get behind:

  1. Looking for a new job is stressful.
  2. Stress can make us do silly things.
  3. Silly things in a limited context can turn into embarrassing things.

As a part of MY’s hiring team, I’ve hosted demo teachers in my lessons for over 5 years. I have probably had over 40 teachers from all over Japan observe my lessons and teach my students.

The vast majority of candidates are respectful and professional. I’ve also had a few special cases that are worth mentioning. Silly words and actions may have been said and done as a result of stress. However, due to the limited time of getting to know the candidate, the interviewer’s impression of you can quickly be tarnished. I believe that talking about the examples will be useful not only for your potential demo day at MY, but at any other place of future employment.

  1. “Your female teachers should smile more.”

This gem did not come in the actual stress of the interview or demo day, but afterward. I decided not to hire a male candidate who was overqualified and yet wasn’t able to apply any of his loudly professed qualifications to practice. To be clear, even though I believed that this teacher may be a poor fit for MY, I thought that maybe I could recommend him to someone from tertiary levels of education. At MY, we sometimes recommend teachers to other positions that we think would be a better fit.

However, the candidate responded to rejection at MY with several inappropriate comments, including this one targeted at MY’s female staff.  Needless to say, after hearing that I should “smile more,” my desire to help out immediately vanished.

Why is telling women to “smile, honey” inappropriate? Here are some facts for you:

A comment that all staff need to smile more may be valid criticism. Even without the data above, though, thinking that in 2023 women are to “smile more” is, to be frank, obsolete. And I know – currently, it may be tricky to navigate gender relationships in the office, but I follow this rule that’s been useful for me:

If you can’t imagine saying a phrase to a member of the opposite sex, maybe you shouldn’t say it at all.

In other words, saying, “Cheer up, dude!” is appropriate for both sexes. However, if you say, “Smile, honey,” to your male coworker, and he goes “Eeeeww, mate, what?” – don’t say it to your female coworker either.

  1. “You’re, like, everything I wanted to be in high school!”

Navigating what to say to your interviewer and the person in charge of your demo day is quite tricky. Forbes, for example, has this to say regarding what not to say during your job interview.

 To the Forbes list, I’d also like to add that phrases like “I am so honoured to be here” and “This is my dream job” may make the interviewer doubt how truthful you are. Especially if you haven’t done any research about the company (this particular candidate had no idea about MY’s teaching methodology or fundamental ideas of constructivism), how can you know that this is your dream job?

“You’re, like, everything I wanted to be in high school!” came up after other questionable compliments that I mention above. It immediately raised a red flag for me. Giving compliments to the company or your interviewer is not forbidden, but you need to strike a balance between a compliment and sucking up. The emptiness of this particular phrase made it sound like the person was trying too hard to flatter me. The candidate simply blurted this phrase out with no additional context. Why did they think so? What did they mean by it? I still don’t know.

One of the most important elements of genuine compliments is sincerity and specificity. Praise efforts and achievements, but you do need to actually mean it. At the end of the day, don’t forget that a few cringey poems didn’t save Jane Bennet’s relationship with her admirer!

  1. “So, can I get another job while I work here?”

One thing recruiters look for is commitment. Especially when you start at a new company, you have a myriad of things to learn, from official company policies to whom to befriend and go to karaoke with. You may truly be a multitasking Renaissance man that can juggle several jobs and speak French in 90 days. However, let’s be honest, the likelihood of this is very low. Considering MY’s intense training process and the background knowledge that you will need to be successful in the classroom, focus on one job at a time.

You can have a second job while working at MY. We’ve had several teachers hold part-time positions as adjunct professors at local universities, and they were successful in figuring out a balance between their personal life, employment at MY, and employment at a university. Even so, they spent two to three years improving their teaching skills before even having a conversation with the management about getting another job.

So, what if you do need to get another job? The most “genius” idea is to not tell anyone about your second place of employment. However, in Japan, it’s not a great plan not to inform your employer or immigration. If you don’t get a special permit 資格外活動許可許, “Permission to engage in activities other than permitted under the status of residence” and you get caught, you may get in serious trouble with immigration. To obtain the permit, you may need your employer’s expressed written permission.

Start your new job and see your workload after you start teaching on your own. If you are struggling to keep your main job, maybe you shouldn’t consider getting another one. If you’re doing just fine and need another job – congratulations, you may start looking for another employment opportunity. Just remember that you must be transparent with your employer and make sure that you compartmentalize and find a way to do both of your jobs to the best of your abilities. If your second job affects your performance at your main job, your employer may recall their permission. No main job means that you may not be able to obtain your immigration permit again. If you want to read more about having a part-time job while employed full-time, I recommend reading this article.

This is Part 1 of things not to do/say when looking for a job.  Let us know if you want to read Part 2, and good luck with your job search!

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Moving forward on MY’s TEFL certificate requirements

What to do with TEFL certificates? We have decided why we want teachers to be TEFL-certified. We have done our homework to understand positive trends and warning flags in the TEFL certificate field. But what TEFL certificates will MY English School accept? How will we decide?

MY English School decided nearly a decade ago to accept OnTESOL’s 250-hour diploma as MY’s recommended certificate for teachers. We have also routinely accepted the CELTA and any higher degrees in related fields. So what is MY doing differently moving forward?

The answer to that question is complicated. What are we doing differently? Not much…and a lot. At this time, what TEFL certificates does MY accept with certainty? OnTESOL’s 250-hour diploma and the CELTA. For any other certificates that teachers bring to us, we will review them case-by-case.

If this sounds essentially unchanged from MY’s stance a decade ago, it is. However, in taking time to understand the TEFL field better, we have also taken a step toward a more robust review process. We hope this process will ensure better certification standards and practices.

Knowing our purpose & principles

Knowing who we are as a company and why we do what we do has helped shape MY’s discussion about TEFL certificates. During the past two years, MY’s Leadership Team and staff have worked to articulate MY’s purpose and principles. These efforts set common ground for our strategy on TEFL certificates.

Why does MY exist as a company? Our answer: “We grow success.” Whether we are considering our students, our teachers, or the company, we grow success. This is MY’s purpose. This is the reason we exist as a company.

