Checking your Potential TEFL Employer’s Reputation

How do I check the reputation of a TEFL school employer?

This post is for Tricia – who asked the question in the “Request a Topic” section – I hope it helps answer her questions.

It’s important to check the reputation of your employer. You can ask directly on the Internet’s discussion boards, but there are at least two problems with that approach. First is that people with bad experiences tend to dominate the discussion boards.

Good for them, they want to warn you off of something that didn’t work for them. But there is an imbalance on the discussion forums – the happy people are out living their lives and enjoying themselves. The unhappy people are busy trying to burn a former employer.

This is not to say that there are not employers who should be “burned” – but understand the imbalance and what is going on with discussion boards.

Second, the Internet’s forums can’t know every school in the world.

So, bottom line, your best bet is to talk to the other foreign teachers at the school where you intend to work.

Ask! Be sure to ask more than one teacher at that school. Be aware that everyone has a different and very personal experience abroad and while one person loves the job and employer, others may not. Ask more than one person. Ask specifically what they like or don’t like about the employer. Interpret what they say as to what might bother – or not bother – you.

Wages and Salary: Some employers, in some countries, are well known for not paying on time, or paying less than was originally agreed to. Be sure to check this issue with the current employees. A very good friend of mine once worked for a school with these problems, but stayed for several years knowing – from talking to others and over time seeing it – that the employer always made good on amounts owing – at the end of the contract.

Problem? Yes, but she loved the job and the students, so she tolerated it knowing the money due was coming. And she was paid in full at the end of her employment there. It worked out just fine. And she saved an additional bundle courtesy of the employer holding back some of the funds.

Is a contract worth the paper it is written on?

In some parts of the world, particularly Asia, contracts are looked at as “flexible” instruments – quite a different understanding from how we view them in the West. Once again, ask the current employees if the contract is followed – and if not, why and how it is violated.

These issues should not always be the kiss of death for a potential job. Some small issues are not so important in the big picture if you really like a job, its location and what you will be doing and are getting paid.

TED’s Tips™ #1: My personal opinion is that too many people worry too much about “scams” and being hustled.

Yes, there are problems out here, but worrying about a “boogie man” behind every tree isn’t the solution either. People who worry too much, who are too suspicious NEVER leave home, never leave the confines of their safe, soft and boring worlds to get out and experience the bigger world out here.

I sometimes think that people who are overly concerned are really just looking for a reason to NOT go. That’s okay, they probably shouldn’t go as the real world out here is not the safe, cuddly and nurturing world they are looking for. It is a fantastic place – but by no means perfect.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Risk = Reward

Yeah, all this requires a leap of faith and much of your NEW experience will require that you kind of hold your breath and just hope it works out. And – 98% of the time it will. I can’t tell you the number of times I have signed blank contracts, forms written in a language I could not yet understand, even contracts that were different from my original one to “keep the authorities happy”.

I am NOT suggesting just signing anything that comes your way – I am suggesting that things often take a direction that we from the Western world are not familiar with and becoming outraged or going ballistic, leads to nowhere. Yes, you might end up at home and safe – but is that what you really wanted?

Know that probably 95% of schools pay on time, treat their employees fairly and follow the contracts that they have signed. You just don’t hear about them. Their happy employees are out enjoying their new world.

Author: Ted

Semi-retired EFL teacher/teacher-trainer working and living abroad since 1989 in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

4 thoughts on “Checking your Potential TEFL Employer’s Reputation”

  1. Thanks for all the valuable information, Ted. My question – what (should/could/would) be the salary range or average for Korean TEFL with only an undergraduate degree?

  2. Hello Pakelika,
    Probably about 2-2.4 million won. Not a huge amount of money, but when you realize that you have free housing, reimbursed airfare, bonuses, etc – you can probably save about US$1000 per month without even trying. Think about getting a TEFL Certification – even if only online at – with the big unemployment problems in the UK and USA – there is much more competition for jobs these days. A TEFL Cert of any kind at least says, “I am interested and want to do a good job.”
    Korea is where I go when I want to rebuild my savings account.

  3. I currently have an offer from a school in South Korea. I have spoken with one of the current teachers there via e-mail. However, when I inquired to my recruiter for a couple more names/e-mails I was informed that it would be “difficult to ask for more e-mail references since the teachers are busy & hesitate to reply”. In your opinion, should I still consider the school’s job offer? Thanks!

  4. Hello Beck,
    I don’t know that hesitating to offer more than one contact should be the kiss of death for an employer. Realize that of the people who are offered a position, perhaps only 50-60% accept the position and ever fewer actually show up for the job. Employers are essentially asking a favor of their employees – asking them to volunteer – to spend their time responding to (often quite vague and unfocused and even silly) questions from potential employees – many of whom will never actually arrive on the job. Some of the most common questions that are asked – for example – are similar to these: What is Korea like? What is teaching like? Both of which would take a book to respond to and often the person who asked those questions never even bothers to send a “Thank you” to the teacher who wrote them a response. So . . . while only one contact might seem like not enough, do the best you can with that one and read between the lines a bit. But – overall – realize that working and living abroad are highly personal things. What you like, I might hate and vice versa. I’ve had employers that I quite liked that my wife didn’t like. Yours is an excellent question and I think I will make a future post about contacts and how to deal most effectively with them.
    Thanks for the idea!

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