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Online TESOL Certificates, By Popular Demand

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For a long time, people on internet communities have been asking whether TESOL (the international professional association) accredits or endorses any online certificate program, or whether they offer one themselves. The answer was always no, and so people always wound up advising against nearly all of the online TESOL (the profession) certificate programs. Most seemed to be ripoffs at worst and of extremely uneven quality at best. Recognition of such certificates is questionable at best, too.

TESOL has finally thrown their hat into the ring, and (to mix a metaphor) if things go well, we can expect them to become the 900-pound gorilla of online TESOL certificates. The TESOL Core Certificate is “a 130-hour online training program providing a foundation in the theory and practice of English language teaching” for both adult and young learners, in both ESL and EFL environments. It is not yet accredited, but the last online certificate I looked into that claimed to be accredited got its “accreditation” from an institution that I don’t believe would be recognized as able to grant accreditation anywhere outside of its home country. So is TESOL’s sponsorship and seal of approval worth more than that kind of accreditation? I’m inclined to think so, but you should make up your own mind.

You can read about the instructors and courses here and the other components of the program here. The entire program will take 6 to 9 months, which is indicative of a good program, I think–any program that takes only 4 weeks or so and isn’t 9 hours a day, 5 days a week in person (like the St. Giles CELTA course, which is very intensive!) is clearly just for show. No real work involved. A capstone requirement for the certificate will consist of ten hours of classroom observation, if you are teaching or assisting; 10 hours of reflective teaching practice (ditto, presumably); or 10 hours at an in-person or online professional development event such as a conference or workshop series. In addition, participants will write a “self-reflection paper as part of a professional development plan and portfolio.”

The program will start twice during the year, once in January and once in June.

The cost to do the entire program is $1,000 for regular TESOL members, $400 for global TESOL members (from certain countries only; see list), and $1,090 for non-members, including a TESOL membership). It’s possible to take individual courses, too. You can read more on the registration information page.

I still think that any online certificate is likely to put you at a disadvantage compared to a certificate from a university (a real, accredited university, that is) or a CELTA, but this is still likely to be a better choice than a random online certificate from somewhere else. If you are vaguely considering getting an MATESOL in the US after you try teaching overseas, and you are absolutely set on an online certificate as your only option, then this might count for something (then again, if it’s not accredited, I don’t see how you could receive any course credit for it–if nothing else, it could at least garner you some letters of recommendation from respectable, established professors, though, which can be very hard to come by once you’ve been out of undergrad for a few years!). Overall, I don’t think any online certificate is ideal, but if I had to do an online certificate, I would look at this one first. (This is not an endorsement or a recommendation, mind you; I just want to bring the existence of the program to your attention.)

For comparison, here are the courses I took when I did my TESOL certificate at CSU East Bay (then Hayward), which was an in-person program over three academic quarters:

Approaches, Designs and Procedures in Teaching ESL I (4 units)
Approaches, Designs and Procedures in Teaching ESL II (4 units)
Pedagogical Grammar/Outcomes Assessment (4 units)
ESL Practicum, Supervised Teaching (4 units)

Advantages: Some units transferred to the MATESOL program later as credit. Courses were offered in the evening. I was able to TA for an entire quarter of a course. There’s no question about the worth of my certificate. I made personal connections with all of my teachers and several of my classmates, which I maintain to this day both professionally and as friends (I don’t foresee this happening in an online course). I really loved my teachers–they’re great people!

Disadvantages: Pretty expensive (about $4,000, maybe?)–most certificate programs are offered as “continuing education,” so I didn’t get an in-state tuition break. 9 months is a long time.

Why “certificate” and not “certification”? TESOL notes that they’re going with a particular definition here, and I think it boils down to some association of the term “certification” with “credential”–that is, education that allows you to be granted a license or status to teach something. For example, in California you need a teaching credential to teach ESL at the adult school level, because adult schools are part of the public K-12 system. A TESOL certificate or CELTA (as far as I know) does no such thing, nor does it qualify you for a visa anywhere that I know of. It’s useful for two other reasons: 1) Some employers look for it or require it based on their internal rules about qualifications, or will give you a bonus/higher salary because of it. 2) It gives you the pedagogical and sociolinguistic tools and knowledge to start the process of becoming a skilled professional English teacher rather than a person who speaks English and has the job title of “English teacher”. (Those are two different things! Of course, it’s possible to educate yourself enough to become a skilled, professional English teacher, but just speaking English and getting a teaching job definitely doesn’t do it automatically.) As a bonus, I think having the tools to do the job well will make the job far more interesting, although it could also make it more frustrating if you find yourself in a job where modern language-learning techniques are ignored…

Use Your Benefits

I need to read my TESOL e-mails more carefully! Somehow I’d been missing out on this member benefit for a while. (I pay a lot for TESOL and rarely get to attend the conference, so I hate to miss out on a benefit…) Apparently, all TESOL members can attend an upcoming online seminar about using web applications, and it’s free. If you miss that one or you’re reading this much later, there should be another one at some point. The topics look interesting, and I think you can put this on your CV under “Professional Development.”

Even better, if you are a “Global Member” you can attend any of the online seminars–not just the featured ones–for free. If you are a Global Member, take advantage of this benefit and sign up for a seminar (if it’s possible to attend given the time difficulties). If you live in another country and have been considering joining TESOL but haven’t due to cost and distance, you might want to consider it. Global memberships are available to those from nations with gross national incomes of US $15,000 or less per capita (as defined by the UN). This list includes China, the Philippines, Thailand, India, Russia, Poland, Turkey, Peru, Mexico, Brazil, and many other countries. They cost $40 or $25 instead of $90. You can read about the details on TESOL’s membership page.

By the way, student members can also attend any of the online seminars for free. For regular, non-Global, non-student TESOL members, other seminars besides the special free ones are $35.

Finally, if you look at the bottom of the virtual seminars page, there’s information about how to access information from previous seminars. Topics include research on teaching reading, vocabulary teaching, English as an international language of instruction, and several more.

If you’re interested in the topics or need to add to your CV, this is a really great opportunity, especially if you can’t get to a local conference. (Soon, though, I’ll write about opportunities for local conferences that international teachers, especially local residents, may be missing out on.)