What does this mean for TEFL certificates? Whatever decisions we make about TEFL certificates, our choices should grow success. This includes helping our students grow by having better quality teachers. It includes our teachers growing professionally. We grow a strong community of professionals. We grow a culture of learning. We grow success as a company. If we are not growing success in all these areas with TEFL certificate decisions, we are falling short of MY’s purpose.

How do we grow success? MY’s principles guide us:

  1. We start with questions. Questions allow us to understand the situation before rushing to find solutions. Moving forward, this means asking a lot of questions about TEFL certificates and accreditors. (See, for example, our lists of red flags in the previous post in this series.) For MY’s discussion about TEFL requirements, this meant asking:
    • Why should MY require a TEFL certificate?
    • Why did we choose the OnTESOL 250-hour diploma as MY’s preferred certificate over a decade ago?
    • Why is that certificate still a good option for many teachers, and why is it now not a good option for some?
    • What has changed in the TEFL certificate industry in the past decade?

  1. We are always learning. This principle is part of the reason for requiring a TEFL certificate at MY. MY’s teachers are always learning. Quality TEFL certification is a step toward learning. TEFL certification is also not the end of learning. We keep creating opportunities to grow professionally once certified.

    “We are always learning” also informs how we approach TEFL certificate decisions. We have done our homework on the TEFL field, but there remains a lot we do not know. The field is always changing. Each time we review a new accreditor or TEFL certificate, we approach it as a learning opportunity.

  1. We assume positive intent. Assuming that others are acting for good reasons can be hard when the TEFL field is littered with bad actors. Why is this TEFL certificate provider blatantly lying about its accreditation? Once we have verified externally that a TEFL certificate’s claims are false, we have concrete reasons not to assume positive intent from that provider any longer.

    With prospective teachers, however, how should we react to previously acquired TEFL certificates that they bring to MY? If a certificate is rejected by MY, so be it. We will explain in detail to the teacher our concerns with the certificate and why we cannot approve it.

    We do not want to fall into the trap of blaming teachers for obtaining bad certificates. We will not point fingers for failing to notice the same flaws that we see. We will not assume that a teacher chose this certificate out of a desire for something cheap and easy. We will continue to assume that a teacher obtained this certificate with good reasons in mind.

  1. We are proactive and accountable. The TEFL certificate field is far too vast for MY to proactively identify and review every possible TEFL certificate so that we can transparently show teachers exactly what is approved and what is not. I doubt any language school has resources to devote staff almost full-time to TEFL certificate review. What would be the point?

    MY is proactive about communicating our purpose, principles, and standards for TEFL certificates. We aim to be as transparent as possible about our process and our decisions. We have staff at multiple levels in MY’s structure who will hold each other accountable for those decisions.

  1. We do what’s best for MY. MY is not only the company’s bottom line financially. MY is also our students, our staff, and our company culture. For every decision, including about TEFL certificates, we aim to do what is best for all of these as a whole.

Two tiers of certification

One significant change at MY moving forward is that we will accept two tiers of certification: Preliminary and Extended.

Extended MY Certification is essentially what MY has always accepted for TEFL certification. We require a quality, recognized, approved TEFL certificate. Extended Certification earns a significant salary increase. We do not regard Extended Certification as an end point for professional development. Certification is a starting foundation, on top of which we will add MY training and other professional development opportunities outside MY.

In addition, we also recognize that many teachers come to MY with other certifications that may not meet MY’s standards. MY may still reject some certificates, but, from the perspective of teachers and students, the certificate is not what is important. What we seek are quality teachers. A hard-working teacher may still gain knowledge and skills even from a subpar certificate. Certificates that do not meet MY’s quality standards may still have some value. If we can see that a certificate offers a basic introduction to TEFL, it may earn Preliminary MY Certification for a smaller salary increase.

Topping up

With two tiers of certification, MY teachers need a path from Preliminary Certification to Extended Certification. Enrolling in a second introductory TEFL course that covers much of the same ground, even if in more breadth or depth, may feel tedious or unproductive for teachers. Most TEFL providers also offer specialized short courses (usually between 30 and 60 hours in length). Many of these specializations, such as teaching young learners, teaching business English, leadership & management, or teacher training) could be highly relevant to MY teachers. MY has begun reviewing specialized short courses as “top-up” options to raise certification status from Preliminary to Extended without having to take an approved full TEFL course from the start.

Robust review (doing the work of accreditors)

MY continues to recommend OnTESOL’s 250-hour diploma and the CELTA for our teachers. When incoming teachers already possess other TEFL certificates, our Leadership Team has reviewed those certificates and decided our approval or disapproval. What we have lacked is a robust review process. Generally, I think that we have arrived at good decisions about certificates, but our process was made easier by starting with narrow standards.

MY lacked a clear framework that would still allow us to make good decisions after opening our TEFL certification to two tiers. We did not want to accept every advertised 120-hour certificate for Preliminary MY Certification, but how do we go about determining yes and no? Our staff are not trained accreditors. Yet the situation needs us to perform the role of accreditors.

One step forward has been building a color-coded list of accreditors that MY can use internally to assist our decision-making:

  • Accreditors we reject. When we see certificates with this accreditation, we should always reject these certificates immediately, with minimal review.

  • Accreditors we may accept. In some cases, these are potentially good accreditors that we have not reviewed yet. In other cases, they exhibit good points, but they may also raise some concerns about quality or their review process. We need to subject these to robust review.

  • Accreditors we probably will not accept. We may opt to submit certificates with these accreditations to robust review, but these accreditations likely will not carry much weight in our decisions. In some cases, they are legitimate memberships and certifications that are not actual accreditation. In other cases, they seem likely to be sham organizations that we need more research to verify.

Little by little, we may move a few accreditors from the white and yellow categories to the blue and red. Some will remain permanently in that middle zone. In a previous post, we have already looked at red flags for accreditors. In addition, good accreditors:

  1. Evaluate curriculum content
  2. Set standards for course hours
  3. Evaluate instructor quality
  4. Assess student outcomes
  5. Evaluate business and management practices
  6. Actively assess the program periodically, not rely solely on self-reporting or give a one-time endorsement
  7. Offer transparent, meaningful criteria and standards
  8. Publicly list the organizations, programs, courses, or certifications they accredit
  9. Are accountable
  10. Avoid conflicts of interest

As much as possible, MY seeks reliable accreditation frameworks to assist our decisions about individual TEFL certificates. When an accreditation does not fully earn our trust, we are left to become the accreditors.

