Once you’ve chosen the country where you want to teach abroad, the next big step is finding the right school. It’s common to think that this will be an easy step, after all, English teachers are in demand more than ever before; but, while it is quite true, it doesn’t mean that finding the right school or teaching abroad program is going to be a cakewalk. So remember to ask the following important questions during your interview:
1. Will I have a contract or be freelance?
There is a major difference between the latter two arrangements, and both offer pros and cons. To review, a contract is essentially a guarantee of a certain number of hours each week or month with a corresponding stipend or other benefit agreement. The advantages of this are obvious, you’ll always know the number of hours you’ll be working and can budget accordingly. On the other hand, being freelance or part time means you might work five hours one week and 20 the next, oftentimes with little advance notice. You can imagine how an irregular work schedule can make arranging your social life, supplemental jobs, or even spending habits a bit more difficult while teaching overseas.
2. Will I have set hours?
This is a relevant question to ask if your school is providing you with a contract. It’s important to remember that a job which guarantees you a 20 hour work week does not necessarily mean that you’ll be working the SAME hours every week or every day for that matter. Case in point, one week you’re scheduled to work from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, but the next week your school switches you to morning hours and throws in a Saturday instead. You can imagine how annoying that could get. Worst case scenario, your school may tell you that they can only guarantee a certain number of hours over the whole semester (and maybe in order to meet the agreed hours you will be required to work at their summer camp...Ouch).
3. Will I be teaching adults or young learners (i.e. children)?
HUGE difference. Some teachers flourish with children and feel right at home doing crafts and interactive activities, and others absolutely do not. Chances are, you already know if you’re a “kid person” or not, but clarifying this with your potential employer upfront will ensure that there are no misunderstandings down the road. Many schools, especially in Asia, require that you teach children, so you’re country of choice may play a role in the age group you teach. If teaching five year olds isn’t your cup of tea, committing to a weekly kindergarten class for the next 12 months might not be the best idea. Remember, adult learners are generally (though not always) more motivated to learn than children, but children are typically more fun to teach, if you are into it. Wherever you go, it is crucial that you feel comfortable in your classroom environment.
4. What is the average class size?
Ask any teacher. The number of students in the class can make all the difference. Obviously, a private lesson between you and one, or maybe two, students is going to need to be prepared for differently than a class with 30 hyperactive kids. Very differently. Knowing the average number of students who will be attending your classes, in advance, will help you plan, adjust, and get a better idea of what challenges to prepare yourself for.
5. How much will I make?
It’s amazing how many interviewees shy away from asking this question, usually because they’re afraid it will make it seem like they don’t care about teaching or care only about the money. Wake up call! If this is what a potential employer thinks when you ask them this question, and makes it seem like the issue of payment is secondary, then it is a major red flag.
The more satisfied you are with your pay, the happier and more content you are likely to be with your job, whether you are teaching or working in any other position. An employer that doesn’t recognize this important part of employment, is one who is looking to cut corners and get a high-quality product (in this case, YOU) for too cheap. Asking this question doesn’t just allow you to consider whether you’ll be able to make ends meet, it allows you to see how much a potential employer values your employment at their school.
There are other things to consider within this question, taxes. If a potential employer offers you 15 euros an hour, find out if it will be 15 euros net (total after tax) or the total before taxes are deducted. Remember, taxes can be as much as one third of your total salary, in some cases even more, so establishing your actual take home pay is imperative.
6. Will I be required to do any additional work other than teaching?
This can consist of student write-ups, formal midterm and final examinations, parent-teacher conferences, events, and school logged lesson planning. If a school tells you that you will work 30 hours a week, find out how many of those hours are “teaching” and how many are “planning” or some other teaching-related task. Many Chinese schools, for example, require teachers to be at work as much as 40 hours a week, of which only about half is spent teaching. The other 20 hours could consist of making phone calls, interviewing potential teachers (this is especially a common task in Asia), and doing other various activities. Some teachers may feel 40 hours a week is an eternity in the classroom, but keep in mind these hours may be spent carrying out a number of other related tasks as well.
7. What about discipline policies?
Since most schools don’t have a discipline policy concerning adult or older learners (let’s hope you wouldn’t need one), this questions is only relevant if you’re going to be teaching children. Knowing what to do when Tommy punches the girl sitting next to him is important in establishing your control of the classroom as well as your behavioral expectations. In the 21st century, it is universally known that you can’t physically discipline students (thankfully), so what are the appropriate procedures for you to abide by? Time outs? Calling the parents? It’s important for you to know what the culture and school expects of you. Establishing a reward system (stickers, etc) is helpful in discouraging bad behavior, but in certain cases discipline will be required, so get information about the policy sooner rather than later.
8. Will I be expected to teach outside the classroom?
The perfect follow up question to the latter inquiry, many schools send their teachers to students’ homes to provide individualized lessons. It is important for you to establish whether or not your school will require you to do so, so you can plan and prepare accordingly. If your school will expect you to do “house calls” make sure you consider the additional costs and personal requirements of doing so (i.e. is travel time/public transportation costs reimbursed? Is the pay rate higher?).
Final Interview Tips
Asking these eight questions might not give you all the information you want to know, but these questions will give you some of the most practical information about your potential position. You should of course include other questions you have in the interview process too; there’s never a better time to ask questions than during an interview.
It is important to review the school’s website thoroughly before the interview so you know what questions are left unanswered. Also, if a potential employer can tell that you know basic information about the school they will know that you have done your homework and are more serious about the position.
Naturally, you won’t be the only one asking questions; your responses to questions will be just as important for a potential employer as their answers are for you. Think through each response and answer with confidence.
Finally, be honest and let your passion for teaching shine during your interview, allow your potential employer to get to know you and see why you are the perfect candidate for their position.