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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Working at One of the Best English Schools in Japan

Editor’s note: Andy has taught at MY during the past two years. As he relocates with his family back to his home country, he has offered to share his thoughts about the experience of working at MY English School.

In a country like Japan, with hundreds of language schools, eikaiwas, and online teaching platforms, you might find yourself wondering what the best option is. That will of course depend on what you are looking for. However, after more than 11 years of teaching English as a second language, MY English School has been the best in many ways, and here is why. 

Inclusive and Multicultural 

One of my biggest concerns when I started looking for teaching jobs in Japan was that I do not come from an English-speaking country. It is well known that several companies in Japan will not even look at your CV unless you come from England, America, or Australia. They don’t really care about your experience or teaching skills; it’s more about using the ‘native speaker’ card as a way to market their services, even though we know that teaching involves a broad set of abilities and a certain kind of sensibility that not everybody has. In a world where there are more non-native speakers than native speakers, this just feels like a way of perpetuating supremacy, which is exactly the opposite of why I teach English as a second language.  

At MY English School there are people from all over the world, making it a rich environment in which everyone is constantly learning from each other and where students naturally grow more curious about languages. We use multiculturality as a way to create meaningful experiences that help students acquire useful language and skills. Not to mention that we are giving a great example of openness and inclusion by giving everyone a chance, regardless of where they come from.


If you are tired of spending hours commuting in packed trains and the ridiculously fast pace of a big city’s lifestyle, you will love living in peaceful Yamagata prefecture.  

With a wide variety of things to do and places to explore, you will enjoy discovering the beautiful Japanese culture. Great ski areas, hot spring baths, restaurants, shopping malls, hiking trails, and some of the most delicious fruit I’ve ever had are some of the things you will find in Yamagata. Click here to check out some of the highlights that this amazing prefecture has to offer.  

Public transportation is limited here, so you will need a car. However, MY English School is pretty good at supporting teachers when relocating—they’ll often walk the extra mile to help you get a car and a place to live. Most of your commutes will be 30 minutes or less, which results in a better quality of life and more time for yourself. 

Great Training

I had never been in a school that dedicated so much time and effort to improving its teachers’ skills and techniques. At MY English School, we have usually 10 training days and an expo every year, in which managers, advisors, and outside experts collaborate to create a comprehensive agenda to help both new and experienced teachers develop themselves professionally.  

Not only do we get training, but we also have days to observe other teachers at work. The number of activities, techniques, and general understanding of how facilitating works that I can get from it has been priceless. After having worked here for almost 2 years, I can say it’s been one of the greatest experiences I’ve had as a professional ESL instructor.

Teaching Style

Our teaching system is based on a method called the Questioning Approach, which encourages students to find out what things are by asking questions and then playing with the language. The way teachers engage students here is different to many other places. We are expected to create a sense of adventure and excitement that naturally draws kids into the lesson. On the other hand, our lessons intend to be as student-centered as possible, which means you will have to find ways of setting up an activity to then pull yourself out of the equation.  

For some teachers adapting to this way of teaching can be quite challenging and even confusing at times. However, once you start feeling more comfortable you will find endless ways of expanding what you do with your students in the lesson. It is a job that can be as creative as you want it to be. You will be encouraged to explore new possibilities and to keep building on what you have previously done. You can take a look at part of the curriculum and some of the materials we use by clicking here

Managers and staff care

I’ve been surprised more than once by how much support I’ve been given by everyone around me, something you don’t see everywhere. Just to give you an example, last year someone in my family was sick back home and travelling was quite complicated due to Covid restrictions. When I told my boss that I needed to take some weeks off his first reaction was to find a way to make it possible, even if it meant covering the lessons himself. Advisors are also wonderful people who will not hesitate to give you a hand, whether it’s doing paperwork or dealing with classroom issues, in fact, I know it’s not uncommon for them to drive new teachers around until they can buy their own car. This is a company that truly feels like a team pulling together in the same direction. You will never be left on your own. 

