Learn from my mistakes: Questions to ask before accepting a job teaching English abroad

Guest post by Kahlan_Amnell
ESL teacher shirt from Etsy Seller PicsToPix

I am just finishing a job teaching English in China. Unfortunately, it turns out that I was hired by a nightmare employer. I won’t go into all the details, but by reading my suggestions you can guess what kind of problems I ran into. I would like to make some suggestions so that you don’t make the same mistakes if you decide you would like to teach English in another country.

1. Be suspicious of applications that are too easy.
Our job hired us using an application from LinkedIn Easy Apply. They did interview us, but they didn’t check any references. This should have been a red flag that they were desperate.

2. Likewise, be suspicious if you are offered a position with more responsibilities than you applied for, particularly if your qualifications are not related to this extra position you are being offered. (For example, you have no administrative experience but they offer you an administrator position with extra salary as a “surprise” when offering you your contract.)

3. Ask to speak to current teachers

I should have done this, then I would have found out that all their current foreign teachers had quit, and that my husband and I would be the only native speakers of English teaching at this school.

4. Walk away if they start doing fishy things with your work visa
If they tell you it is okay to come over and start working on a tourist visa, but they will get you a work visa right away, walk away. Even if they tell you it is no big deal, and they do this all the time, still, walk away. It is not worth the trouble not having a legal visa to start with, or perhaps at all.

5. Don’t sign a contract that makes you give huge amounts of notice, or fines you for quitting early.
Ours required 90 days notice, and we had to work for 6 months otherwise we owed money.

6. If something seems wrong, quit as soon as possible, don’t wait.
We wish we could have quit sooner than we did. Looking back, this job always seemed wrong in a number of ways. It took us a whole semester to really realize it and realize we had to quit.

7. If it goes wrong, don’t blame yourself.
Likely you picked a bad employer. You are probably a great teacher, so don’t let them tell you otherwise.

8. Don’t feel bad if you have to quit early. Don’t let them guilt you into staying. As long as you follow the terms of your contract, you are under no obligation to stay the whole time.

What did I miss? Any other ESL teachers out there who’d like to share their experiences or advice?

Comments on Learn from my mistakes: Questions to ask before accepting a job teaching English abroad

  1. Wow! I hope you were able to get out of there without too much trouble.

    Also I think a lot of this is really good advice for any type of job. Especially number 2. Extra responsibilities (even ones you are qualified for) should never be a surprise.

  2. Yes yes yes to #4! We were the first ever employees, so couldn’t have talked to others. We were promised language lessons but were then told the teacher was unavailable after we arrived. They did sketchy things with our visas. They never trusted us as employees because they were always breaking rules themselves. And then they had the gall to call us in one day and get mad at us because someone said they’d never want to work for them. We’d only ever been honest with fellow expats about our experience with our bosses. Eeesh, so sorry this happened to you too and I’m glad you’re getting the word out!

  3. If you speak a bit of French, apply to teach English in France as an assistant(e) d’anglais (the program is also called TAPIF). Run by the French government, it’s a great program. I’ve also recently learned that Fulbright has an English Teaching Assistant (ETA) program; it’s likely quite competitive and experiences may vary by region (also only open to US citizens, but if you are a citizen of another country and want to come to the US, Fulbright has an equivalent program for that). You can apply for locations all over the world. If you have the time to do the application, go for it and apply for competitive or established programs! You never know.

  4. Great advice. I was a Fulbright ETA and had a great experience (although I spent most of my money traveling on the weekends, so I was pretty broke by the end.)
    When I came back to the US, I worked at a couple private ESL schools in the states and my experience with these schools wasn’t great. Come to find out, a lot of them are “visa mills” that provide student visas to foreign students and then don’t enforce attendance like they are supposed to. They basically want the teachers to break the law and mark/say that the students were coming regularly, when the students were hardly coming at all. The schools are run as businesses, and I saw a lot of shady things go down.

  5. Great post! Once I was trying to apply as English teacher to China. Unfortubately, recruiting company pushed me to work with travel visa. I disagreed. Perhaps, it’s good. Now I’m working as a freelance writer.

  6. Snap! I was actually offered a teaching position in China … and I was suspicious. This totally validates my feeling. It just seemed too good to be true.

    I’m so sorry this happened to you! There are really good work abroad opportunities. I did a fellowship with the America India Foundation and it was incredible.

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