Simple English ~ Nicola Prentis

Thoughts on ELT, English and whatever else comes into my head

Is your new school crap?

It’s the first full week of October and EFL teachers going back after the summer are a few days to a couple of weeks into their new jobs. And, based on my personal experience and anecdotes heard as opposed to actual stats, I’d say the chances are high that you’re in some cowboy institution at worst, or, at best, a regular private language school that’s going to underpay and overwork you.

How to know if that slight sick feeling you have when you enter the building is a sign you should quit right now or not?

Some signs things are very far from acceptable:

  • You have a split shift timetable with gaps between classes that aren’t long enough to go home, meaning a ten hour day, or more, from beginning to end. This is bullsh*t.


  • You are not paid for your travel time for off-site classes. This is the kind of bullsh*t that makes the above bullsh*t even sh*ttier.


  • There is no photocopier placed for easy access to teachers. There might not even be a teacher’s prep room, nor resources. Or, if there are resources, they’re locked away in the DoS’s office. There is one computer, if you’re lucky, with maybe, if you’re even luckier, a printer. Yes, thanks to bullsh*t #1, you’re going to be in that damn building long enough that maybe you’re grateful for the fact lesson planning is going to take way longer than it should, but it’s still bullsh*t. A school that cares that lessons are properly prepared will provide the means to do so, and they should pay you for that time. If they don’t, the message is clear. No planning required.


  • Cancelled classes are your tough luck. Cancellation policies, supposedly fair ones, mean the teacher is paid if the lesson is cancelled with under 24 hours notice. But, I think, that’s bullsh*t too. If a student has booked your time and then regularly cancels with notice, you have a block on your ability to earn during those timetabled hours. I had a Monday/Wednesday morning student once who attended 3, maybe 4, lessons in three months. None of her cancellations were late enough to do me any financial good. Why did that become my problem? The school offers students this kind of deal as an incentive to land the customer. So it benefits them, not you. Insist that the school gives you an alternative way to make the money.


  • CPD, admin meetings, report writing, parents evenings are all expected to be carried out in your free time for no extra pay. I’ll maybe be more lenient with the CPD since you could argue that you are getting training for free but, if a school cares that you improve at the job they presumably care you do well at, it should be recognised with money. After all, they are advertising their classes off the back of the quality of teachers they employ so money is flowing into their coffers from you being good at your job. As for those other things, please, they’re a complete waste of your time, the least they can do is pay you for them.


  • Your pay is so low, a 16 year old school leaver with limited qualifications will be earning more than you in a couple of years. This is the pitiful, bullsh*t truth in lots of countries, Spain and Italy are particularly bad I have found, and that might be OK if you’re just in TEFL for a year or two because you want to travel but it is NOT OK if this is your career. To take Spain as an example because it’s my most recent experience, I earned double my in-school rate per hour by taking private students. That’s been the case anywhere I have opted out of the schools.

So, if you have noted any of the above in your orientation week, or first days on the job, get out. If you’ve only ever worked for sh*t schools (and such is the state of TEFL, a run of them is perfectly possible) or if this is your first job in TEFL you might not realise how bad these omens are. Yes, tethering yourself to a school means, depending on size, a social life built in and maybe CPD. But in most places other teachers are easy to find if you want to look for them and there are plenty of webinars, blogs and resources for elf-development online. Plus, you’ll probably be earning more so you can afford to go to local ELT conferences.

I say all this having left schools in Istanbul, Qatar and Valencia for many of the above reasons, and having wished I’d left a few more during my 10+ years of teaching EFL in private language schools. The solution, if you’re wavering over the seeming solidity of an employment contract, is to go freelance and find your own students. They’ll soon find you too. Or take it one step further and teach online.

That way the only person who can screw you over by making you travel too far, unpaid, or scalp you at paycheck time or give you a timetable full of students who cancel with no fair policy is you.


3 comments on “Is your new school crap?

  1. teachingbattleground
    October 15, 2015

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  2. BerLingo
    October 29, 2015

    This post is a little closer to home than I was expecting…
    All very common in Berlin, too – a highly competitive market!

    • Nicola
      October 29, 2015

      I’m afraid think a lot of teachers will find this sounds all too familiar. The “norm” is only this way because the schools have been allowed to get away with it and there is too much turnover of teachers to maintain some kind of quality compliance body.

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This entry was posted on October 5, 2015 by in ELT, Teaching English and tagged , .
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