Avoiding TEFL job horrors…. or, Advice about your first TEFL post abroad
The first job you take after graduating is often the most important. Some people decide to have a break due to the stress of the initial teacher training certificate, others look for something locally but the traditional option has long been to take a job overseas. Actually, for many of us, that’s the whole point of the qualification. The only thing that keeps us going through the late nights of lesson planning is the thought of teaching in some tropical paradise.
When I did my first teacher training, the school where I did it actually had a job board which was entirely full of jobs in other countries. The head of the course even said that finding a full-time job in the UK would be hard, particularly for a new graduate. Thus, his recommendation was “do 2 or 3 years abroad then come back”. I have to say that this worked for most people. The only problem was which jobs to take.
We’ve all heard horror stories of teachers being sent off to the middle of nowhere to teach in a mud hut or arriving in a foreign country only to find that the school doesn’t exist. Well, there may be some truth to them. I know that I’ve had some quite bad experiences because I didn’t take the necessary precautions and paid the price.
So, in this post I’d like to share some tips to help you find a decent post and to avoid taking a dodgy one.
1) Only look for jobs on reliable websites that check the schools. Then look for what kind of school they are. Do they have any accreditation? Are they a government institution or a private school? How many employees do they have? Always look for the good and bad reviews on sites, blogs and even Facebook.
Too good to be true?
2) Check what they offer and what kind of teacher they want. If they’re paying a high salary for a Certificate graduate, provide return airfares, luxury accommodation and a private butler, well, it’s a bit too good to be true.
Living in the city
3) Use Google Maps and find exactly where it is and if it’s near a major town, in the countryside or on a deserted island. You don’t want to stay in the back of beyond where you can’t go anywhere. It’s always better to be in a city where you can go out and be independent to some degree.
4) Make sure you sign a detailed contract before buying your tickets. Private schools tend to ask you to work more hours and at weekends and evenings. Some may even ask 35, 40 or more. Working for a government institution often means less hours and more holidays but probably less pay. You should also verify if the airfare is reimbursed and if they provide free accommodation or housing help. It’s not very nice to turn up in a new country to find that you have nowhere to stay, even temporarily. If accommodation is provided then check it out very thoroughly. Ask if it’s shared then find out as much as you can and even ask for photos. Living on campus has its perks but also downsides as students will come to pester you.
It’s also a good idea to think long-term. Maybe they are only offering a 9 month contract but, if you’re interested, ask about an extension or a renewal.
Give yourself time
5) If you need visas then ensure you have enough time to sort them out. Don’t promise to start next week. A related time-consuming issue is if you up sticks altogether. Some people keep their house in the UK, go to teach in wherever then go home for the summer. For us who don’t have that kind of money or just want to relocate properly, we sell everything and just move. Therefore, you need time to sort out all the bills, sell your stuff, etc etc.
6) Get good insurance and find a local international hospital. You may get some local insurance with your job but it’s better to find a hospital where they speak English and have the same level of care as in your country. But be warned that insurance costs a lot of money and the companies don’t always pay so read the policy VERY carefully. I think that most of us Brits take free medical cover for granted but when you have to pay 100 quid just for a consultation you may change your mind.
Expect the worst
7) Always expect the worst. Cultural differences can be a serious shock, so don’t set yourself up for a fall. For instance, if you go to work in a poor developing country, don’t expect the same standards as back home. In fact, the first couple of weeks can be difficult as you adapt to the country and job. It’s a very good idea to have an escape plan, just enough money to get you back home if things don’t work out. For instance, if your school ends up being a bit dodgy and they refuse to pay you or want to keep hold of your passport. At this point, you should seriously consider looking for a different job or going home. Lots of English teachers take the first job they see just to get to the country they want, then they look for something better. Hiring locally is preferred in some cities so you might want to keep an eye out for better teacher jobs.
8) You may be all eager to go and try out your new teaching skills but don’t forget that you may return home one day. Cutting all ties with the UK is serious business. It means you’ll lose your retirement benefit, right to medical treatment and be classified as ‘jumped ship’. Even your bank accounts could be stopped. Keep all this in mind.
Do yourself proud
9) Think and decide what kind of teacher you want to be. I know many, many students who think English teachers are cool, fun and take students out all the time. This isn’t the image I have of a teacher. Sadly, there are countless unqualified natives who manage to get jobs teaching English and some who set a very low standard. It’s your job to do the Trinity Certificate tutors proud and give a good impression of our industry. Yes, learning English can be fun, but you are a professional doing a real and valuable job, not just some kid having a laugh.
10) Make yourself a 5 year plan of where you want to be in 5 years time. It’s easy to find a nice job and just stay in it, but it may not stretch you or get you the post and pay you deserve. Aim for the Trinity Diploma, as it will prove that you’re “serious competition” as my tutor used to say. Also, check how you can progress in your school. They may give you a pay raise for the Diploma or MA and even fund some of it or related courses or conference attendance. It’s always worth asking.
Have you survived a horror TEFL teaching post experience?
What advice could you pass on?