Acting as accreditor for a TEFL certificate will be difficult. As much as the detailed standards of TESL Canada or the CELTA have helped set expectations for course hours, curriculum content, instructor qualifications, student outcomes, business practices, and so on, we lack many of the tools and resources of accreditors. We may contact a TEFL provider with questions, but we lack the full cooperation of the provider in opening their books and courses for us to audit. TEFL certificates that fail to offer transparency will struggle to gain our approval.

For TEFL certificates that do not have any accreditation? Should MY choose mostly to ignore them? The time and other resources needed to review these certificates make them almost certainly not worth our while.

Rejecting all unaccredited certificates is unfortunate in some cases. MY will likely exclude a handful of very good TEFL certificates. If a TEFL certificate providers, having seen the messy TEFL accreditation landscape, has foregone gimmicky accreditation as a marketing tool, that is understandable, even laudable. At the same time, how can a language school discern the value of that certificate to teachers? Good accreditation is not a gimmick. Good accreditation helps us make better decisions. TEFL certificates that do not opt into valid accreditation have decided that MY and MY teachers are not part of their client base. That’s O.K.

At the start, our approved and rejected lists remain short, essentially unchanged from the past decade. With each new certificate teachers bring to us, we expect our lists of accreditors, certificates, and top-up short courses to grow. These lists will improve transparency and flexibility for our teachers, and they will help maintain MY’s quality instructor promise to our students.

Who decides?

With a general framework for TEFL certificate approval decisions in hand, MY’s Leadership Team struggled with a final question: Who at MY will review and decide about TEFL certificates? Who applies the standards?

We considered existing teams at MY: Leadership Team, Hiring Team, Professional Development Team. In each case, TEFL certificate review would, at times, be a substantial distraction from these teams’ primary functions.

We settled on an ad hoc committee of three or four people drawn from MY’s Hiring Team, Professional Development Team, and managers. The committee can meet only when needed without significantly disrupting the pressing work of an entire team. The ad hoc committee can draw perspective from several groups at MY, who all have a stake in holding the committee accountable.

Following months of work to understand the TEFL certificate field better, this may sound like a depressingly bureaucratic response–what is MY doing to address the TEFL certificate question? We formed a committee.

This said, we are optimistic that we are moving in the direction that is best for MY’s students, teachers, and company culture. Our next step is to begin training this committee to act like accreditors. Several current and incoming teachers are already seeking the committee’s review. We are handing the committee good tools and entrusting this small group to care well for MY’s principles.

This ends our four-part blog series on the TEFL problem. How to handle TEFL certificates remains far from a settled question for employers and teachers. We look forward to continued debate and to further changes and developments in the TEFL field.

Part 1: The TEFL Problem
Part 2: Why TEFL?
Part 3: Three Bright Spots in the TEFL Industry (and a lot of red flags to watch for)
Part 4: Moving forward on MY’s TEFL certificate requirements

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Three Bright Spots in the TEFL Industry (and lots of red flags to watch for)

The TEFL certificate industry has many good teacher trainers and rigorous certificate programs. It also has an alarming number of frauds and diploma mills. Once we step beyond widely respected names, teachers and employers need to be alert to the many warning signs that a certificate is of lower-than-advertised quality, if not outright fraudulent. However, there are some respectable bulwarks within the industry. We start with three of these bright spots:

University Qualifications

University certificates and degrees remain the most respected qualifications for English language teachers. Qualifications from established, brick-and-mortar universities especially display above-and-beyond commitment as a language teacher.

Want to teach at a university? Invest in a university degree.

Some universities offer a B.A. in TEFL/TESOL. It is a narrow degree that an undergraduate student is probably wise to combine in a double major, but such a degree stands out on a language teaching resume. Is a B.A. enough to teach at a university? Rarely, and a teacher is usually competing against a strong field of M.A.s and Ph.D.s for jobs.

Advanced university degrees offer professional training in research methods and teacher training methods, in addition to language theory and teaching methods. An M.A. in TESOL is a big investment, and a Ph.D. in Linguistics is a huge investment. The time and financial costs (both tuition and also often lost wages during the years required to complete the degree) can be immense, but these are the degrees held by committed language teachers seeking university positions.

As strong as university qualifications are, they are often not the best option for MY teachers. A MY teacher who gets an advanced degree is usually aiming to move into university teaching. Although many universities offer courses and degree programs online, barriers of geography, cost, and time can make university degrees impractical or inaccessible. Attending an in-person university program in an English-speaking country may force a teacher to quit employment. Certifications and specializations offer cheaper and less time-consuming options, while university degrees are expensive and normally take years to complete.


Single-course TEFL certificates developed to meet demand in the language-teaching industry. Private language schools and government teaching programs import large numbers of native speakers to teach English in countries around the world. Most such teachers do not have TEFL-related university degrees. Advanced university degrees are priced with a future university salary in mind, which can put them out of reach for many language school teachers. TEFL certificates exist to provide entry-level professional certification at a cost and time commitment accessible to most teachers.

The CELTA has become the closest thing to an industry standard among TEFL certificates. Cambridge English Assessment sets the CELTA course syllabus and rigorously regulates CELTA training centers. The 120-hour rating that Cambridge sets for the CELTA’s guided learning time has become the most common type of TEFL certificate offered around the world. Mirroring the CELTA/DELTA, Trinity College London’s CertTESOL/DipTESOL sets similar standards, with 120 hours as the entry point. Nearly every basic certificate from virtually every TEFL certificate provider is now advertised at 120 hours.

The real value of the CELTA is in its quality, consistency, and recognizability, which the rest of the TEFL industry mostly fails to replicate.

Above basic certification, there remains wide variation on course hours in the TEFL certificate industry. Courses can be found at 130 hours, 150 hours, 168 hours, 170 hours, 180 hours, 196 hours, 200 hours, 220 hours, 240 hours, 250 hours, 300 hours, 370 hours, 400 hours, and more.

