Looking back at that interview and others I’ve had over the years, however, I now realize that the interview is not just the school’s chance to learn about you, but your chance to interview them! You don’t want to work for just any school abroad, do you? So just as they are vetting you as a potential teacher, you should also vet the school, too.
Here some questions you can ask to “interview” potential schools. The answers to these questions will tell you how established, organized, and professional the school or English language center where you are applying is.
1. Tell me about your school’s curriculum. What textbook do you use?
I put this question first because I believe it to be the most important. If a language center does not have a structured curriculum for you to follow in class, or an appropriate textbook with varying levels for all students, you will spend hours after class creating English lessons from thin air. Before Morocco, I had this experience as a new teacher at a kindergarten in Central America, where the textbook I was given was not designed for English learners, but for native English speaking kindergarteners. The stress of coming up with fun and level-appropriate lessons every day for a class of high-energy 5 and 6-year-olds was pretty overwhelming!
2. How much autonomy will I have in the classroom?
At some schools or language centers, strict adherence to the curriculum means teachers have little autonomy. Some teachers like this (less work for them!) while other teachers feel it stifles their creativity in class. If this is important to you, ask the school how much teachers are permitted to stray from the book, such as using outside materials, playing educational games, or going to the computer lab to use learning software.
3. What teaching resources are available?
Depending on where you teach, your school may or may not have the types of teaching resources and equipment that are standard back home. Ideally the school should have a library of teaching related books, such as books of EFL games/lesson plans, grammar reference books and books about teaching methodology. It’s also important to know if the school has photocopiers, a computer lab, and if you’ll have access to audiovisual equipment like TVs/DVD players, overhead projectors, or even smartboards.
4. What process do you use to place students in levels?
In K-12 schools, you will simply teach children by grade, but in language centers, where students can adults or children of all levels, students must be evaluated by the center and placed into appropriate classes (such as beginner, intermediate or advanced). Most schools will do this by a combination of a written and verbal evaluation. It’s a red flag if a center does not have an established placement system for students. Lack of a solid placement system also means your classes will be a mix of student levels, making teaching more challenging.
5. How many English teachers are there at the school?
This number will include local teachers and also foreign, native English-speaking teachers like you (from the U.S., England, Australia, etc.). For example, at my first teaching job, I was one of only 2 American teachers at an elementary school; the other 10 or so teachers were Costa Rican. I was really immersed in the culture! At my second job at a language institute, the staff was about equally split, with about 15 local and 15 foreign teachers. With such a large and diverse staff, there was always someone to swap ideas with between classes, or to hang out with outside work. Finding out more about how many teachers you will work with will give you an idea of the amount of professional and social support you can expect.
6. Are there senior staff members/mentors to guide new teachers?
This is a good question for new teachers to ask. You’ll want to have more experienced senior teachers to whom you can go with questions as you get acquainted with the school and students. Most English teaching centers pair new teachers up with a mentor, or provide a “go-to” person, such as a department head or school coordinator, for your day-to-day questions.
7. Are there professional development opportunities?
Most reputable schools and language centers offer chances for teachers to share ideas and learn. This may include workshops on teaching skills like classroom management, using technology or teaching grammar. Ask what some of their recent trainings have focused on.
8. Are there regular staff meetings?
Like professional development, regular staff meetings indicate both a level of professionalism and a good line of communication between administration and teachers.