In this post, I’m covering some essential questions that will help you choose the right job teaching English abroad, and help you to filter the soul-sucking nightmare jobs from the fulfilling opportunities to teach and travel. Part 1 of “How to Choose the Right Job Teaching English Abroad” can be found here.
When looking over your contract, watch out for the school’s policy on “overtime” hours. Amazingly, some schools don’t pay for overtime work. Other schools will pay you, but the contract is written in a way that allows them to demand that you work overtime whenever they want, and for as long as they want.
How many teaching hours will I work per week?
It’s important to differentiate between “teaching hours” versus “general work hours”. It’s normal to be at the school from 9-5, but you definitely shouldn’t be teaching classes that entire time. Most English teachers will tell you that 30 hours of teaching per week is about the maximum you should agree to, 25 hrs. is more comfortable, and 20 hrs. is ideal. Teaching well requires a lot of energy, and you’re not doing yourself or your potential students any favours by committing to more teaching hours than you can manage.
Aside from how tiring teaching can be, consider that you’ll need the non-teaching work hours to prepare for classes and plan lessons. The more you’re required to be in the classroom teaching, the less time you’ll have for prep, and the more likely it is that you’ll have to take your work home with you at the end of the day.
Is housing provided? If not, will I have assistance acquiring housing?
Is health insurance provided?
Will I have paid vacation days? Can I decide when I take my vacation?
If you’re hoping to travel around during your teaching year, then vacation time is going to be an important point to discuss with your potential employer. Many schools advertise “10 days vacation”, but in reality, these 10 days are national holidays on which the schools are closed. That means you can count on an odd Monday or Friday off here and there, but no real vacation beyond a long-weekend.
Some schools offer vacation at a fixed time during the year, like when the students have an extended holiday between terms, for example. In this case, you do have vacation days, but you have no choice about when you take them. This isn’t a problem for most people, but it’s something to consider if you were planning to take time off when friends or family come to visit, or if you’re hoping to travel during a specific season.
Can I sign a contract before arriving?
When you make the big decision, it would be best if your future employer can email or fax you a contract, which you can then sign and send back. Why? It’s easy for the school to tell you about the hours, pay, vacation time etc. in the interview, but you can’t count on any of it until you read and sign the contract.For example, against my better judgment, we took a chance and came to Thailand without signing a contract beforehand. When we were eventually presented with our contract, our vacation time turned out to be less than 20 days, instead of the 30 days advertised in the job listing. Always get the terms in writing before you travel across the world for a job.
Finally, I want to clarify that I don’t want to leave anyone with a bad impression of teaching English abroad. In fact, I generally think that teaching English can be a really fun job and a fantastic way to travel and see the world. I’m not suggesting that you ask all these questions because all schools and agencies are out to scam or take advantage of unsuspecting foreign teachers. In reality, there are some pretty unpleasant teaching jobs out there, some ok ones, and some great ones. Why not be selective, ask a lot of questions, and be one of the lucky people who scores an amazing job?
What other questions do you recommend asking before accepting a teaching job?