What do these numbers mean? TEFL certificate providers are inconsistent with how they count course hours. Some, such as the CELTA, use “instructional contact hours” or “guided learning hours.” The hours of self-study during the course are not counted, and so CELTA’s 120 hours requires closer to 200 hours from a student. Other TEFL certificate courses use “total study time” or “time to completion,” which includes all hours spent by the student.

How accurately does a number reflect course content? A 120-hour TEFL course could be equivalent to another provider’s 200-hour course…or it might be on par with some other 40-hour or 60-hour short course. Even when courses are transparent about using “guided learning hours” vs. “total study time,” it is almost impossible to know what methods each provider uses in determining course hours. Many may rate their courses at 120 hours simply because that is the industry standard.

The strength of the CELTA is that Cambridge Assessment English maintains consistency across all CELTA providers. Teachers and employers know what the CELTA means, regardless from what training center a person obtained it. While the TEFL industry latched onto the CELTA’s 120-hour standard, the real value of the CELTA is in its quality, consistency, and recognizability, which the rest of the TEFL industry mostly fails to replicate.


Accreditation seems always the bright spot on the horizon for the TEFL industry. Accreditation has potential to ensure quality and make the field easier to navigate for teachers and employers, but it remains a work in progress.

Accreditation is the process by which an external review board assesses an educational institution, certification, or course for quality. The review is based on specific standards, which, if met, earn the accreditor’s official approval. An accreditor may regulate any number of metrics: student outcomes, instructor qualifications, course hours, curriculum content, business practices, and more.

A robust accreditation system takes the burden off teachers and employers to sort through TEFL certificates one-by-one. Enrolling in each course to compare quality is not needed if accreditors have done that work for us.

Employers increasingly demand accredited TEFL certificates. TEFL certificate providers increasingly obtain and advertise accreditation. With this demand, accreditors have sprung up to set standards and review courses.

A significant part of the work we have done at MY English School this year is attempting to sort through the accreditation field to determine what we can regard as reliable, what is potentially suspect, and what is obviously fraudulent.

This said, accreditation has not cleaned up the TEFL field yet. Accreditors, even rigorous ones, do not all evaluate on agreed standards. Most accreditors have a small footprint, regulating fewer than perhaps five TEFL courses. Some accredit only one or two. Accreditation is more informative and allows better apples-to-apples comparisons when accreditors share similar standards and accredit larger numbers of courses. An industry standard for TEFL accreditation is still in process.

The positive image that accreditation lends to a TEFL course is also its own worst enemy. For every good accreditor that sets and enforces rigorous standards, there is a sham accreditor or false claim of accreditation. Shoddy TEFL certificate providers have doubled down on their false advertising. The following are all-too-common:

Fake accreditors. An unscrupulous school wants accreditation for marketing purposes, but does not want to pay or go through the trouble, so the school sets up its own accreditation agency to accredit itself. The cost of this? Usually no more than the price of a new web domain.
False claims. Why go to the trouble of creating a fake accreditor? Many schools simply make misleading claims about accreditation. Unless a teacher or employer confirms with the accreditor, a false claim slips by unnoticed.
Accreditation mills. A TEFL provider may get accredited, but just as there are diploma mills, there are also accreditation mills. Send the accreditor money, and you can advertise that they accredit you.

Accreditation is intended to add trust and quality in the industry. Instead, accreditation currently adds confusion. Teachers and employers, in addition to sorting flimsy and fraudulent TEFL certificates from rigorous ones, now also have to sort flimsy and fraudulent accreditations from the rigorous and legitimate ones. Accreditation can add surety to the TEFL industry, but it can also add an additional layer of uncertainty.

A significant part of the work we have done at MY English School this year is attempting to sort through the accreditation field to determine what we can regard as reliable, what is potentially suspect, and what is obviously fraudulent.

While private accreditors (some rigorous and reliable, some less so) have operated for many years, government-recognized accreditation was scarce until recently. OnTESOL’s TESL Canada accreditation stood out as a robust TEFL option for MY teachers a decade ago because the government recognized the qualification as valid to teach in Canadian schools.

However, no government-recognized standard has gained widespread acceptance internationally. In the case of TESL Canada, the trend moved in the opposite direction. At least one online provider that previously used TESL Canada’s standards dropped TESL Canada for a private accreditor. The 2018 standards revision that required every person registered in the diploma course to have a bachelor’s degree was a deal-breaker. Most TEFL programs, especially online providers, want their courses open to anyone competent in English.

The introduction of England’s Ofqual framework sparked a notable shift since 2010 in the TEFL industry toward government-recognized accreditation.

The introduction of England’s Ofqual framework sparked a notable shift in the TEFL industry toward government-recognized accreditation. Ofqual, a government agency, regulates education, testing, and qualifications based on course hours and attainment level. Ofqual in turn authorizes private awarding organizations (such as TQUK, Qualifi, Highfield, or Gatehouse Awards) to establish specific qualifications for various fields and courses, ranging from hairdressing to engineering, drone operation to social work, catering to construction, and more.

Is Ofqual the same as accreditation? Some in the TEFL field dispute Ofqual accreditation. Ofqual does not accredit in the same way that higher education accreditors accredit entire institutions. Ofqual does recognize awarding organizations to accredit specific qualifications.

A number of TEFL providers have seen the opportunity that the Ofqual framework provides. Following Ofqual’s 2018 decision to expand regulation to technical qualifications, “Ofqual Level 5” certificates became increasingly common, if not as a TEFL standard, at least as a marketing device. Although the CELTA has arguably always been more rigorous than other TEFL standards set within the Ofqual framework, the CELTA, being based in the U.K., also falls under Ofqual regulation as a Level 5 certificate.

Ofqual-regulated qualifications are described in two parts, e.g., “Level 5 certificate” or “Level 6 diploma.” These two parts express the attainment level and time required for the qualification.

