Setting up a TEFL certificate course- Advantages & Disadvantages
Summary: The pros and cons of setting-up a TEFL certificate course from personal experience
By looking at the advantages and disadvantages of seeing up a new TEFL certificate course, I hope to be able to give some help to people who are thinking about doing so, give some pointers to people who have already done so but might not have noticed some of the tensions and problems that have been produced, and to give a sense of perspective to people who have just seen the price of a 4 week TEFL course and are picturing the teacher trainers and school owners living the life of Reilly.
The school gets a nice big influx of cash before the course has started, and often course deposits many months before that- unlike language students, who will usually pay small amounts month by month on the very day of the class. Many schools find this means they can make capital improvements that they have never managed to before, like equipping the whole school with OHPs or setting up a Self Access Centre with computers for the students. The amount coming in per classroom hour is also usually higher than having a classroom of students studying English. It is also possible to get a bit more income from charging a small admin fee to the students who are going to be taught by the trainees, and from any students who sign on for normal classes in the school after or instead of the freebie courses. You can also make money from selling the trainees stamps, phone cards, weekend excursions etc, but please note that many of them are young people who have already paid more for the course than they have ever paid for anything in their lives, and so are likely to be very sensitive to feelings of being milked for more money.
Trainee numbers can vary widely, and last minute cancellations of bookings or even whole courses can happen, sometimes leaving you with a teacher trainer being paid more than a teacher to teach normal classes or even do nothing, and lots of empty classroom space. I don't know if it is just greed, but most school owners also find the amount of money they have to pay the certifying body so onerous that they think about setting up completely on their own- something they rarely suspected before they set up the course. This is particularly true with organisations that certify your course and find the trainees for you through centralised advertising and a centralised website.
Other possible costs include: deposits and rents for accommodation (possibly even when not being used); extra wages for (more qualified and experienced) teacher trainers; extra classroom space; extra teachers' room space; extra books and CDs; extra equipment and furniture; extra admin staff or admin time; advertising for trainees and for students for the trainees to practice on; extra photocopying; and higher utilities bills.
In summary, the fact that many teacher training centres think about changing or stopping their courses but very few do probably means that the advantages almost always outweigh the disadvantages, but by much less than the initial figures would suggest.
If you have extra classroom space you are not using, you can fill it up with the input sessions, trainees' practice classes, space from trainees to prepare in, and feedback sessions after observed lessons. Unlike normal classes, as the trainees are there all day it is often possible to schedule things for when more rooms are available- if you can organise yourself well. You could also try only scheduling courses for exactly the times of year when the school is least busy.
Not only do you need to find space for all the things mentioned above, in most schools an already crowded teachers' room is likely to get even more crowded with people coming in and out to get things, extra copies of books on already full shelves etc. Lack of space for trainees to prepare their lessons can be a particular problem, as teachers in the school are not going to want to share the teachers' room all the time and trainees can be very sensitive to being stuck somewhere where there are distractions.
With the extra money coming in, you could spend some of it on extra staff to take the burden off people already there. For example, during quiet periods teacher trainers could do many of the roles of a Director of Studies, such as giving workshops and observing teachers. If you have full time teachers, you can also fill up spaces in their teaching schedule with time spent helping on the teacher training course.
As the money comes in irregular lumps but staff costs go on for ever, many schools use the money on hardware rather than extra heads- in which case the extra work is going to fall on people who are already there, especially the admin staff. Extra work could come from: more complex scheduling of rooms; trainees who are new to the country and therefore need help with the language etc; extra payslips etc from the extra staff; ordering textbooks for the trainees and students they are practising on; arranging accommodation for the trainees; picking people up at the airport; social occasions such as welcome parties; visas for trainees; finding and registering the students that the trainees will practise teaching on; paperwork and inspections from the certifying body; and advertising the course.
Being able to offer teachers a chance to get involved in teacher training is a great way of helping you recruit keen, experienced and well-qualified staff. People who are interested in or have experience of teacher training should also be great teachers, and could also be suitable for helping with teacher development inside the school and perhaps taking a Director of Studies position if it becomes available. Mentioning "staff needed" in your advertisement for the TEFL course can be a good way of showing potential recruits that your school has teacher training whilst not needing to offer them a specific teacher trainer job, as well as saving money on advertising.
Another major way that having a teacher training course can help you recruit good staff is simply recruiting the best trainees of your own course, either straightaway or after they have got some experience elsewhere. After all, when else will you have a chance to observe 8 hours of teaching practice before you recruit someone?
If you do manage to recruit a very qualified and experienced teacher trainer for your course, you might find that they are unwilling to get involved in things that are "beneath them", e.g. teaching normal classes if one month's teacher training course is cancelled. As you can hardly afford to have a member of staff doing nothing, you will need to draw up a contract that allows for plenty of flexibility in their job without putting them off taking the job. As you will be competing for such staff with some very highly paid and prestigious jobs, you might also find such staff more demanding than your normal teachers.
If you can get all of your teachers involved in some way with the teacher training, it can give your school a real feeling of a professional place to work where teachers can get some useful experience to put on their CVs- and even teachers who are not directly involved can find the experience of seeing how much of an "expert" they have become since they did their training to be a real ego boost. If some of your teachers manage to move into full time teacher trainer positions, it can also give the feeling of clear career progression that is often missing from the TEFL profession. Seeing new faces, the buzz from having full classrooms and more people around, taking part in social events like welcome parties and the good vibes of the students that are getting free English lessons and seeing their trainee teachers improve week by week can also improve the atmosphere of the school.
Most of the disadvantages occur if teacher training seems to be in some way in opposition to the teaching in the school, rather than part of it. This can occur if the two parts of the school are competing for resources, classroom space and teachers' room space. It can also happen if all the teacher training staff have come from outside, especially if that staff then monopolise the internal teacher development workshops etc. or the top management jobs. This can also happen if one side feels they are doing more work for less pay, e.g. if the teacher trainers seem to be doing nothing between courses or if the teachers get paid overtime and the teacher trainers don't.
Other possible morale problems include: stressed or demanding trainees giving a bad atmosphere to the place, stressed teacher trainers who didn't realise how much work dealing with stressed trainees was, and complaints about noise. You will also need to be very careful to keep your teachers happy so they don't spread any bad vibes to the trainees about your school or the TEFL business in general.
Similar to what I said about finances, most schools find that setting up a teacher training course was a good thing, but not half as much as they thought it would be- which perhaps explains some of the less than calm reactions from teacher trainers and course providers to accusations that they are just in it for the big bucks and an easy life!
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