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Taking a Certified TEFL Course in Madrid

Is a Teaching Certification Really Necessary for a Job in Madrid?

Royal Palace in Madrid
Royal Palace in Madrid. View from Campo Del Moro.

By the time you set off to teach English abroad, you will have observed teachers at work for around 15,000 hours. Most of those hours will have been spent listening to lengthy lectures and taking notes, while lecturing is only a small though very important part of what we English teachers actually do. The main difference between the study of languages and most other subjects is that a language is best learned in action with a minimal amount of presentations and explanations. Trying to teach English using only a blackboard is as absurd as trying to teach soccer without touching a ball. Most students expect to practice their speaking and listening skills in friendly classes, using a variety of activities such as simulations, games and conversations

The techniques and approaches used to organize these activities range widely from one institution and class to the next. Examples of differing approaches include: teaching adults and/or children how to pass an international English exam in academies using a more balanced academic approach (i.e. equal time dedicated to reading, listening, grammar, vocabulary and speaking in class), getting children in private schools to practice the English they learn in their lecture-based classrooms using games and role-playing, and teaching smaller groups of adults in companies for agencies using a more unbalanced speaking-based approach. However, no matter what types of classes you teach, just about every student and employer will have high expectations in regard to how you orchestrate your lessons; as David Garner, Director of Hyland Language Centre, says of students at his academy: “They certainly let us know here if they think a teacher hasn’t prepared his/her class thoroughly enough!”

Whether you work for an academy or an agency, the truth is that even in your first year of teaching you might well be asked to teach all kinds and levels of groups. The fastest way to get oriented in the best modern language teaching methods and techniques is to do an on-site TEFL course with a reputable, experienced and certified academy. As Madrid is one of the most important destinations in the world for new teachers, there are several academies to choose from, ranging from uncertified TEFL courses starting every month for around 900 euros up to the more reputable certified courses like the CELTA which can cost up to 1,400 euros.

The CELTA and Trinity represent the mainstream of English teaching in Madrid, but the CELTA is generally more expensive than the Trinity (the second most important English teaching certification), and according to Kristin Trompeter, DOS (Director of Studies) at Astex and former manager of ITC Madrid (International TEFL Certificate, which offered Trinity certificates), “is not worth the difference.” The biggest drawback to the CELTA courses is that it has taken them from three to six months to send teachers their certificates which, according to David Warner, Director of Astex Agency, “makes finding a job rather difficult in the first place.” However, according to Steven McGuire, head of teacher training at International House Madrid, teachers will now receive their certificates in under a month (though one teacher who took the CELTA course in England last summer told me it took her seven weeks to complete).

Despite the glitches, the most reputable options in Madrid for a TEFL course are the Hyland Language Centre, the British Language Centre and International House Madrid due to fact that they are certified themselves (and they offer the CELTA, a certificate in English language teaching in all cases) and because of their extensive experience and local reputation for high quality teacher training. (Local daily “La Razón,” for example, recently gave Hyland an incredibly enthusiastic review regarding their English classes.) You can also find over 100 other academies offering CELTA courses worldwide at: hwww.cambridgeenglish.org/es/, and over 100 academies offering Trinity certificates in TESOL (CertTESOL – Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) at:www.trinitycollege.co.uk/site/?id=293 (a few of these are located in Madrid).

TEFL in Madrid is a bell-curve of qualities ranging from horribly inadequate to incredibly professional, where higher-level employers and DOSes tend to be elitist and judgmental regarding what they consider as the lower end of the curve, which is important to remember when considering the cheaper alternative “academies” that offer uncertified TEFL courses. If a course is not certified by either Cambridge CELTA or Trinity, it can actually do you more harm than good. More than one academy or agency Director has told me that they regularly reject candidates from some TEFL courses, while they call other more reputable schools themselves looking for teachers. In fact, if you are faced with a choice between taking one of these courses and nothing at all, you may be better off taking nothing at all. The expense, infrastructure, qualifications and experience required to set up a CELTA course certainly makes it difficult for start-ups to get into the business, but it also virtually guarantees that you and your future employers will get what you paid for no matter where you go.

Just about any worthwhile English academy or agency is going to require a TEFL certificate in lieu of extensive teaching experience, and both Cambridge and Trinity’s English teaching certifications are recognized and accepted worldwide. However, this is contradicted by the fact that agencies and academies are sometimes forced to take teachers without degrees, certifications or prior experience. The bottom line is that they will not take you into their inner core of long-term favorites (who usually get served first) if they think you might not be able to deliver due to a lack of commitment or resources, whether personal or professional. And, though a certified TEFL course may not be a magic pill, as David Warner puts it: the mere fact that a candidate has taken a TEFL course tells him that they have made a commitment to teaching English in Madrid for a reasonable period of time.

Despite the importance of taking a good TEFL course, some local companies favor alternative methods like the “Audio-Lingual Approach” over the mainstream “Communicative Approach” taught in most Cambridge and Trinity certified TEFL courses. Such is the case with Vaughan Systems, one of the fastest growing agencies in Spain, which says that it prefers teachers who have not taken even a certified TEFL course because it saves them the trouble of “deconstructing” and retraining them in their own free, though uncertified, three-week version of a TEFL course.

Essentially, companies like Vaughan feel that the traditional TEFL courses are not training teachers in a way that is right for them and their in-company classes. For example, one agency Director complained to me that these courses do not actually teach teachers how, what or when to teach, preferring instead to teach classroom management techniques, which are not as applicable when teaching in companies. A CELTA course, as David Garner admitted, usually emphasizes teaching English as a foreign language in academies, and is not geared towards teachers who will be teaching company classes.

One alternative, according to Alistair Dickinson, Director of Teacher Education at the British Language Centre, is to take a different approach with their CELTA courses. As he says; “The demands on teachers now are different to what they were 10 years ago and we reflect that in our CELTA courses. The basic premise behind our courses is a ‘learner-based approach,’ i.e., we prepare our trainees to cope with the students they find in front of them, rather than the teacher imposing a methodology on the student. If the class is in a company, then there are certain considerations to take into account for that situation. A student coming from a traditional learning background may need more of a traditional approach initially in the classes. It is not enough to talk of a ‘communicative approach’ as a more sophisticated approach is needed to deal with the evolving English language learning market.”

In any case, the English teaching market in Madrid is incredibly varied and demanding, and as a result there are a variety of approaches taught in English teaching certification courses. In spite of efforts to adapt to changing market demands, however, both academy Directors and English teachers tend to expect more from TEFL courses than is humanly possible to achieve. You simply cannot produce a really good English teacher with just a one-month TEFL course any more than you can produce a really good soccer player with a one-month training camp. Filling your teacher’s bag of techniques takes time, hard work and lots of experience, and the only place to become a really good teacher is on the job. How you get your foot in the door in the first place is another question, which often simply depends on the quality of your “references.” Having a quality university degree and English teaching certification will get you off to a very good start.


For More Info

Information on English teaching in Madrid:
madridteacher.com/english_teaching_madrid.htm

British Language Centre
www.british-blc.com

Hyland Language Centre
www.hylandmadrid.com

International House Madrid
www.ihmadrid.com

The University of Cambridge's overview of the CELTA course:
www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-qualifications/celta/l

For a list of academies offering CELTA courses:
www.cambridgeenglish.org/es/

Web page of Trinity College in London, which produces the CertTESOL English teaching Certification:
www.trinitycollege.co.uk/site/?id=293

Astex Language Agency
www.astex.es

Steven Harold Starry, founder of MadridTeacher.com, is an English teacher with a degree in Sociology, a certificate in English teaching from the University of Cambridge and 14 years of teaching experience.