As an experienced teacher who has worked in Africa, Central America and Europe, I can tell you that scams are much less common than you might fear, but it’s always a good idea to do your homework. To help you vet potential employers abroad before you sign on the dotted line, I offer the following 5 tips:
1. Check out the school’s website. This is not a fail-proof way to vet a school, of course, since even a fraudulent school can create a website; however, it’s a good first step. You can check for an actual physical address and specific contact info for the school. Test these– there should always be someone you can reach! Also see if the site has been updated recently and if you can you read about the school staff and actually contact them through the site. This is a also where you can link to the school’s Facebook page, or look for professional affiliations or endorsements you can follow up on.
2. Ask for references. A reputable school will be able to provide you with the names of both past and present teachers you can email or call. You can also ask to be connected with students or perhaps corporate clients who take English classes at the school, for another perspective.
3. Google the school or check a teacher forum, such as the one on Dave’s ESL Cafe. Teaching jobs can be just like any other “product” these days– people are happy to give online feedback and reviews of their experiences. An Internet search can pull up blog posts, personal reviews, news articles or complaints filed against a prospective school.
4. Ask the school about the curriculum they use and about details like discipline policies, or how they assess/place students in different class levels. These are great questions to ask during the interview, but they are also good ways to vet a school at any point before you go abroad. An established school will have a structured curriculum, and will probably use a textbook you can preview online, if you aren’t already familiar with it. Quality schools have assessment measures in place for both in-taking new students and evaluating students’ progress. Don’t be afraid to “interview” the school!
5. Trust your gut. Does the job seem too good to be true? It probably is. Keep researching jobs in the same city on sites like www.tefl.com or www.eslbase.com. How do the salary and benefits offered by this school compare to other, similar jobs in the area? If you notice a drastic difference in what your job offers compared to the others, the job may not be what it seems.
My final advice? Cross check a school using several of these resources, rather than just one, and if you run into one bad blog post about an overall well-reviewed school, take it with a grain of salt. Remember to go abroad with an open mind… but also take a return ticket and a bit of savings and you’ll be ready for anything!
This original post was fact checked, updated, and republished in 2017.