« Teaching resources | Main | Personalising learning »

Avoiding the cowboys

January 26, 2007

Hello again,

I have noticed some recent forum posts by teachers who have found themselves caught out by bogus schools, unscrupulous schools, dishonest schools. Unfortunately the cowboys...

...are out there and they often prey on the vulnerability of young teachers abroad. It is, therefore, very important for teachers themselves to take sensible precautions before taking up a post. Here are a few tips for teachers so that they avoid being caught out.

First contact the embassy of the country you intend to visit. Ask the embassy about the status of language schools: have they got a compulsory registration scheme; can they provide a list of established and reputable schools; can they give you an idea of average salaries; what are the legal formalities for working in the country; what are the legal responsibilities of employers?

Next, be wary of schools that do not demand properly qualified staff. A school with a professional attitude will expect to deliver high standards so ask yourself why would a genuine organization be prepared to hire just anybody?

Never pay the school any money. You are the employee and the school pays you for your services. It has no reason to ask you for any payment. A compensation package for teachers will always be clearly detailed by a reputable school. The minimum on offer should be payment of return fares and a stipulated monthly salary or hourly rate. If the school offers an hourly rate, check that you are guaranteed sufficient hours to be able to afford to live adequately.

A reputable school will provide a contract of employment clearly stating the conditions of service. It should have provision for a probationary period so that you can return home if things don’t work out, or, failing that, a reasonable notice period for you to serve. Be wary of a school that refuses to include such a clause.

Get some references. Ask the school to provide names and contact details for some current or past teachers. If the school refuses to do so, you can conclude they have something to hide.

Do some Internet research. Has the school got a website? Does this make a good impression? Does it give names and profiles of the key staff?

Ask the school how it helps you settle in. Is there an induction course?

By the way, if you decide to use a recruitment agency, have a look at what I said in a previous post.

It is sad, of course, that dishonest operators exist. But really it is up to teachers to be
Careful. If you have the slightest doubt, then don’t accept the post. If you are qualified teacher and you persist in your search, you have a good chance of finding a post in a reputable school.

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


  1. Bob Toomey Says:

    Dear Brenda and all,

    I run a reputable language school in Beijing, China, and I think that you should tell the new "teacher" that they should be well trained and be professional--TESL certification doesn't make good professional educators.

    There are plenty of unreputable schools in China and these should be avoided at all costs, for sure, but the real problem in China is that professional teachers are not required and most schools will hire anyone. The results are totally understandable. For all the teaching that goes on in China, few people speak English well. So, teachers should first be trained correctly. China needs qualified teachers.

    Bob Toomey in Beijing

  1. Marilena Fulla Says:

    I am an auto-didact English language teacher for 20yrs. and I would like to join the ESL teaching abroad but I can't afford to pay any course or certification being jobless .Could you advise me a solution to my problem???
    I speak,read and write also French,Spanish and Roumanian; I have knowledge of:German,Portughese,Italian and Russian.
    I am Roumanian residing in Guinea,W.Africa.Thanks!

  1. cecil moody Says:

    I took a TESL course. After finishing the course, I refused to accept the certificate of completion. It found to course to be of no benefit to me at all. It was quite obvious that the two Instructors of the course had never been to China, and had no experience in working with Chinese students. none of the characteristics (of the Chinese students) which were discussed were true in this day and time; perhaps the information would have been helpful half century ago. Today's students in China are more like American students than they are different. The main difference is that the Chinese are far more diligently in their efforts to cling to every word you speak. They are shy! They are not stand-offish! They don't require you to keep a distance between them and you...in face, many of them enjoyed a close hug on occasion. Chinese students are very knowledge of Western culture Tey ask many questions, however, because there is much false information about the common citizens of America, due to stupid, silly, action and sex movies made in Hollywood, to which the Chinese have access. TESL course? Don't waste your money. If you have experience dealing, working, playing even talking with people on a day-to-day basis, you are better qualified for teaching than a TESL graduate. One would have to have been a hermit in order to be a poor teacher in China. Just have your degree/degrees, have a personality necessary for making friends, and an admirable character, and your students will make a teacher of you regardless of your lack of experience. Do not limit your time with them in the classroom. Walk in the parks, visit their homes, dine with them in restaurants, accompany them to art museums, concerts, and walk the streets with them; days and nights. The classroom is a wonderful experience, but I can tell you from experience that visits of a more personal nature (even in your own apartment...something that you will be told not to do, but advice you should ignore, just be careful. Trust the guards you will see everywhere, and become friends with them. I taught many of them at least a few English words, such as greetings, directional information I needed, and my words about my work in China. Refuse to work for schools that will not allow you to be yourself and teach in the way that you need to in order to meet the needs of your students. TESL courses cannot determine this for you. A few days in the classroom will teach you far more than a TESL course can teach you. It is my opionion that such courses are just short of becoming a scam operation.

  1. Christopher Hume Says:

    I sold everything I have, to go to Mito, Japan, to teach. I was scammed by a local school, which "changed my written contract", from 2500 USD a month to part time in another prefecture where I would be"on my own" do deal with the local administators to 1750 usd a month, placed me from living alone to living with 5 people, and etc.. etc.. made my life a living hell. Not only that, but I arrived 4 days early and the head of the school was a 'scam artist who yelled at me constantly. More details can be given, but I wish to sue the school. Another person has. If you can help me please respond. It was my dream of dreams to go there and work, but I was also told I would have to leave in March if I took the job, which would leave me broke, not to mention the car "rentals" - which are illegal - he rents the cars for about 100 USD and charges the teachers about 200 USD - illegal in both the US and Japan.

    Much more. I was promised alot and lost an enormous amount
    Sorry, please help as I have lost a dream and a fortune
    in NY

    - Christopher Hume

  1. Jiri Vasatko Says:

    Dear Brenda, how do I notify teachers about experiences like these ones: a Colombian school (name withheld) IS CARTEL'S WAY GETTING DRUGS OUT OF COLOMBIA. The school is hiding behind arecruiter from Bogota. STAY AWAY! Details are explained below. In Taiwan is recruiting agency forcing teachers work illegally.Potential Trafficking of Narcotics

    In summer 2004, I was offered a position as an English as a Second Language teacher in Pereira, Colombia. This position was offered to me by a hiring scout connected to the Canadian Embassy in Bogotá.

    The teaching itself was not a bad experience, with the exception of an unsolicited visit to my apartment
    during the first month, in which several instructors came over and informed me "I would be the bad guy in the end." I did not know that I would become unwittingly involved in trafficking. I was just physical existence to my credit card, which number was stolen from me and used for purchase of cargo space on international flight to France. This was found by credit card security services informing me with this information several months later after my return home to Canada. The payment was refused and credit card terminated. My passport was copied without my approval.
    This was just the beginning of my ordeal. Jiri

  1. Brenda Townsend Hall Says:


    Your entire comment was too long for this board. Also it would be unwise to name a school about which you are making allegations. But it is an alarming tale and one which, I hope, will warn teachers to take care to thoroughly check any school before accepting a post. The same goes for recruitment agencies.

  1. JWF Says:

    "Your entire comment was too long for this board." Huh? What are you talking about? Cecil's post was like a mile long and broke into an aimless ramble.
    Also, it's mind-boggling how many people on here don't know how to spell or at least use a spell-checker. And you call yourselves English teachers? Shame on you.

Post a Comment



Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)