We were recently chatting with a TEFL Institute of Ireland graduate, someone who has gone on to have incredible success in the industry. A few months ago he left a high-level management job in Beijing where he was making great money. Ultimately unhappy, he reluctantly admitted, “After eighteen months of babysitting teachers who had no business being in the classroom, I had to make a change. It was too toxic.”
And that’s the rub, right? The demand in China is far outpacing the supply of TEFL qualified, experienced English teachers. The opportunities are there and the pay is good, but you have to do your homework lest you find yourself on the far side of the world dancing in a circus you never meant to follow.
Who Are You Working For?:
Private Schools and Universities:
In TEFL markets around the world, these jobs are the cream of the crop. The salaries are significantly higher and paid time off is plentiful. The drawback for recent TEFL graduates is that they typically require 5+ years of experience and a teaching degree from your home country. In China where the number of private institutions continues to expand and the demand for English language teachers is high, there may be some wiggle room but exercise caution. Stamping “private” or “university” on the letterhead isn’t a guarantee of quality. When you do your research approach it from a student perspective. Is this a school you would want to attend? What gives it value? What makes it stand out?
English Language Academies/Agencies:
You know the model after-school tutoring programs that outsource their language services to local schools. The TEFL industry would not exist without these programs. They (in conjunction with TEFL Training programs) are the heart of the movement. But, they are also the most likely to fall into the category of “factory schools.” Look for smoke, run from fire. If they are rushing you to decide, run. If they are withholding details, run. If they aren’t offering a contract with visa services included, run.
Don’t Settle for an Unsettled Visa:
Teach English abroad for about five minutes and you’ll become very familiar with the phrase “Visa Run.” Around the world employers try to save money by bringing foreign language teachers in on a tourist, business or consultant visa, none of which give you the ability to work legally in the country of your choosing. That means leaving the country every 90 days and crossing your fingers that you don’t catch the immigration agent on a bad day. Visa horror stories could fill a library and China’s requirements for foreign workers are clear, so make sure your prospective employer is offering both a proper Visa and inhouse assistance to obtain the visa.
Ask the Internet and Teachers Too:
Maybe your prospective employer is an amazing salesperson. Maybe all those pictures of happy smiling kids were stolen from happier schools. How can you be sure?
Start by asking the internet. The forums on sites like Dave’s ESL Cafe, ESL teachers board, Just ESL Jobs and ESL Base will almost certainly provide feedback about the school you’re researching. Just keep in mind that even the ESL world is full of trolls. Expect a little bit of negativity, but if it is overwhelming…
Utilize the Resources at the TEFL Institute of Ireland, or whichever school you attended. It is in the vested interest of TEFL educators to help teachers find the best available jobs. Take advantage of their online resources, counselling and of course the network of teachers in your program.
Ask the school you are researching for current teacher contact information. Any school on the up-and-up will happily connect you with teachers in their program who can give you details about their day-to-day experiences. And if the school refuses? Smoke. Fire. Run.
This isn’t a job, it’s your life:
Moving to a foreign country is scary. The idea of making the leap without a job, housing and a visa already lined up is a recipe for sweaty palms and a rapid heartbeat. But try to breathe that away. Don’t allow yourself to accept a lesser job offer out of a false sense of security. Do your homework, then check it, and check it again. If you are excited and your gut is screaming, “Yes! Yes! This is perfect!” then, by all means, sign the contract and get on a plane. But, if you are having doubts, wait–save a little extra money and look for a job in the country. Some of the best opportunities come from visiting schools with CV in hand. Some of worst traps are avoided by seeing for yourself what the reality looks like.
Moving to China, or anywhere abroad is about more than the ABC’s of language learning. It is about work-life balance, the wonders of travel, where you buy your groceries and where you lay your head at night. It is about happiness.
There are literally thousands of opportunities in China. Trust your TEFL program to line up solid choices. Post your CV on the ESL job boards and LinkedIn. Watch those recruiter emails flood in. Then take a step back, look at the whole stack and aim high. You’re worth it.