Consider Your Teaching Job Offer Carefully
Bad English Language Schools Can Happen to Good Teachers
If you want to teach English abroad but you want to avoid those bad English language teaching schools, how can you find out which ones to avoid? Unfortunately, options for gathering information on particular schools is limited.
There are a few blacklists (see below) but those largely cover the major Asian countries. There is virtually nothing comprehensive available for teachers working anywhere else.
Alarmingly, many prospective teachers appear to believe that ELT jobs sites exist to help language teachers—posting only reputable job offers—because they also offer links to cheaper health insurance, provide
extensive country information or cost of living tips, or give away free lesson plans. Don’t be deluded. These sites are businesses first and foremost. Nothing they do can reasonably be considered to be in the teacher’s best interest.
These sites forward hundreds and possibly thousands of applications on to schools every week, and some of the applicants do find jobs, sign contracts or make a verbal agreement and then fly off to a TEFL adventure. Yet,
how many have done the critical work of researching the schools before putting themselves at the mercy of the people hiring them? Probably not many and certainly not enough.
In an unacceptable number of cases, the teachers don’t get the job they bargained for. Upon arrival they may be told that the contract provisions or verbal agreements have been changed and they’re now required
to teach double the amount of hours, or do office tasks in their spare time—all for the same money. And the promised teaching support doesn’t materialize. Or maybe the teacher is placed into accommodations that are unsafe or unhealthy.
Perhaps they’ve even worked a month or two but haven’t been paid.
Attempts to get the school to abide by the original contract or to find more suitable accommodations may elicit threats of being turned over to the authorities, having pay withheld, or possibly other means of intimidation
will be used. If the teacher continues to complain, demands pay, or refuses to abide by an amended contract, then he or she may be fired from the job without warning or even a notice period. This can mean being immediately turned out of one’s
lodging and not getting paid for completed work.
Teachers have found themselves homeless in foreign countries, unable to speak the language, penniless after having spent all their money for plane fare and other preparatory expenses, having no place to go and no idea of
how to get anywhere safe. Getting out of a mess like that can be financially and emotionally costly. Doing careful and thorough research before leaving home is crucial and might save you from a similar fate.
Avoid Being Victimized
Here are a few things that prospective English language teachers can do to avoid becoming victims of bad or unscrupulous schools.
Find ELT discussion boards by using a search engine. Once you’ve found a few, post your questions about a particular
school on each one and ask for private emailed responses. In my experience simply asking for information about a particular school and requesting private responses won’t get posts deleted from even those discussion boards on sites that
depend on schools for advertising revenue.
Include an email address, which you have created on a free, Web-based service like Yahoo! or Hotmail specifically for this purpose
and don’t use your real name anywhere. Maintaining your privacy is essential because you don’t know who will be answering your queries. Read any replies—pro or con—with a critical eye.
Carefully read all of the job advertisements for several months before you even apply for any openings. The reason for
this is that you will want to see patterns established by certain schools. Do they advertise frequently? Why might they need to? Why do they need tha t many new teachers that often? If you see job openings on a monthly or bi-monthly basis,
you should have alarm bells going off in your head.
Read the job advertisements several times with a critical eye. Ask yourself if the listed job requirements or benefits
could be read in two different ways. Read job advertisements defensively!
If a DoS (Director of Studies), school owner or recruiter requires any deposits of money, documents like passports—originals
or copies—originals of certificates or diplomas, pass those schools by and don’t look back. Never send money or original documents to someone advertising for teachers! You will likely never see your money or your documents
again and there will surely be no job waiting for you. You might even become a victim of identity theft.
If the owner or DoS requires that, along with your application, you send lesson plans or other things for which you would normally
be paid after you are hired, or requires more than a bachelor’s degree, walk away. The pay offered by language schools never warrants anything above a bachelor’s degree and this is only because some countries require
a university degree to obtain a work permit. Sending in lesson plans or other teaching-related material is simply a way for a school to steal your work.
Asking for a TEFL qualification if the teacher has no teaching experience is certainly reasonable; specifying that this must be
a CELTA—and only a CELTA—is highly questionable. Having a TEFL or TESOL qualification from a reputable school, which is externally moderated and has an observed teaching component is equal to having a CELTA.
Lastly, remember that no promises made about any jobs are really enforceable, not even if they are in writing. You might
pursue those bad schools through their country’s courts but the likelihood of receiving anything but a huge bill for the lawyer and translator you’ve had to hire is slim. If you accept a job at a bad language school you will have
to absorb any financial losses yourself. Plan for the worst and hope for the best!
Plan for the Worst
What this means in practice is that you should have a return airline ticket usable for up to 90 days in your possession when you leave your home country for that new TEFL job. If you plan to buy a 1-way ticket you
should have enough readily available money to buy a return ticket.
You should also have enough money to rent a hotel room, eat, and get local transport in an emergency. In the event that you are fired or the lodging never materializes or is so awful a rat wouldn’t consider
living there you’ll need money. You should have enough to handle all potential emergency expenses until you can get out of the country or find another job. How much you’ll need to cover emergency expenses in a particular country
is something you should research before leaving home.
Take good care of yourself. Even if the school is a good one, you should plan for what you’ll need to be on your own in a foreign land. In the sad event the school turns out to be one of those language schools
from hell, you will be able to bounce back more easily if you’ve looked after yourself properly from the start.