You’ve probably heard some TEFL horror stories that are enough to put any newbie teacher off their career for life. Unscrupulous schools holding onto their teacher’s passports so that they can’t leave their employment, dodgy establishments providing incorrect visas so that foreigners get booted out of the country, schools that change your working schedule without notice and making you work unpaid overtime… it can sound like a minefield, but these terrible experiences that some teachers have been through really are in the minority. Most TEFL teaching jobs are above-board, offering TEFL newbies a great opportunity to live and work abroad. However, these TEFL sharks do exist. If you’re starting out looking for a teaching job abroad, find out more about how to stay safe and avoid scams in the TEFL world.
Red Flag Warning Signs
There are some warning signs that will send up a red flag straight away. If any of the following points apply to a job you’re interested in, walk away. Quickly. It’s not worth getting tangled up in a corrupt company – a better job will always come along.
No website. If a TEFL school in the year 2020 doesn’t have a website, it’s sure to be a scam. There’s no way that a respectable school would be able to attract either students or teachers without having some sort of online presence. If there’s no link provided in the job advert and no information you can find online, they basically don’t exist.
No reputation. So maybe the school has a website with information about it, but you can’t find anything about the teaching experience of working there. Again, this isn’t something you should buy into. People talk – previous teachers will have posted online (be it on forums, social media, review websites or personal blogs) about their experience. Some websites even feature reviews and comments from past teachers. If you can’t find any, it’s a bad sign.
Bad reviews. It’s true that negative reports are always shouted louder than positive ones, and sometimes one disgruntled teacher’s experience should be taken with a pinch of salt. However, if you are constantly finding negative reviews, they’re probably on to something.
Money. No school has any reason to ask you for money. They might say you need to pay for the visa or plane flights, but this will either be paid for by yourself directly or organised once you’re in country. If an interview ends with a request for funds through Western Union or similar, terminate the conversation.
No interview required. Instantly hired? It sounds like a bonus, but it’s not. No school will hire you without an interview, so if you’re offered a job without so much as a phone call, don’t take it.
Contract differences. Let’s say you had a successful interview and have been sent a contract for a job you want to take. However, the terms you agreed to are different to the terms in the contract. They might have sneakily included extra work you have to do as part of the role or a salary less than you were expecting. Don’t put up with it – once you’ve signed it, you’ve agreed to it. Ask them to clarify and if you’re not happy, leave it.
Contacting previous staff. If a school won’t let you contact a teacher who is currently or previously was working for them, it will set the alarm bells ringing. Schools should be happy for new staff to learn what their experience will be like from current teaching staff. If they won’t give you an email address to contact a teacher, ask them why and decide how you feel about their reason.
Your own red lines. We all have things that we just won’t do. Some teachers just want to work with kids and shouldn’t be bullied into contracts where they’ll be teaching adults, too. My own red line is that I refuse to sing in an interview, even if I’m expected to sing to the students in class – there’s no need to demonstrate this to potential employees, and if they ask me to do it, I turn down the job instantly. Whatever your red lines are, stick to them. If they bend them at the interview stage it will only get worse once you’re employed.
Reasons to be Cautious
While some factors will be an instant no-no, there are also things you should bear in mind when interviewing for a potential job. It mightn’t mean that the job is a scam, but you should be cautious all the same.
- If a job seems too good to be true (paying more than industry standards for that country), it probably is too good to be true!
- If you have a pushy interviewer who makes you feel weird or uncomfortable, it’s not a good sign.
- If the job standards don’t meet country standards, something’s wrong. For example, if the country requires all teachers to have a degree but is school is happy to hire you when you don’t have one, this isn’t a positive factor.
- If visa regulations don’t add up, be wary. For example, if you know visas for that country are issued prior to departure but your school says you get it on arrival.
- If you don’t have a TEFL qualification or any experience and the school offers no in-house training… alarm bells.
- If they have a poor website, outdated information and stock photos, what does it tell you about the company?
- If they make unusual requests in an interview that make you feel uncomfortable, don’t go along with it.
- If there is terrible English on their advert or website, or the interviewer can barely communicate with you, this isn’t a good sign.
- If a job has been recommended to you by a dodgy scout (an agent who you can’t find any info or reviews for) it might be that the school is dodgy, too.
- Don’t just click the link provided in the job advert; do your own internet search to find information about them.
- Compare the job to other jobs in that country. Make sure that they’re offering a similar salary and that working conditions appear to be the same too.
- Have multiple interviews, even if you’re impressed by the first school you speak to. Schools will be keen to get you on board, so speak to at least two or three so that you’ve got something to compare them to.
- Ask to speak to a current or recently left teacher at the school and ask their honest opinion about what working for the school is like.
- Use a reputable jobs search board to find jobs. A jobs board enables you to quickly compare different jobs and it’s much faster to find jobs that way than by looking at school websites one by one. Keep your search broad to begin with and narrow it down later.
- Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t sound right, don’t go for it. There will always be another job – hundreds of jobs are posted online around the world every week.
- Don’t let yourself be bullied into accepting a job quickly – give yourself time to decide and have a look around the market.
- Ask friends for recommendations. Jobs acquired by word of mouth, especially friends who have actually taught there, are the best way to ensure you’re safe from scams.
Want to make sure you’re safe from scams as you go abroad to teach? Follow our guidelines to stay safe from dodgy deals and make sure you choose a great school to work at. If you want to find out more about teaching abroad, click here to learn more. You’ll find out about what the life of a TEFL teacher is like, why you should consider teaching English abroad, what you need to become a TEFL teacher and where in the world has the best opportunities. Good luck on your teaching adventure, and remember to trust your instincts when interviewing for teaching jobs.