Ofqual distinguishes between guided learning hours and total qualification time. Based on total qualification time, the following qualifications can be earned:

Award (up to 130 hours)
Certificate (130 hours up to 370 hours)
Diploma (370 hours and over)

Ofqual additionally regulates qualifications based on attainment level (difficulty) of the coursework, e.g., Level 3 is equivalent to high school diploma-level coursework, Level 6 to undergraduate university degree-level coursework, and Level 8 to doctoral-level coursework.

Ofqual’s terminology is far from universally adopted in the TEFL field. These labels take on entirely different meanings in other frameworks. OnTESOL’s 250-hour diploma, for example, would technically qualify as a “certificate” under Ofqual’s terminology. ACTDEC, a U.K.-based private accreditation company, revised its standards in 2013 to more closely follow the Ofqual framework. ACTDEC uses similar-sounding levels to rate qualifications, but with a significant difference: course hours and difficulty level are lumped together in one rating. This stands in contrast with Ofqual’s division of hours and attainment.

A comparison of Ofqual’s attainment levels and ACTDEC’s qualifications:

Ofqual attainment levels (with award, certificate, and diploma qualifications at each level):
Level 3: High school diploma, A Level, International Baccalaureate
Level 4: Introductory university-level coursework, non-degree university awards or certificates
Level 5: Two-year university degree (Diploma of Higher Education, Associate’s degree)
Level 6: Undergraduate university degree (Bachelor’s degree)
Level 7: Master’s degree
Level 8: Doctorate

ACTDEC qualifications:

Level 3: 120-hour certificate (foundation-level, introductory coursework)
Level 4: 150-hour certificate (foundation-level, introductory coursework)
Level 5: 250-hour certificate (pre-diploma, university-level coursework)
Level 6: 450-hour diploma (postgraduate-level qualification for experienced teachers)

As a further comparison, Ofqual’s levels also differ from TESL Canada’s standards. A TESL Canada Standard Two diploma, for example, requires 250 hours of coursework and 50 hours of practicum, and all course registrants must already possess an undergraduate bachelor’s degree. This might put TESL Canada Standard Two on par with a Level 6 certificate in the Ofqual framework. TESL Canada’s Standard Two might match ACTDEC’s Level 5 in course hours and Level 5 or 6 in difficulty level.

Within the TEFL industry, labels remains frustratingly inconsistent. Consistency is an advantage that accreditation may eventually bring about, but we are not there yet.

Consistency is an advantage that accreditation may eventually bring about, but we are not there yet.

Following the development of England’s Ofqual regulations (and similar regional frameworks in the rest of the U.K.), some U.S.-based TEFL providers have begun to follow suit in seeking government-recognized accreditation. The number of accredited TEFL providers remains small, but at least two Department of Education-recognized accreditors for continuing education and distance learning, ACCET and DEAC, now accredit TEFL certificates. Counterparts in the U.K. such as the BAC and ODLQC do the same. Other countries have also established various regulatory and accrediting agencies. Meanwhile, private accreditors such as ACTDEC and IATQuO continue to offer accreditation options outside government frameworks.

An employer or teacher needs to be familiar with the various accreditation frameworks in order to make use of them. A TEFL certificate provider may vaguely advertise “Level 5.” What “Level 5” actually means depends on what framework, if any, the TEFL certificate is accredited under.

Back to the TEFL Problem

Identifying good accreditors and good TEFL certificate programs remains a challenge. Unscrupulous organizations often market themselves well. Fraudsters are most successful when they offer an appearance of legitimacy. There is no magic formula for digging beneath the surface to find the truth about an accreditor or TEFL certificate provider.

Teachers can do their part by examining programs closely before registering for a course. Check with your employer or prospective employer to find out what certifications they accept (and reject). Do not leap at the cheapest option or go with whatever is near the top of a web search result. Treat certification as a professional investment.

Employers can do their part by similarly examining courses before accepting any certificate. Do not accept certificates no-questions-asked. Demand certificates that have potential to develop your staff into better teachers.

How can teachers and employers distinguish good accreditors and good TEFL certificate providers from bad? Do your homework.

How can teachers and employers distinguish good accreditors and good TEFL certificate providers from bad? Do your homework. Here are two lists of red flags to watch for that can help cut through some of the confusion:

Thirteen red flags for accreditors

  1. Vague or no accreditation standards. Good accreditors make their accreditation standards transparent. Standards are specific about course hours, course content, instructor qualifications, student outcomes, business practices, and so on. If the accreditor makes only vague statements about standards or lists no standards at all (or plagiarizes standards from another accreditor), this is a major red flag. This accreditation service may be a sham.
  2. Lack of clarity about what they accredit. An accreditor may accredit an institution, a course or program, or a qualification. Accreditors that are vague about what they accredit probably do not actually accredit anything.
  3. Lack of information about the accrediting board. Especially for private accreditors, accreditors should be transparent about who they are. If an accreditor does not list who is on the accrediting board, this can be a cause for concern.
  4. Conflicts of interest. Sometimes accreditors list who is on their accrediting boards, but it just so happens that those people are owners or directors of the same TEFL providers that the accreditor regulates. This is a no-no. Good accreditors are fully independent.
  5. Only accredits one school. If an accreditor regulates institutions in many other fields, but only one in TEFL, this raises a worry about what TEFL-specific standards have been developed. An accreditor that only accredits one school total in all fields? Highly suspect. It is worth checking if the website domain owner of the accreditor and the school happens to be the same person.
  6. Unaccredited “membership.” Some accreditors offer a regular accreditation option. For a cheaper price, they also offer an unregulated “membership” that allows the school to use the accreditor’s logo in advertising. Can anyone explain how such memberships are anything but a sleazy marketing gimmick?
  7. Short turnaround time for accreditation review. Thoroughly examining course materials, instructor qualifications, student outcomes, and everything else that ought to go into accreditation takes time. An accreditor promises super-fast turnaround to get accredited? You’re likely getting the fast-food version of accreditation.
  8. Permanent accreditation, no periodic review. Accreditation should be reviewed and renewed periodically. If accreditation once is good for all time, it loses its meaning.
  9. Over-reliance on self-reporting or self-review. Good accreditors gather information from institutions, independently verify that information, and independently evaluate it. A TEFL provider reflecting on its teaching and business practices is good. However, if an accreditor leaves most of the accreditation process to self-reporting or self-review, is the accreditation mark little more than a school patting itself on the back?
  10. No onsite inspection. With some online TEFL providers, there may be no option for physical onsite inspection. A good accreditor, however, puts boots on the ground…even if that ground happens to be virtual.
  11. No public listing of accredited organizations, courses, and awards. An accreditor should always be transparent about who and what it accredits. If there is no website listing, publicly accessible database, or other simple way to verify accreditation, this is a major red flag.
  12. Not actually an educational accreditor. Misleading claims in this area often fall more to TEFL providers than to accreditors themselves. An institution that certifies ISO 9001 quality management practices offers a perfectly legitimate certification. When a TEFL provider then passes ISO 9001 certification off as educational accreditation? Not so much. Likewise, a TEFL provider has membership in an industry trade group that exists to promote TEFL? Great! Claiming trade group membership as educational accreditation? Not great.
  13. False claims of government recognition. People tend to trust private organizations more if they are regulated or recognized by the government. Accreditors sometimes abuse this with misleading claims. “I have a government-issued tax number, and therefore you should trust everything I say” sounds absurd, but some accreditors advertise their credibility in essentially this manner. A government registry, such as a charities index or registry of companies, is not the same as government regulation or approval and does not equate to valid accreditation.

