So you just got your TEFL/CELTA/TESOL teaching certificate and are excited that the world is now your oyster when it comes to teaching English? Not so fast! While it is true that there are a ton of schools out there that would love to hire you, schools, especially those in the private sector, are not created equal, and it would be in your best interest to ask your potential employer the following questions if you want to increase your chances of enjoying your time teaching with them.
1) Do the Courses Follow a Syllabus and Textbook?
This is probably the most important question to ask if you are just starting out as an ESL teacher and have not yet created your own treasure trove of materials. If you did the CELTA, as I did, you would recall how time-consuming it was to create a successful 40-minute lesson from scratch, even with supporting materials and the help of your instructors!
Consider that new teachers usually prepare for at least an hour for each hour they teach. Classes in the real world are normally at least 50 minutes and since you would have to go through the lesson planning process for every class you teach, which might be anything from 3 to 5 classes a day, you would be left with little time to do anything else!
However, if the school has a course syllabus in place, a textbook that students have bought/been given and a lesson plan that you must follow, that cuts out the amount of time spent brainstorming lesson ideas! You can then spend your preparation time focusing on understanding the structure of the lesson plan, researching the grammar point that you will be teaching and depending on the school, coming up with extra materials to supplement what is given, which is a far better use of time when you are just starting out.
If you are worried about your creativity being stifled, you can always propose a new course to your boss or talk to them about making changes to the given lesson plan after you have proven yourself.
2) What Kind of Administrative Tasks Will Be Required of Me and Will I Be Paid for Preparation Time?
While the job that you have applied for is titled ESL Instructor or Teacher, in very few schools are teachers able to focus solely on classroom teaching and not required to do anything else. More often than not, your job will include grading students' papers or homework, adding up scores, and entering them into a database of some sort. This can potentially be time-consuming (an extra 2-3 hours a week) and cause resentment if it is not clarified at the beginning, which is why the question of whether you will be paid for prep time is so important.
I have worked for schools where my hourly wage was practically halved because of the large amount of unpaid administrative responsibilities that the school required its teachers to perform, such as cleaning up the classroom after students have left, attending lunch meetings, creating new test papers weekly, and leading students on school-wide activities. There are also schools that require their teachers to hand out fliers on the streets or sell courses to their students during their "break time".
In any case, it is best to ask your potential employer what you will and will not be paid for, so that you can get a better idea of what your hourly wage actually is.
3) How Do You Develop Your Teachers Professionally?
In many other white-collared industries, professional development organized by the company is the standard. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case for the ESL teaching industry, especially in the private sector. Unless you know how you want to develop and proactively ask for opportunities, what you enter the industry with is what you leave with.
One way to develop yourself as a teacher is to attend conferences. If you are aware of conferences for educators in your area, ask your potential employer if they provide sponsorship for such events. You can offer to share what you learn with the other teachers if your employer seems resistant to the idea of sponsoring you.
On a smaller scale, you could ask if your employer allows paid observations, where you can observe how a more experienced teacher runs their class, or even a schedule of class rotation, so that you get exposure to teaching different levels and classes. Teaching the same syllabus repeatedly 12 times in a year can completely destroy the enthusiasm of even the most passionate teacher! Besides, gaining experience in teaching Business English, IELTS/TOEFL Preparation and Academic English courses would give you an edge if you decide to teach somewhere else.
Are these Questions Really Necessary?
All things considered, your first employer will have the most profound effect on your decision to continue in or quit the ESL industry. If you address and resolve potential prickly issues before you get locked into a contract, you will stand a higher chance of actually enjoying your work and happily putting your hard-earned ESL teaching certificate to use!
If you feel that there are any other important questions that a new ESL teacher should ask, please comment below!