Do you really need a degree to TEFL?

And is that right?

I really got a bit het up when I realised that someone had got a job and working visa with a degree that they had awarded to themselves , and I even thought about dobbing him in with the visa authorities. I’m still considering it, but in the meantime I started to ponder the rights and wrongs of needing a university qualification in order to have legal permission to get students to practise Present Simple or to collect a couple of errors while students discuss the environment.

First of all, I have to admit that when it comes to eliciting the Present Perfect Continuous and organising Find Someone Who, having got, say, a 2:2 in Physics and a taste for beer at a mid-ranking British uni is not going to help at all. I should therefore probably support people who find any way at all around the silly need for a BA in Anything to be able to move to Japan and sing Head Shoulders Knees and Toes for money.

However, having studied the Higgs Boson is equally unimportant for the chartered accountancy and computer programming jobs that my uni classmates got due to having BScs in physics. More importantly, anything that reduces the already low entrance requirements of our “profession” is something that will help bring down our already extremely low working conditions. It would be nice if the entrance requirements were proper teaching qualifications, but in the meantime I guess a degree is a fair thing to ask for from an English teacher when we’d be almost certainly complain about having to be served by a doctor, dentist or “real teacher” who had stopped school at 18 and later took an unaccredited three-month online course.

Or not?

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9 Responses to Do you really need a degree to TEFL?

  1. I tend to be dubious what merit an actual degree – at any grade and in any subject mid you – has for someone who wants to teach English especially at low level. But I’m also not convinced higher education has any merit at all for most people in most walks of life. It is just three years wasted and a huge financial millstone in addition. I wish there was some alternative but I dare say there is not going to be.

    I’d rather fewer people were accepted and those that are given full financial support – but again not likely to happen.

    Personally I’d hesitate to rat out someone who was sincere if they didn’t have a degree – but if they were otherwise a bad teacher I wouldn’t (hesitate that is).

    Lowering standards and pay/conditions has IMO nothing to do with degree or not.

  2. Marc Jones says:

    Hiya. I have lurked but not commented before.

    The degree thing is a funny one. I do know some good teachers who didn’t have degrees but they did go back home to finish degrees off then come back to teaching. They were also the type to actually read up on the gaps in their knowledge as well. There was no visa fraud because this was in the days of working holidaymakers being able to get eikaiwa jobs.

    The fact is, wages are being driven low by a number of things: Japanese housewives willing to ‘teach’ English for pin money on behalf of shysters is one; if the visa entry qualifications stop mattering then it’s yet another excuse for the language schools and ‘language schools’ to race to the bottom and everyone is affected.

  3. Razza says:

    Fun fact: a colleague of mine works in EAP at a university in the UK and she doesn’t have a degree 😮 (she lied on her CV – blame HR for not requesting to see original documentation). I’d be inclined to say that it was ludicrous not to have one in EAP of all things, but actually she is a great teacher, has heaps of experience and knows her stuff.

    Since one tends to learn most things about teaching English on the job, as well as through CPD + generally keeping up-to-date, I think some people can be effective teachers without a degree, and some can be rubbish with one; it’s about how much effort one is willing to put into being a half decent teacher. I do think teachers should probably be intellectually able enough to do a degree in order to be good at the job, but its all about creating an atmosphere that promotes learning, innit, and you can’t get a degree in that (uh, except Education).

  4. alexcase says:

    Hi Andrew

    I partly agree. Obviously a degree doesn’t help you teach in the slightest and someone would really have to be guilty of much worse sins than just being a bad teacher for me to grass on them for having a fake degree (rather than awarding themselves a degree as is the case I’ve explained above). And as I now mainly teach in universities I can now say for sure from the other side what I suspected about three days after arriving at uni, which is most degrees are a complete waste of time and money for all concerned.

    However, any limit to the number of people in a profession has a huge impact on pay and conditions. Just look at the difference between those things in places where very few people will go (e.g. Caspian Sea oil rigs) and where many people will just turn up (London and other European capitals). Almost every successful attempt to improve pay and conditions in history (guilds, unions – demarcation etc, university jobs, chartered institutes, etc etc) has involved limiting the pool of people who can do a job. That doesn’t mean it is right or good for the country as a whole, but there is absolutely no denying that a large pool of possible labour means worse conditions for everyone in that field bar the owners (see the last 30 or so years of liberalisation and globalisation).

  5. alexcase says:

    Hi Razza

    Well, I also teach EAP, mainly meaning academic writing. And having a degree in physics means I have never actually done much academic writing myself, unless writing formulae counts. So, really there is no reason at all why she couldn’t do the same jobs as me…

  6. It is true more supply = lower price.

    But I think the downward pressure on TEFL wages/conditions has more to do with appalling regulation/enforcement and the vast oversupply of people with a degree of some sort who have nothing better to do.

    I don’t think a degree should be necessary. A proper cert level course should be the minimum entry level qualification and teachers ought to be obliged to get a diploma within 3-4 years. And somehow this should be enforced.

    For now we have countries demanding a degree as if it is some indication of intelligence or ability with English when it ain’t necessarily so.

    I have mellowed a bit with age so might not rat out a lousy teacher who had lied his way into a job – though I’m sure I once would have considered it.

  7. alexcase says:

    That would be a better system, of course, but not going to happen anywhere I’m afraid, especially demanding a professional upgrade to keep your working visa (and anyway you need a degree to take the Trinity Dip).

    What do you reckon I should do about this organisation? Starting to think that if governments are stupid enough to accept their degrees then it’s really not my job to do anything more about it.

  8. Sure – not on the cards at all.

    These scammers come and sometimes go. A few of their victims will sneak thru the system to get jobs in countries where a degree is needed but only a few. Someone will get found out and then the database will be amended to exclude this ‘university’. Personally I suspect it is a totally false claim that any of their graduates got work permits/visas in any of the countries listed.

    The real victims are those who pay to enroll and waste time and money. I feel sorry for them but there is no more you can do than give them some negative publicity.

  9. alexcase says:

    Well, as I wrote in that post it seems that he did get himself a job in Saudi, presumably using the fake degree he awarded himself. One possible route is to threaten to dob him in if he doesn’t quit selling fake degrees, but my enthusiasm for following this up further has kind of disappeared already I’m afraid…

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