Eighteen red flags for TEFL certificate providers

  1. False claims of accreditation. TEFL certificate providers can make any number of misleading claims about accreditation. Outright fraudulent use of an accreditor’s name and logo happens. Some TEFL certificate providers get one course accredited and then claim accreditation for all courses. Or maybe the TEFL certificate was accredited 15 years ago, but accreditation lapsed, and somehow the TEFL course’s website never got updated. Verify with the accreditor.
  2. Self-accreditation. Does the TEFL provider claim to accredit itself? Or did it create its own accreditation agency? It is not actually accredited.
  3. Vague, misleading claims about certificate validity. TEFL certificate providers may make any number of claims about the validity of a certificate internationally, or that it is recognized by this authority or that. Such claims are occasionally true, but more often they are false. The more vaguely worded the claims are, the more likely they are false. “This certifies that _____ completed such-and-such TEFL course” sounds less impressive than “This certifies that _____ is globally approved to teach English as a foreign language,” but accurate and honest is preferable to flashy lies.
  4. Using affiliations or registrations to imply accreditation. Affiliations with other institutions are not bad. Registering as a legal company is good and necessary. Using those affiliations or registrations to claim accreditation? No.
  5. Accredited by a non-accreditor. Claiming accreditation through organizations that do not do educational accreditation seems silly. The organization explicitly states on its website that it is not an accreditor. Why then claim to be accredited by that organization? The expectation is that you won’t check. A lot of TEFL providers do it.
  6. Certificates based on “experience.” Rigorous certificate courses may include a teaching practicum that adds teaching experience on top of course work. That’s legitimate. A TEFL certificate provider offers a certificate based on an affidavit of one’s own experience (plus $100)? No.
  7. No verification system for certificates. Give me five minutes on a computer, and I can make and print a certificate. Give me thirty minutes, and I can make a passable facsimile of an actual TEFL provider’s certificate. Good TEFL providers give teachers and employers a way to verify validity of certificates.
  8. Shell companies. One does not expect a TEFL certificate provider to be named in the Panama Papers, but it happens. What need does a TEFL provider have of shell companies? Yes, a TEFL provider with branches in multiple countries may need to be incorporated in each country. But does the TEFL provider create multiple companies with different names? Strange. Does it claim independent affiliation with those same companies to boost its credibility? Suspect. Does it hide that all of these are, in fact, the same company, owned by the same person? Highly suspect.
  9. New name. Sometimes companies rebrand and rename themselves. What reason would a TEFL provider have for doing so? It is possible the school’s purpose and vision changed. It is also possible that the old name was tainted with a bad reputation. With a name change, is the TEFL provider stepping toward something or running away from something?
  10. Affiliate marketing. Those positive, “independent” reviews you read on other websites? A few might be real. A lot are affiliates earning sales commissions. Some TEFL provider websites act as affiliates for other TEFL providers, marketing their courses and certificates, sometimes with separate packaging and pricing. Sometimes affiliates pose as independent websites or as reviewers to promote certain TEFL certificates. They may use external platforms (social networking sites, the question-and-answer website Quora, etc.) to push their sales pitches.
  11. Outrageous claims. How many TEFL certificates does this provider boast to have issued in the past year? Think hard about how realistic that number is.
  12. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Everyone is guilty of a typo once and again. Does a misspelling, bad grammar, or wrong punctuation make you a liar? No, but when a TEFL certificate provider’s website is full of errors, there is reason not to trust.
  13. Plagiarized content on website. A CELTA-authorized center copying course descriptions on its website from Cambridge English Assessment is perfectly legitimate. But when a TEFL provider rips off language from an unaffiliated school or accreditor? A TEFL provider that cannot be bothered to create its own website content probably cannot be bothered to create rigorous course materials or hire serious instructors either.
  14. No listing of owners and instructors. Good schools advertise their teachers. They are transparent about their management and ownership. No information about the TEFL course instructors? It makes one wonder, does the course have any instructors at all?
  15. No physical address or a fake physical address. Schools, even online schools, are based somewhere. No address? Why doesn’t the TEFL provider want people to know where it is located?
  16. Stock photos exclusively on website. Sometimes a stock photo stands in well. A TEFL provider’s website is nothing but stock photos? It is not proof of malfeasance, but the bland images with no actual connection to the school do not build trust either.
  17. Price. This 120-hour TEFL certificate is only $120! Do the math. Even if 100 of those guided learning hours are via videos and a textbook, can the TEFL provider pay an instructor for the remaining 20 hours with $120? Quality instruction has a cost. A TEFL certificate priced absurdly low cannot possibly pay for quality instruction.
  18. Reputation. Reputation is not what a TEFL provider claims about itself on its own website. Reputation is what spreads about that TEFL provider elsewhere. Search for the TEFL provider, owner, or instructors elsewhere. What do people say about them? You might find something pleasantly positive…or you might not. (But keep in mind that disreputable TEFL providers often spam other sites with fake positive reviews of themselves.)

