Does Your Degree Matter?


boost1.jpgHaving a Bachelor’s degree does matter because many countries require it for a work permit. But although a BA in Education or English or a foreign language often makes a good impression, each subject has advantages of its own.

Some schools would like to see teachers with degrees in English or Education, and while these are certainly useful degrees in many ways, I’d guess that most schools that ask for them do not realize that English degrees — from the US anyway — tend to be degrees in literature or writing, not the nuts and bolts of language. My feeling is that while some aspects of a degree in education — especially early childhood education if you teach kids — may be quite relevant to TEFL, many other aspects will be totally different. The classes I teach, the books, methods, and expectations, are vastly different from classes I attended in the US, many of which were taught by teachers who presumably had degrees in education. That’s not at all to say that these subjects aren’t useful for TEFL…just that they are not necessarily more useful than degrees in other subjects.

One of the most difficult things about teaching your own language is that you are teaching something that you didn’t learn formally. Experience learning other languages — even when it is not the one spoken in the country you work in — is useful not only because it gives you the experience of being a learner, but also because it makes you think about the grammar of your own language. It is almost never required that you speak the language of your student to teach EFL — in fact, sometime it is preferred that you don’t. You will also need to be able to analyze the rules of your own language and predict what will be hard for learners. If something you’re sure is correct doesn’t follow the rule in your students’ book…why? When students ask why one answer is right and another is wrong, you (certainly not always but sometimes) need to be able to explain why or at least be prepared to do so. Degrees that give you practice thinking critically — like many social sciences, philosophy, or natural sciences — will help you with this.

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My unchecked observation is that Liberal Arts degrees are very common among EFL teachers, but fields like management may be useful as well — not only if or when it facilitates critical thinking as mentioned above but also because people skills are useful. The ability to communicate your ideas clearly and in an organized way is also valuable.

In short, don’t let your degree in a non-teaching subject stop you from getting into TEFL.