Adam Simpson is back with his series on issues and experiences for the post-CELTA teacher…
Welcome back to the fourth installment of my series of posts looking at your early career as a language teacher and how to make the most of this time. I’ll continue where I left off in the first three posts by examining common problems for newly qualified language teachers.
In my previous posts, I’ve looked at dealing with time constraints, how to find professional development opportunities, and how to approach lesson planning. Today, I’m moving on to the subject of job finding; I’ll specifically look at how to make sure your first teaching experience isn’t a bad one.
At the start of my career, to be totally honest, I got lucky. Basically, I received two job offers within hours of having finished the CELTA course. So, it was a tossup between two very different jobs. The first position was in a university preparatory program; the salary was good, but it meant I would get have to get up at 6:00 AM every morning. The second job was with a language school; the hours were more flexible and better suited my habit for lying in in the morning. Also, it seemed quite relaxed and teaching looked like it occurred in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
So, which did I choose? Let’s just say, I was lucky to choose the former and reject the latter. I subsequently worked with people who had worked in said language school; their horror stories made me realize just how fortunate I had been. With this in mind, in today’s post I’m going to try to give you the benefit of my experience in how to spot the telltale signs of an employer you don’t want to work for.
Take time to make sure you have found the right job to begin your career with!
- Do your research
Back when I got my first job, there was no such thing as social media. There was, however, the Internet and someone had taken the time to set up as a website describing the conditions at the language school I nearly worked at (sadly, the website no longer exists). The quick bit of research I did proved invaluable. Back in the early years of the 21st century we saw the emergence of web sites such as Dave’s ESL Cafe (warning: approach with extreme caution!) and it became possible to discuss potential employers with other teachers.
Nowadays, it’s much easier to find out about language schools and the like, and I can’t overstate the value of doing so. My advice would be to start doing this even before you’ve contacted the employer to set up an interview. If you then have a successful interview and are offered a job, inform your potential employee that you’re going to ask around to get more information. Try not to sound threatening when you do this, rather do so in a way that suggests you want to work for this person and that knowing more about the school will benefit both parties. If this meets with anger or resistance, I’d say that’s a sign that there’s something wrong, or that you’ll find out something that they don’t want you to know.
- A job offered too quickly is a very bad thing
OK, let’s face it, you’ve just passed the CELTA and you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Honestly, what kind of employer wouldn’t want you on their team? Now seems like a very good time to congratulate you on all of your hard work: the CELTA was one of the toughest months of my life, so I really do appreciate how hard you’ve worked in finishing this course successfully. Nevertheless, be wary of any job offer that is made too quickly.
At the end of any interview, think to yourself, ‘Would I employ me based on the interview I have just had?’ Sadly, a major criterion for employing you may be your passport, rather than your potential to be a good teacher. Other overly important criteria might be your western sounding name and even the color of your skin. Scenarios such as ‘I see you’ve just finish a CELTA, can you teach a class starting an hour from now?’ ought to be avoided at all costs. A basic rule of thumb is this: if you got the job much too easily, it almost certainly isn’t worth having.
- The bigger the organization, the better the job
OK, this is an extreme generalization, but one still worth considering when looking for your first job. This comes down to the economic principle of supply and demand. The fact is, there are hundreds of millions of people wanting to learn English around the world, and a lot of really dodgy business people who have caught on to this fact. The quickest way to make a lot of money is just stick someone who looks the part in front of a group of eager learners, regardless of their ability to teach. Sadly, this tends to be the case more often in than not in the smaller, independent language schools where it’s easiest to land your first job.
A general rule of thumb here, therefore, is to avoid such schools and go for bigger chains when starting out. Such jobs will be harder to get, but if you are accepted then the chances are that the job will be worth having and will be much more rewarding.
- Check your contract rigorously
The first contracts I was asked to sign were only written in Turkish. What’s more, the law of the land stated that any contract written in English would not be upheld in a Turkish Court of law and was therefore not worth the paper it was printed on! Nevertheless, I took the time to have the details explained to me by someone I trusted. As with the other points and making today, I can’t stress the importance of this enough.
If you notice anything that seems unreasonable, take the time to discuss this with your potential employer. Also, beware of signing anything that is extremely vague, as such vagueness can and will be exploited. The most common problems you’ll face and which you should look out for are the number of hours you will be expected to teach and the times you’ll be expected to teach them. If in doubt, ask for clarification and don’t sign until you get it.
- If possible, work with a recruiter
Working with a recruiter is not always the best option, and there are downsides to finding a job in this way, but they will offer something of a safety net when you’re starting out. An important point to remember is that a recruiter is also working for a business that has a reputation to consider. If they deal with unscrupulous schools, this will inevitably come back to bite them at a later date. Another point to think about is that in many situations there is a probation period for new teachers, which basically means that the recruiter doesn’t get paid until a few months after the teacher has started work. If things go bad, that recruiter loses out.
My advice would definitely be to consider finding a job through a recruiter at the start of your career. If you get a job in this way, do what you can to cultivate this relationship. As I said, it doesn’t look good for them if they set you up with a terrible job, but they can also help you find an alternative place of employment if things go wrong for other reasons.
Do you have anything to add?
These are the five basic steps I suggest you all take when looking for your first job. If anyone out there has any other advice or disagrees with what I’ve said, please leave a comment below and we’ll add it to the post.