The TEFL certificate and accreditation fields remain a mix of respected, quality institutions, mediocre competitors, and blatant bad actors. The onus is on teachers and employers to discern what is rigorous and legitimate and what is not. We can rely on respected accreditors to an extent, but teachers and employers still, in many cases, have to perform the work of an accreditor. Do not trust what is on a TEFL certificate provider’s website. With both the certificate provider and accreditor, verify externally.

Check back on Friday for the final post in this series. We will look at how MY English School is moving forward with our TEFL certificate requirement by balancing trust in accreditors with external verification and building a review process for certificates and accreditors.

Part 1: The TEFL Problem
Part 2: Why TEFL?
Part 3: Three Bright Spots in the TEFL Industry (and a lot of red flags to watch for)
Part 4: Moving forward on MY’s TEFL certificate requirements

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The last time MY English School seriously considered the TEFL certificate question was over ten years ago, before I started teaching at MY. Some things have changed in the TEFL industry in the past decade, and some haven’t. At the time, over a decade ago, MY decided to accept and recommend to teachers primarily one course: OnTESOL’s 250-hour diploma.

Why this course? If MY was going to set a TEFL requirement for teachers, we wanted it to be a meaningful, rigorous certificate. OnTESOL’s 250-hour diploma is accredited by TESL Canada, whose accreditation is recognized by the Canadian government to qualify teachers to teach in Canadian schools. We judged that a certificate endorsed by a government-recognized agency to qualify a person to teach in the country’s schools was good enough for MY. OnTESOL provides the course online in a format accessible to MY teachers, so this has been the course we recommended to teachers upon joining MY for the past decade.

No TEFL certificate is perfect. We compensate for shortcomings during MY’s teacher training, and the foundation provided by the TEFL certificate is valuable.

The OnTESOL diploma is not perfect. No TEFL certificate is. OnTESOL, like many certificates, focuses solely on educating adults. In my current teaching schedule, about 70 percent of my students are kindergarten or elementary-age. Most of the remaining 30 percent are junior high and high school students. This makeup of students is typical for many teachers at MY. OnTESOL also recommends many teacher-centered techniques, including the much-maligned PPP, that do not fit with MY’s student-centered style. Still, we compensate for shortcomings during MY’s teacher training, and the foundation provided by the diploma is valuable.

Although we have recommended OnTESOL to new teachers lacking certificates, many prospective and incoming teachers at MY already possessed TEFL certification. We reviewed these certificates case-by-case. More than a few certificates, we declined to accept. Some certificates, like the CELTA, we readily accepted. Any higher qualification, like the DELTA or a related university degree, has also always been accepted.

Why reconsider? A 2018 change by TESL Canada forced MY to search for additional TEFL options. Previously, anyone could register for the OnTESOL diploma, but TESL Canada’s revised standards require that everyone in the course must already possess a bachelor’s degree. For the majority of MY’s teachers, a university degree is not a problem. Since an undergraduate university degree is required to obtain a work visa to enter Japan, most of the pool from which MY hires are university graduates. However, some MY teachers are not in Japan on work visas, and they may or may not have university degrees. For a teacher without a bachelor’s degree, MY needed a new path for certification.

Why require teachers to be TEFL certified?

In many, if not most, professional fields, certification is a gatekeeping tool. The certification requirement keeps riffraff out and ensures only serious professionals. This keeps the labor pool smaller and wages higher for workers. It also makes the hiring process simpler for employers.

Some language schools and teaching programs set TEFL certificate requirements to simplify their hiring processes. Not MY. We frequently hire teachers who are not yet certified. Instead, we require teachers to become certified during their first year at MY. (MY also offers a substantial raise as incentive for becoming certified.)

Some language schools and teaching programs set TEFL certificate requirements to simplify their hiring processes. Not MY. We frequently hire teachers who are not yet certified.

At MY, we acknowledge that certification does not guarantee a person is a good teacher. A certificate only shows that the person has completed a certificate. Still, MY requires teachers to be TEFL-certified for two main reasons:

  1. Marketing. We market to our students that MY’s teachers are professionals. MY does not hire people merely because they are native English speakers. We hire people because they are professional teachers. We observe a teacher’s quality and potential in a MY classroom before hiring the person, but a TEFL certificate is a formal mark of professionalism. It is part of our guarantee of quality to students.
  2. Professionalism. Being a professional is not merely about holding a piece of paper. It is about being connected in a community of people who share our profession. We want MY’s teachers to participate in professional communities inside and outside MY. Understanding the basic language and concepts of the profession is necessary to participating in the community of language teachers. A quality TEFL certificate can provide this professional foundation.

If MY is going to set a TEFL requirement for teachers, we want it to be a meaningful, rigorous certificate.

The TEFL challenge. As MY’s Leadership Team began to reconsider what MY regards as an approved certificate, it felt like opening Pandora’s box. Telling teachers, “You must possess a quality TEFL certificate,” is easy. Defining “quality” and weighing certificates against each other? There are hundreds and perhaps thousands of options: universities, dedicated TEFL schools, onsite, online, and hybrid, with teaching practicums and without. Programs differ in content, delivery, assignments, hours, price, and more. How to compare? How to judge?

Check back next week to look at what MY discovered while examining the TEFL certificate field in 2022, including three bright spots (and a lot of red flags to watch for) and what MY’s approach to TEFL certificates will be moving forward.

Part 1: The TEFL Problem
Part 2: Why TEFL?
Part 3: Three Bright Spots in the TEFL Industry (and a lot of red flags to watch for)
Part 4: Moving forward on MY’s TEFL certificate requirements

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The TEFL Problem

The TEFL certificate industry exists to fill a need, but inconsistency, uncertainty, and even outright fraud cause confusion and frustration for teachers and school owners.

TEFL certificates are a problem.

If you are a budding, aspiring English language teacher, do you jump straight into teaching? Or do you first put time and money into earning a TEFL certificate?

If so, which one?

If you are a school owner or principal, do you require teachers at your school to have a TEFL certificate?

If so, which one?

