Stop! Do not pick up a pen! Do not scribble your name! That TEFL contract you’re holding isn’t as simple and straightforward as it looks. Follow the ten steps below before you commit to anything. Remember, when it comes to teaching English abroad you’re not only signing a job contract you’re signing a lifestyle contract.
#1 – Salary versus Cost of Living
The majority of TEFL jobs pay more than enough to live comfortably on a local level. You may not bank a lot, but you’ll live well. That said, never assume that the salary being offered is sufficient. There are about a million cost of living breakdowns available online. Typically, they cover the basics but not the extra costs associated with travel and weekend shenanigans. Make a rough (but honest) guess at what you’re likely to spend month-to-month. How does the salary being offered hold up?
#2 – Work Hours and Schedule
Here is a common TEFL contract trap: “20-25 contact hours per week.” In other words 4 hours per day in the classroom. New teachers often think that means a total of 20-25 hours per week. NOPE. That does not include lesson planning, office hours, mandatory attendance at school assemblies, etc. Nor does it mean a tidy 4-6 hour block. Some schools require a split schedule. Some schools require teachers to be on school grounds for 40 hours per week. Check the breakdown of duties and the schedule very carefully.
#3 – Vacation and Sick Day Policies
Don’t assume that you’ll have summers off and a Christmas holiday. Vacation policies differ country to country. And even if that country has a generous vacation policy for its citizens, those policies may not extend to foreign workers.
Sick days are another common TEFL contract trap. A lot of schools simply do not offer sick leave. Even if you are deathly ill, it is your responsibility to get your classes covered. And you’ll be expected to return that favor. If your contract doesn’t mention sick leave, be sure to clarify and amend.
#4 – Extra Work Opportunities
Visa requirements are very strict. You will not be able to teach private classes to supplement your income. All income has to come through the company sponsoring your visa. Often, ESL programs will offer evening classes, test prep tutoring, etc. If you need the extra cash, make sure the opportunities are clearly stated in the contract.
#5 – Accommodation
Nothing douses that life abroad buzz faster than substandard accommodation. Don’t be overly picky; roughing it is part of the fun. But don’t be afraid to press for details. Is the accomodation private or shared? Are all utilities paid? Ask to see pictures. Get a current teacher’s opinion. If you are unhappy and your employer promises changes, make sure to get those promises in writing.
#6 – Flights
If flight payment or reimbursal is included in your contract be sure to consider the what-ifs. How and when will you be reimbursed? Are any incidentals covered; taxi fares, hotel rooms, meals in transit?
#7 – Healthcare
Basic healthcare is often provided by overseas employers. If you have special needs be sure to request specifics about your healthcare plan. If healthcare is not provided, inquire about the cost/availability of healthcare for foreign workers.
# 8 – Dependents
TEFL contracts are typically written with the individual in mind. If you are traveling with your spouse or family be sure to clarify what will be provided/covered in terms of accommodation, flights and healthcare. And of course put any changes in writing.
#9 – Contract Length and Termination Procedures
You will love your job teaching English abroad. And your job will love you. But make sure your TEFL contract protects you in case things goes south. Is there a dismissal procedure in place–a system of write ups and warnings? If you choose to break your contract, what, if any, financial risks would you be taking? Most TEFL contracts are for one year. If the contract is for longer be especially vigilant. For instance, make sure the contract stipulates that any increase in teaching hours will be matched by an increase in salary.
#10 – Keep in Touch
TEFL employers take a huge risk every time they hire a new teacher. Asking someone to uproot their lives and move to a foreign country is a lot to ask. For you, the move might be pure excitement, no turning back, no way! But people get cold feet all the time. TEFL employers are left scrambling all the time. Put your new employer at ease by staying in touch. Once a month send them a quick email. With the possible exception of universities and fancy international schools the TEFL industry is pretty informal. Keep your correspondence short but fun. Be yourself.
Did you follow all ten steps? Does your contract pass the TEFL Institute of Ireland test?
Sign! And congratulations!