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You're set. You've finally decided to take a leap of faith and teach English abroad. You know which region of the world you'd like to live and work in, but there's just one quintessential question eating you away: Which ESL job should I choose?
I know, it's one of the most difficult decisions you can make. I’ve heard far too many horror stories from miserable teachers that've found themselves locked into a contract with a misleading employer. But do't worry, I've got you covered.
Before you sign on the dotted line, let's take a look 20 things every ESL teacher should check before signing their contract with an ESL job.
Salary & Payday
This one's a no-brainer. Salaries and paydays vary from region to region and company to company. Be sure to compare employers’ salary offerings and make sure to use a currency convertor to compare it with your local country’s currency. You should also note that in some countries like China where there's a high demand for teachers, ESL employers are often willing to negotiate just to get you there as quickly as possible. And one more thing, try researching the average starting salaries of English teachers wherever you're heading so you're not cheated out of pay.
Will you only teach classes? Will you correct homework and test? Do you have to participate in demonstration classes and events? Will you need to create your own Lesson Plans? What all do you need to do during office hours? I can't tell you enough how this is the main the source for nearly all the problems teachers have at schools? Make sure to ask thorough questions upfront so that there are few to no surprises.
Get a solid schedule. Is your schedule Monday to Friday or, let's say, Wednesday to Sunday? Know how many classes / teaching hours will you have every week, and how many total office hours will you have every week. Get it broken down by day, too. Heck, you may even ask for each hour.
Vacation / Holiday / Sick Days
Make sure that vacation, holidays, and sick days are defined from the very beginning. These often cause confusion and conflict regarding your salary, time, and energy. Ask the employer about your pay should you take time off. How many of these days can you use throughout the year? What national holidays are considered days off? What are the rules regarding teachers traveling home? You should also speak with other teachers at the company and ask if the employer abides by the details outlined in the contract. Remember, ESL employers will say anything to get you there, so make sure to get an outside source that can confirm.
Every ESL job won't give you consecutive days off (Saturday & Sunday / Monday & Tuesday), so make sure you're clear as to which two days you’ll have off. What will happen if you need to do make-up classes? Will you need to come in during your day off?
Holidays & Events
Let's see. Christmas, Easter, Halloween--yep, those round out the usual Western/American holidays you'll be throwing events for with your ESL students. As for events? There's the Spelling Bee, speaking competition, and maybe even a talent show? Ask about what holidays and events you'll need to participate in.
Ah, the time where your ESL employer could fire you without notice if they're dissatisfied with your work (usually the first 3 months). Check how long is the probation period? What are the requirements you’ll need to fulfill during this period? Will you be evaluated following its completion? What happens if you do not meet these requirements? Some ESL companies may offer a lower salary during the probation period, and once you’ve satisfactorily met their requirements, will pay you the salary initially proposed.
Who knows, you may find a company that offers a 3 month, 6 month, 1 year, and contract renewal bonus. Hey, it's possible! Make sure to know the bonus amounts and periods, and compare them to that of other companies. Also, will you have to undergo a teacher evaluation before receiving each bonus? Oh yeah, will you even receive the bonuses if you, let's say, take sick days or arrive to work late? And are your bonuses taxed?
Airfare & Housing Allowance
Another one that varies from region to region and company to company. If you are provided airfare allowance, will the company purchase the ticket for you, or will you be reimbursed for it? Sometimes a lower salary may mean that the employer will cover your housing cost, whereas a higher salary means that you’ll need to pay on your own. Employers may also just include a housing stipend in your monthly salary. If that's the case, will it be taxed? Be prepared to ask where the company stands in regard to this.
The start and end date of your contract. Some employers will have you start on the date listed on the contract, but will count your salary from a later time, i.e. after training or your first class. Make sure you know if your starting and salary time coincide or not.
Dun, dun, DUN! Yet another subject that's generated a lot of disputes between employers and teachers. Teachers often find themselves forced to do overtime instead of it being an option. And as for compensation, some teachers may receive either no pay for it at all, a portion of the full amount, or some companies may even request to simply give time off for the hours worked over, Whew. Make sure this one's clearly outlined.
You'll probably get sick. You may get badly injured. Oh boy, you may even get pregnant! What type of insurance does your employer provide, and what does it cover? Does it include medical, dental, and accidental coverage? Will you need to apply for insurance on your own? And, as I've learned in my own experience, what kind of hospital can you receive service? I found myself in a situation in Shanghai where I was only covered at local hospitals (cheaper, crowded, little to no English, dirty) and not international hospitals (expensive, English service, no congestion, orderly, clean). That sucked.
Go ahead and get this one out of the way. How much will your salary be taxed? Wait, will you even need to pay taxes? By the way, make sure you know how to pay your taxes while living overseas, too!
Not everyone’s entrance into a country will be the same. Make sure you thoroughly know your visa process before hand. Know what portion of it you’ll be paying, and which portion the company will cover. If you were to quit or worse, get fired, how would it affect your visa?
Some ESL employers may have an employee handbook on deck, which provides comprehensive information about company policies and procedures, along with in-depth details regarding your expectations as an employee. Ask that they email you a copy. But remember, the handbook may come from headquarters and not necessarily contain the same policies as a franchisee.
Is it permissible to work with other companies, both related and non-related to your duties as an ESL teacher. For instance, could you work as a private English tutor? Or a bartender?
Location, Location, Location
Facts: Some companies may list only one school in their contract; however, upon arrival, they’ll mention that you’ll be traveling to 4 different schools throughout each week. WTF! Ask if you’ll be teaching at a single or multiple school locations.
Here's an easy one. What content will you teach, and how do they expect you to teach it? Does your school strictly focus on English listening, reading, writing, and speaking skills, or will you have to teach different subjects like science and history? Will you need to use technology in your classrooms? Are you expected to teach songs, use flashcards, use props, and play interactive games? Or, are you expected to teach formally?
Do you care how your school looks? Of course you do! Ask, ask, ASK the employer to send photos of the classrooms, offices, and school location so that you may see where you will be working. I've been on interviews where the school/training center didn't even have windows in the classes. Eh, no thanks! If you’ll be wearing the company uniform, make sure to ask for a photo of it as well.
A school website is a very useful tool that may answer all of your questions about the employer. It can also help ensure that the employer is legit.
Speak to Current Teachers
To get the most honest overview of the ESL company, speak to a foreign ESL teachers already working there! Connect with them via SKYPE, email, voice call, social media... however you can.
Do Your Research
One of the best ways to get to know an ESL employer is by searching ESL websites, forums, and blogs. Most ESL teachers love to share their experiences--the good, the bad, and the ugly. You may find your potential employer’s organization on posts that praise ESL companies, or you may discover that they have been blacklisted at large. In addition, ESL agents are very knowledgeable and resourceful in the ESL community. Ask an agent if they can tell you things they’ve heard or read about different organizations.
I'm going to be honest: I found myself as the only foreign teacher in a department at one job, and I hated it. Seriously, it was one of the worst decisions I've ever made. Don't make my same mistake. Ask your employer about the size of their school--staff wise--and how many other foreign teachers you'll be working with. If you want, why not go ahead and ask about their ages and where they come from, too.
Well, that's it for now. I hoped my list helped! Am I missing some important tips? Well, let me know down below. Safe & happy travels!
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