The “which one?” question plagues the TEFL certificate industry. It’s not merely a problem that there are a lot of TEFL certificates to choose from. That would be fine if quality of certificates were generally high, but there are huge gaps in quality among TEFL certificates. The deeper industry problem is that evaluating TEFL certificates is extremely difficult.

One TEFL certificate advertises itself as 120 hours, another as 250 hours. The course syllabi on their websites look remarkably similar. Does one course dig deeper into the topics? Is there a difference?

Two TEFL certificates look similar on the surface. One costs $120 dollars, another $1200 dollars. Is one underpriced or the other overpriced? Is there a difference?

One TEFL certificate advertises accreditation, while another makes no mention. Is there a difference?

A frustrating challenge of choosing a TEFL certificate is that the 120-hour certificate could actually be longer and more rigorous than the 250-hour certificate…. It is also likely that the longer, more expensive, accredited course is, in fact, better.

A frustrating challenge of choosing a TEFL certificate is that the 120-hour certificate could actually be longer and more rigorous than the 250-hour certificate. The unaccredited certificate could actually be better than the one advertising accreditation. As for price? It seems unlikely that a TEFL certificate provider could give a TEFL student an instructor’s attention for more than three or four hours at a price of $120, but the $1200 price is also no guarantee of quality. The actual value of a TEFL certificate? Anyone’s guess.

In the TEFL certificate world, it is entirely possible that the shorter, cheaper, unaccredited certificate is more rigorous than the longer, more expensive course claiming accreditation. It is also likely that the longer, more expensive, accredited course is, in fact, better. Or they could both be complete frauds. Or they could both be marginally O.K.

Taking each and every TEFL course to compare would answer the question, but no one needs (or can afford) to be TEFL-certified hundreds of times over. There is no convenient organization, such as U.S. News & World Report with American universities, ranking of TEFL certificates to tell us what the most prestigious, respected, quality programs are (fraught as rankings schemes are with their own problems). The TEFL industry has one or two known and respected names and labels. Beyond that, we have mainly the Google search results, which put some TEFL providers on the first page of results and all the others after that for reasons only the algorithm understands.

The Leadership Team at MY English School recently ploughed into this convoluted TEFL certificate puzzle. No, we didn’t take each and every course so that you wouldn’t have to and rank them. No, we haven’t even reviewed the majority of the courses you might find on the first page of your internet search results. What we have done is try to understand the field better so that, moving forward, we can make better decisions for our teachers and for our school.

Check back this week and next week on Wednesdays and Fridays. I will explore why MY chooses to require a TEFL certificate, three bright spots we found in the TEFL industry (and a lot of red flags to watch for), and how MY is handling TEFL certification going forward. Whether you are a teacher considering a TEFL certificate or a school owner weighing a TEFL certificate requirement, maybe some part of our experience will help you.

Part 1: The TEFL Problem
Part 2: Why TEFL?
Part 3: Three Bright Spots in the TEFL Industry (and a lot of red flags to watch for)
Part 4: Moving forward on MY’s TEFL certificate requirements

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On Adaptability

Two years of teaching… Finally, the almost constant feeling of panic and uncertainty about my lessons has been replaced by something that from afar, resembles confidence. Finally, I know the curriculum (well, more or less), I’ve taught all the books at least once, I’ve kept most of my classes from last year and I’m familiar with every school and advisor. After two years of having worked at MY I’ve gained enough expertise to try and sail by myself, fix the mistakes I’ve made over the course of two years so I won’t repeat them again, and I will be able to reinforce my strong teaching skills. I’m ready! I’m ready! Let’s nail it!

And then someone ate a bat!

Moving to remote lessons was devastating to my confidence. Yet again, I’ve come back to the square one, back to March of 2018 – having no clue about what I’m doing. It is terrifying, really, to have an enormous amount of expectations put on you and you feel that you just can not carry it all. The first day of remote lessons went disastrously bad. A myriad of technical issues, crappy sound quality, lessons being too teacher-centered, inability to do proper error correction, regular silence as a response to my question… To me, an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist, this was too much. After coming back home I just wanted to let it go and forget about it, but I couldn’t. Suddenly being stripped of my strengths and ripped out of my comfort zone made me feel powerless and forced me back to the lesson-conscious Alina.

However, as weeks went by I started to feel better. Lessons went way smoother, and my students’ smiles returned to their faces. Wondering what happened I started to reflect on the first week of teaching lessons remotely, and I found a simple answer.


One of my favourite books from this year so far “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel has this amazing quote in it: “All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”

Why is adaptability so important in the current uncertainty? Adaptability matters because being able to restructure to new circumstances and do necessary self-correction is one of the things that separate people and organizations of the past from the people and organizations of the future in our hyper-globalized world. An English school can easily fold its wings and shut down for several months because they can’t swiftly adapt to the unfolding events since it’s easier to wait for the “whole thing to blow over”. Another English school though can quickly reassess the situation and figure out the best a possible solution to the existing problem not only for the business side of things, but also for the clients.

In fact, this almost a buzz-word now, adaptability, is what I think separates MY’s teachers from those who don’t make it here. On this note, the list that Professional Development and Hiring Teams made together that talks about the kinds of teachers we are always on the lookout for, adaptability came first. Of course, one can come with a phenomenal amount of teaching experience, a great CV and yet fail miserably in a student-centered classroom. Another person though, even with zero teaching experience and straight out of college can still make a difference and blow us all away. The key to this, I think, is being able to see the environment around you and adapt to it.

I don’t know how many more people are doing this weird thing that I do, but often, when I look back at some traumatic and difficult experiences of my life, I remember them with warmth and gratitude. Being severely bullied in high school was a horrendous experience, but now thinking about it does not hurt anymore. In fact, it makes me feel grateful since it has shaped me and made me myself, and, to be frank, maybe precisely as a result of this I made it all the way here. Even the Japanese driving school that I attended last year brought me so much stress and anxiety because learning how to drive with my limited Japanese skills and awful sense of direction was one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever faced. Nevertheless, now I remember that time with so much affection I sometimes wish I could go back and experience it all over again. I think, in the end, I adapted to most challenges in my life and ultimately feel beholden to those trials as a source of continued self-improvement.

I hope in a few months I will feel grateful about the remote lessons too.

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