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The chaff from the wheat

September 25, 2007

Hello again,

It is clear from occasional forum posts that teachers sometimes find themselves involved with schools that are of suspect status. Unfortunately in the wider world...

... operations of all kinds exist. I suggest that the onus is on the teacher to take appropriate care before getting involved with a school that seems doubtful. It’s simple really, if in doubt, don’t accept.

So how can you sort the wheat from the chaff? The first step after replying to an advert and getting a response is to look carefully at the school’s promotional material, whether this is a brochure or a website. The information should state clearly what courses are offered, how many teaching hours are involved in each course, how many students to a class, and what the fees are. The school’s background should be described: when founded, location, description of premises, accreditation status. Key staff members should be named and appropriate contact information should be provided. The information given should help you form an impression of whether this is a school you would like to work at. If not, abandon it.

If all this looks sound, however, then move on to the job description and any contract information. Duties should be described precisely including teaching hours and preparation time. The contract should have a probationary period during which either side can terminate the employment. The compensation package should show salary, and any additional benefits such as paid fares, health care, accommodation. If accommodation is included ask for information about number of rooms, facilities provided, distance from the school. Ideally you should have pictures of the accommodation. And make sure you understand in advance what standards are normal for the region: it may be unrealistic to expect the same standard as at home. If you feel uneasy about any of these point, then ask for clarification. Don’t sell yourself short: you have a right to a decent salary and proper living conditions. A school that cannot satisfy these basic requirements does not merit your interest.

Some definite don’ts are: never pay any money to the school. You are the employee, you are paid by the school. Never give the school your passport. Never collude with an employer to try to eve visa or work permit regulations

If you take these steps you should avoid falling foul of an unscrupulous or exploitative organization.

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  1. Sam Says:

    Hello, I will appreciate if you ccould brief me with a little bit about Berlitz school in Turkey. I have been offered a teaching job by a recruitment agency, does that sound OK and official. Please let me know if I am playing safe. Thank you.

  1. David Says:

    Sound advice, though even the most reputable schools may ask for your passport. Mine did - it was essential for processing the residency permit.

  1. Brenda Townsend Hall Says:


    I suggest you take a look at these comments on the forum at Dave's ESL Cafe: http://forums.eslcafe.com/job/viewtopic.php?t=1615/

  1. KoreaMom Says:

    If this were the best of all possible worlds (or professions?), that advice would be great. However, in common with many people, I "job-shop" on-line (in Korea) and there is fairly little detailed information about anything until you get to the school. Part of the reason is that many of the employers do not communicate much (if at all) in English. So this might be good advice for the more sophisticated ESL market (or the teacher looking into certain regions of the world where such guidelines might be meaningful) but I suspect that most of us in Asia would not be so lucky as to have much info on the schools until we get there.

  1. Louise Says:

    We are all responsible for thoroughly investigating any potential employer, and if we get a crappy deal, on our own heads be it.

    But: sometimes we have in the TEFL field some pretty poor choices to choose from.

    An employer I have just worked for in Japan, and shan't be choosing to work for again, is actually one of the more organised, law-abiding and reputable companies.

    However, they have quite low wages (japan eikaiwa widespread problem), no holiday or sick pay and operate on a system of sequential contracts, with breaks in between, causing their employees to be permanently 'on probation' regardless of competence or length of commitment to the company.

    Sometimes, even highly 'professional' companies give employees a bad deal, it's not just the cowboy outfits. The thing with Japan is, I think that without some japanese, a masters in TESOL, and a friend of a friend who... there is no way to get a good job with decent work hours, money and benefits because they just aren't out there.

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