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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine January/February 2005
Related Topics
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Selecting Reputable TEFL Schools Abroad

What You Need to Know to Pick the Best

The boom in TEFL has meant a lot of people are getting into the business, and Internet bulletin boards suggest that every second school is a shifty operation. Not necessarily so. But as much as the school is sizing you up at the interview, you should be sizing up the school. To secure a good contract it's often a case of "If you don't ask, you don't get."

Below are seven points to give you an idea of what you are in for:

1. The most important thing is to make sure that the school will support your application for a work permit. Working "black" means low pay, no health insurance, no holiday pay, no legal protection, no nothing—except maybe hassle from the cops. How much of the application procedure the school agrees to do varies, but at the very least they should cover the costs and give you a photocopy outlining each stage of what you are to do and when.

2. Does an association of language schools exist in that country? If so, is this school a member? If not, ask why. Associations usually have some kind of quality assurance guidelines. A school may be new or too small to be a member, but they should have an answer.

3. What other guarantees of quality does the school offer? Do they only hire teachers with qualifications? Are there structures in place for student feedback? Do they do classroom observation to ensure teaching quality? Do they follow a set syllabus? Are there regular progress tests? At first you might think, "I know I can teach, all this doesn't matter." But if a school is careless about satisfying the paying customer, you can also expect your needs to be a low priority.

4. If you are hired just to keep the numbers up, you will most likely be treated like a number. Schools can be desperate for staff at times, but they should at least check your certificate and ask you to demonstrate a grammar point. Ask what the school offers in the way of professional development—methodology workshops or peer observation, for example.

5. The school library should include "recipe books" of teaching ideas, photocopyable activities such as handouts and card games, as well as dictionaries and grammar reference books. In addition, make sure they have Internet access.

6. Get the nuts and bolts straightened out right away. Don't be embarrassed to ask about rates of pay, estimated weekly travel time (if teaching in-company), if split shifts and occasionally covering other teachers classes are to be expected, how the health insurance works, overtime, taxation, and whether the school adheres to the labor code for that country. If the school starts looking shifty or saying the code doesn't apply to foreigners, drink your coffee and go.

7. The obvious one: get it in writing. Once you have been hired make sure your contract states what has been agreed to, and don't feel embarrassed about asking for a translated version. The "grey area" is where misunderstandings arise. You're not being too paranoid by politely making sure everything is clear and committed to paper.

 
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