Most English language schools are okay, some are awesome, and a very rare handful just suck. So what happens if you’ve moved overseas and paid a boatload for a flight and an apartment just to discover that you’re school is a stinker?
I’ve taught at a few schools now, some good, some bad, and some ugly, so here are my insights into the experience of teaching at a “bad” language school, and what you should do about it.
#1 Examine why you hate the school
Pinpoint what sucks about the school? Sometimes it’s obvious, like you’re overworked or not getting paid on time. Maybe your boss is a jerk. Or sometimes it hasn’t got much to do with the school at all, and really your dealing with culture shock. Figuring out why you don’t like you’re new school can be an eye-opener.
For example… when I worked at the public schools in Hanoi (one of my worst English teaching experiences), I was dealing with a combination of being overworked, having little support, not getting along with my TA’s, and going through culture shock all at once. Identifying those problems helped me decide what to do next.
#2 Talk to an administrator or head teacher
Normally at a language school, there are several people above you in the school hierarchy. Pick one of those people and talk to them about your problems. Typically language schools will try to do something to make you happier. They didn’t go through the hiring process or fly you half-way around the world to have you quit on them. They’ll try to make something work.
For example… at the public schools, I talked to the HR manager who was able to switch me to a different school within the same organization. I was on the point of quitting when I talked to him, and I’m glad I did because the change of schools sorted all of my issues.
#3 Is changing your attitude or teaching style a possibility?
Your new school might have some problems that they are unwilling to fix. The school might be stupid for not fixing these problems, but instead of stewing maybe you should consider changing your attitude or teaching style. For example, if the classes at your school are a little wild and crazy, but none of the other teachers or administrators seem to care, maybe you should go with the flow and except a more chaotic classroom than you are used to.
For example… I’m quite a serious, creative, and quite frankly good TEFL teacher, but unfortunately, my newest language school has the horrible and embarrassing attitude that the foreign teacher is a bit of a dancing monkey, there to entertain the kids and not really teach them anything. So even though I’m capable of teaching grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation in fun and engaging ways, I’m not expected to and in fact discouraged to. My job is essentially to look pretty and make the kids laugh. So while I completely disagree with this attitude and it makes me angry to dwell on it, I’m not willing to quit due to outside factors, like the money I paid to get here, etc. So I’ll incorporate what “real learning” I can into the classroom, but I’m going to have to take a relaxed (i.e. lazy) approach to teaching this year in order to survive in the rather crappy environment of the school.
#4 Do you need to talk to the police?
Most language schools try to be (sort of) above board and treat their teachers decently, but occasionally you’ll bump into a school that’s just rotten. If you’re school isn’t paying you, making you work unpaid hours, or blatantly disregarding your contract, then you can get the police involved. Check your contract thoroughly to make sure that what the school is doing is really against your contract, and then inform the school you’ll be contacting the police.
For example… I’ve only worked at schools that let me work temporarily without a permit or paid me in cash when I didn’t have all the legal work completed yet, I’ve never worked for a school that insisted I work on a tourist visa. Note that if you work for a school without the proper permits and visas, then you’ve got no legal recourse for any illegal activity on their end.
#6 How to know when to quit
Only you know when it’s right to quit. Sorry, I know that’s not super helpful, but it’s true. “I-can’t-deal-with-it” thresholds are different from person to person. Some possible reasons for quitting could be classes that are too large or unruly, overly disorganized management, dishonesty on the part of the school, or just a really poor fit with the company. If you’re thinking about quitting, wait at least two weeks to see if you change your mind. Also try talking to an administrator. If you still want to quit, tell your school, and give them time to find a replacement before heading out the door.
For example… I’ve never quit a language job, but I was close while working at the public schools in Hanoi. My biggest reasons for wanting to quit were disorganization, poor support, and overly large, unruly classes. I waited about two weeks before making up my mind, but before I officially quit, I went and talked to HR who were actually able to place me in another school and talk me out of quitting. Don’t quit rashly, but don’t stay in an awful environment either.
#7 Check your contract thoroughly for consequences before quitting.
Look over your contract before you quit. The contract might state the amount of notice that you must give the school. Also, sometimes you will owe the school money for quitting, such as money for your work visa if the school paid. Make sure you have that cash before putting in your notice.
For example… a friend of mine could not quit her awful language school because the school had paid for her flight, her TEFL certificate, and her visa. She didn’t have the money to reimburse the school (which was several thousand dollars) and unfortunately she had to wait out the end of her contract, despite hating it. I know that her solution to this problem was put in less effort at work (#3), which I’m not necessarily advocating, but if a school doesn’t give you the support or the resources to do a good job teaching and doesn’t allow you to quit, then don’t beat yourself up for doing a poor job. Just do the best you can, know that it’s not your fault, and get a better job when you’re contract ends.
#8 The last ditch solution: Should you pull a runner?
A runner is when you leave town overnight and don’t tell the school. This is an awful idea. It screws the school over and if you ever want to come back to the area you’ve run from, you’ll probably find yourself blacklisted. The only scenario I can imagine when a runner would be acceptable would be in a situation where the school was doing something illegal and the police were unwilling to help out.
For example… I’ve known teachers who’ve pulled runners. It put their friends, their coworkers, their landlords, and their bosses into really difficult situations. Only do this if you’ve really got no other choice. It’s a jerk move.
Let me know what you think…
Have you ever quit a language school or have you thought about quitting? What was so bad about the school and what did you do in the end? Do you have any more tips for those thinking about quitting there language schools?