So, you’ve done the research, the applications, the phone interviews and have been rewarded with a TEFL job offer that, on paper, looks great. Good work. But, how do you check that you’ll be having the time of your life teaching English, not having a breakdown from all that lesson planning?
It’s simple – ask questions. Lots of them. And preferably some of these…
1. Will you provide me with accommodation?
Many a TEFL teacher has rocked up with high hopes, only to be faced with a squalid apartment complete with broken appliances, dodgy plumbing and peeling wallpaper. You won’t be living in a palace, granted, but you should definitely insist on at least a basic standard of accommodation. Agree what you’re happy with in advance and if you can, try to track down some pictures of your accommodation before taking the job. It’s also worth determining how furnished your apartment will be – you probably don’t want to be moving your sofa half way across the world! Another crucial thing is how far your accommodation is from your school and how long the commute will be. You don’t want to be spending hours on the bus every day.
If your school won’t provide you with free accommodation, get an answer about how much it’s likely to cost before you accept your job – you won’t be having much fun if all your money’s going towards rent.
Erm, your apartment might be a little more modest than this, but it’s always worth asking…
2. How many contact/preparation hours will I have?
‘What? I’m only working 15 hours a week? Sweet!’ Ahh, that’s until you find out that every single one of those contact hours is teaching a different ability level, requiring a totally different lesson plan. Before jumping to conclusions, work out how much time you’ll actually spend in the classroom, then how much time you’ll have to devote to preparing for those classes – the more ability levels you have to look after, the more time you’ll spend lesson planning. Ask questions too about when your hours are – you may not be working much, but those hours could be spread over 6 or 7 days. Oh, and don’t forget the dreaded marking…
3. How much holiday do I get?
You didn’t fly half way around the world to only see the inside of the classroom! Ask how many holidays and public holidays you will be entitled to and how you can take them. Sometimes you cannot choose the dates, which can be a problem if you need to be back home for that wedding you’ve already bought the shoes for! Also enquire about shift swaps….a great way to extend weekends away.
4. How and when will I be paid?
Often when you start a new job you’ll have to work for a month or so before you’re paid – make sure you know in advance when your first pay packet is coming so you can budget accordingly. It’s also worth having a bit of a buffer just in case it’s late for whatever reason.
5. Will I get sick pay?
Depending on where you’re working, you may not be entitled to sick pay – so it’s definitely worth checking this out in advance and making sure you have a back-up stash of cash if necessary – no one wants to be penniless and sick in a foreign country! Ensure also that you have adequate medical insurance – some employers may offer this, but if they don’t it’s absolutely vital.
6. What’s teacher turnover like?
This can be pretty telling – if your school is only employing teachers for one semester, after which they leave, there might be something amiss. If teachers were that happy would they only be staying for a few months? On the flipside if teachers are hanging around for a couple of years, that’s a good sign that the school takes care of their employees (that or it’s keeping them chained up in the basement…)
7. Will I have to get involved with meetings/extra curricular activities?
You’ll be amazed at the kinds of crazy stuff teachers end up doing – for example, Paul Dixon, who teaches in Japan, ended up taking part in his school’s sports day (http://www.onlinetefl.com/tefl-chalkboard/pdixon/posts/1529-high-school-sports-festival) and many a teacher has been roped into running ‘English Corners’ (informal discussion groups) for their students. On the less fun end of the spectrum you may have to go to teacher meetings to discuss things like students’ direction and what you’re covering with your classes. These are all usually ‘extras’ which are on top of your usual duties, so make sure you’re not going to be bogged down with them.
Remember, if you’re not comfortable with the terms of your contract there are plenty more jobs in the sea. So if something doesn’t feel right, move on. It will feel even less right when you’re thousands of miles from home and stuck with it!
What do you think? What should you ask before accepting a TEFL job?