Money Matters

The base salary at MY is ¥270,000-¥290,000 a month. You might get more or less, depending on your qualifications and experience. There are also opportunities to increase your income doing work in other areas, such as marketing, professional development, and management. You will also receive reimbursement according to law in case you have to drive to a distant location.  

Whether this salary is good or not, that is totally subjective; however, here are some facts to put it into perspective. Eikaiwa teachers and ALT’s usually get an average of ¥250,000 a month, and often even less than that. You can read some more about average teacher salaries here. The cost of living in Yamagata is also one of the lowest in Japan, with an average of ¥179,000 for personal expenses per month. This of course implies that you will be able to save or spend more on what matters the most to you.

Relaxed Environment

I’ve (almost) never had a bad day at MY. Sure, sometimes you are sick or tired, but I can always go to bed with my head clear, no anxiety about things going on at work. We have a culture of talking through issues and finding solutions together. This is priceless and extremely important for your mental health. We have a casual dress code and we can even wear shorts and flip-flops at some training events. Don’t get me wrong—we’re not just fooling around. Everyone at MY is super professional and dedicated to their jobs. We just understand that wearing a tie doesn’t make you a better human being. In fact, it is when we are relaxed that we can perform at our peak.  

Working at MY is not just teaching 

Do you think teaching English can be tedious and repetitive? Well, it can be. The good news is you will be doing way more than that. You will be learning, sharing, laughing, playing, and getting immersed in the Japanese culture. You will make great friends and probably even go out and have some drinks at times. You will be living life at its fullest while touching the lives of hundreds of children in the utmost positive way. If that sounds like something you would like to do, please get in touch with us

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Training the Teachers (Who Train Teachers)

Teachers who have been at MY for three, five, ten years or more and teachers who are in their first year at MY have very different training needs. The gap in knowledge and experience is significant, and many of MY’s training efforts are aimed at helping newer teachers close this gap with experienced teachers as quickly as possible.

Experienced teachers become teacher trainers, which offers many new challenges and room to grow. However, experienced teachers need training, too, and usually this training needs to follow a different format from what may best help newer teachers. Planning training sessions to meet the needs of both experienced and new teachers is a challenge.

The most effective way to eliminate the experience gap between new teachers and experienced teachers is to fire all the experienced teachers.

MY’s owner, Ryan, has sometimes joked that the most effective way to eliminate the experience gap between new teachers and experienced teachers is to fire all the experienced teachers. (MY isn’t going to do this.) MY typically adds at least two or three new teachers ever year, and so the experience gap is always with us.

At our August training day, experienced teachers enjoyed an opportunity to step back from training others and focus on our own professional development. What are we doing to develop ourselves professionally? What more can we (or should we) be doing? I invited the teachers to complete this survey of their professional development during the past year.

What stood out to me from our training session is how diverse the experiences of MY’s teachers are. As we discussed what activities we have done in the past year that we think we will still regard as memorable and significant to our professional development five years from now, every teacher listed a different activity.

MY gives so many out-of-classroom opportunities to our teachers that this is not surprising. A teacher involved in developing curriculum grows in different ways from a teacher involved in hiring, software development, leadership, or management. What impressed me from this training session is that there is no one-size-fits-all training for experienced teachers. The more we pursue diverse interests and opportunities, the more diverse our professional development needs to be.

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Fatigue & Recovery

Learners & teachers share the fight against fatigue in language classrooms

Why do some people give up when other people persist?

For a language teacher, this is an important question. The answer to it can help shape how we teach. Teachers need to grow resilient students who struggle through challenges.

For teachers, too, on a personal level, we can burn out. Knowing how to battle teaching fatigue is critical for teachers to remain motivated in our profession.

For a language school, this is also an important question. Students who quit after one or two years severely limit a school’s growth compared to students who continue with lessons six, eight, ten years or more.

From a management perspective, as well, employees who quit because of fatigue hurt the school’s ability to grow a professional, experienced staff. Teacher turnover at language schools tends to be exceptionally high. We want people to leave jobs for the right reasons–when they find new opportunities to grow–not because of work fatigue. If a school can keep teachers an average of even one or two years longer than they otherwise would, the gains in quality and productivity and savings in hiring costs are tremendous.

For language learners, too, why some learners give up is an important question. Most people have started a new task with a great deal of energy, but then burned out and quit after a short time. How can we better regulate our efforts to persist and grow over a long period?

A new study published in Nature Communications from researchers at the Universities of Birmingham and Oxford may help teachers and learners better understand how fatigue affects motivation.

The researchers matched up people’s willingness to persist in a physical task that earned rewards with brain activity on fMRI scans to show how motivation and fatigue fluctuate moment by moment. The researchers observed two states of fatigue occurring in separate parts of the brain. Short-term, recoverable fatigue builds after we exert effort, but it can be reduced with rest. Long-term, unrecoverable fatigue builds gradually with work, and it does not go away with short rests.

How does this help language learners and teachers?

There may be some differences in the fatigue felt from a physical task and the mental tasks of language learning or teaching. However, the stresses of language learning and teaching parallel the tiredness of muscles in many respects. There is a lot for language learners and teachers to glean from and reflect upon in this research:

  • Pacing and setting appropriate challenges is critical. Doing the same activity again and again for very long can leave the body and brain tired. Trying to do too much all at once can produce frustration. We need to pace our students and ourselves with appropriate challenges that spark motivation without building debilitating fatigue.

  • We need variety. Between challenges, we need frequent short rests. This rest might be something as simple as a relatively easy, unrelated distractor task to let the brain reset. We sometimes also need vacations to help prevent long-term fatigue from building up.

  • How we use rewards can make a difference. One aspect of fatigue that the researchers did not explore was loss of interest in the reward. How often were test subjects giving up, not because they physically couldn’t do the task anymore, but because the reward had become boring and insignificant? Receiving the same reward over and over can lead to a loss in motivation. I often see this in games with students–when each success earns exactly one point, students give up on the game quickly. When success earns a chance at a random number of points, students stay much more interested.

  • Meaningful tasks are better motivators than artificial rewards. The researchers did not measure the intrinsic value that participants felt toward the task. Squeezing a dynamometer is, on its own, not especially engaging. If there were no reward, would anyone have found value in gripping the meter tightly? Gripping a dynamometer carries no consequence…compared, say, to gripping a rope with a person’s life hanging in the balance.

People will sometimes invent meaning for themselves. If put into a group, some might motivate themselves by transforming the gripping task into a competition. Once the strongest grip was determined? This motivation would be at an end. Individually, a person desiring more grip strength might persist with the task as exercise, especially if the dynamometer could measure improvement over time. However, for most people, gripping a meter for a few seconds and releasing does not carry the feeling of having accomplished anything important.

Menial tasks that do not grow or build anything, that lack value outside of artificial rewards, are ideal breeding grounds for fatigue. Language taught in meaningful contexts, with fitting risks and rewards for failures and successes, will always sustain motivation better than drills or even than games that rip language out of context.

Students and teachers share a need for meaningful challenges. We share a need for agency. We likewise need supportive environments that create opportunities for us and ensure us time to rest.

Nobody stays motivated for very long with small, repetitive challenges, especially if the task lacks intrinsic value. We can trick our brains with artificial rewards only for so long. To stay motivated, we occasionally need difficult, novel challenges, and we need tasks with meaningful consequences.

A profound sense of accomplishment can grow out of a difficult, worthwhile challenge. Desire for accomplishment can generate persistence far beyond any reward. Desire won’t stave off fatigue, but it can help us cope and overcome fatigue until we reach a well-earned rest.

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