TEFL Teaching Contracts

Sign Here, Please: Tips for Understanding your Teaching Contract

[Disclaimer: These are general tips. For more accurate legal advice specific to your situation, consult an attorney.]

It’s the moment you’ve been hoping for. A real job offer for teaching English as a foreign language! From an organization overseas!

Buy the ticket and get on over there, right?

Well, yes, start looking at your flight tickets. But while you do that, also find out about the practicalities of your job. A reputable school or language training institution will be able to offer you a contract before you leave your home country or if you’re already overseas, before you begin teaching.

Contracts around the world are as diverse as the people writing them, but a solid TEFL contract should protect both you and the company you’re going to work for. It should include at least have the following points:

Basic Elements of a TEFL Contract

  • Your salary and overtime allowances, including what currency you’ll be paid in
  • Your expected hours per week or per month
  • Your days off
  • The duration of your obligation, including specific start and end dates
  • Public holidays: are they paid at a different rate if worked?
  • Personal leave and sick days
  • Visa information: will the school provide your visa? Or facilitate it if they don’t do everything?
  •  Additional “perks,” like housing, airfare allowances, local language classes or health insurance
  •  Ways to end the contract and consequences for breaching the contract (for both sides)

Now that I’ve listed all these components of a good contract, I’m going to tell you something that might seem contradictory at first: Yes, you should have a contract. But, it’s not always the most important thing.

 Other Cultures May See Contracts as Guidelines, not Commandments

In the West, we say “someone is as good as his word,” meaning that if you promise one thing but deliver another you’re a no-good, rotten scoundrel who deserves to be flayed by Komodo dragons and forced to watch others eating ice cream while he only gets lukewarm tapioca pudding. But in other cultures, a contract is sometimes seen as a set of guidelines rather than the rules of the game. So, you may find that your actual working conditions are not the same as what is promised in the contract when you arrive. Should you be upset about this? That depends on the situation and if the variances between the contract and reality have any true impact on your quality of life and enjoyment of your new job. If you’re promised one salary and given a different one, then you probably have a right to be upset—unless, of course, they’ve decided to pay you more.

So, I’ve heard new TEFL teachers moan, why do schools even bother giving a contract if they’re going to change everything around?  Because most countries require a signed contract before giving foreigners (that’s you) a working visa. Some schools do it because they think they should. Some do it for no reason I can think of.

Other Items You May Have to Sign

That caveat explained, here are some other points you may expect to find in your employment paperwork with a new school. They may or may not be listed in the contract itself—sometimes they’re folded into appendices or other agreements that you’ll have to sign.

  • Non-compete agreements. These might state that you can’t work for other schools during your contract, or that you may not share out lesson plans or other branded institution materials.
  • Paydays. The when and how of your payment. Will they open a bank account in your name? Will you end up with bricks of cash every month?
  • Withholding salary. It’s not uncommon for schools to withhold some of your first salary until you have passed a trial period. If you’re worried about what this will do to your financial stability when you arrive in-country, try to negotiate.
  • Expectations. This is a very general category, but some schools and training centers have quite specific things they expect from their teachers (like how many minutes before class you should arrive) and they will list them here.
  • Code of Conduct (including dress code if any).
  • Required training. If the school is requiring you to do extra training (and its usually a good idea), will they pay you for it?

TED’s Tips™ #1:  Go over your contract carefully, but also understand that some cultures regard contracts differently than we do in the West. Just because something is or isn’t in your contract may not mean that its set in stone.

TED’s Tips™ #2:  Use your intuition when dealing with your new employer and don’t forget to research any employer online and by contacting current or previous staff members before accepting a job.

Teaching Internships in China


TEFL Coworkers: Can’t we all just get along?

Peace and Harmony in the Staff Room  —  Tips for Getting Along Well with Your TEFL Co-Workers

When new teachers of English as a Foreign Language set out for their first jobs, they’re thinking about the students they’ll teach, the new country they’ll experience and the practicalities of living abroad. But they may not consider something else that can play a large role in settling in to a teacher’s life abroad—the rest of the staff at their new school.

Your co-workers can be a delight or a horror to work with in your first TEFL job, but whether you think they sing angel’s choirs or breathe brimstone is largely up to you. Read on for some tips on how you can get along well with your new colleagues.

Have other interests

If this is your first TEFL job, and the first time you’ve lived overseas, it can be a little bit overwhelming. Well, actually, it can be a LOT overwhelming. (Read my blogs on culture shock for more about this.) New teachers may latch on to their coworkers because, as English speakers, they represent something familiar and comfortable. While the majority of EFL teachers you’ll run across are more than willing to help you get situated in your new town and with your new job, try not to wear out your welcome. Be proactive and foster interests other than calling up your new workmates for a beer after work…and on the weekend… and….  This is a prime time for you to explore your new town and the culture of the country you’re working in.

Realize that You’re New At This

Teachers fresh from a TEFL certification course are buoyed up by all that great stuff they’ve just learned. They’re gonna be the best teacher, ever! And, they’re gonna tell everyone all about it. You will be a great teacher, after some experience, but don’t forget that the teachers you now work with have been doing it longer. Some of us, quite a bit longer. Listen and learn, young padawan. There’s no quicker way to annoy your new colleagues than to spout off about stuff they already know.

Help each other

Ideally, every time you and your co-workers start a lesson, you’ll have everything planned out, you’ll be early to class, and your students will all be alert and ready to learn. Unfortunately, reality gets in the way of perfection more often than we’d like. A happy teaching staff is one that lends a hand in times of need. If you can see a way to help a fellow teacher—they’re running late to class while you’re on break and they need some photocopies done, stat—offer your assistance. Don’t become a doormat for the rest of the gang who’s been there longer, but foster a helpful work dynamic. It’s much more pleasant to work in a helpful atmosphere.

Be Professional

If you’re lucky enough to be entering a school that already has a helpful environment, don’t abuse it by being a jerk. Come to class on time. Prepare your lessons in advance. Be respectful of other teachers’ time and expertise. In short, be professional.

Keep Perspective

Some people say that after you’ve been doing a job for a long time, you can get in a rut. Well, foreign teachers at language schools or training centers can get in ruts, but they often get in “bubbles” too. That’s when they feel like the school, and the small community of other foreigners working there, are the entire world. Thus, perceived injustices take on a greater magnitude, and small urgencies become thrilling dramas. Keep perspective. Your co-workers, whether you think they’re great people or not, shouldn’t color your whole experience of where you work and your career as a teacher.

TED’s Tips™ #1: (Culture)Shock-proof yourself. Realize that the first few months you work in a culture not your own will be challenging. Don’t take this out on your colleagues, but don’t fling yourself on them as if they were life rafts, either.

TED’s Tips™ #2: Be professional. Always. In any profession.

Teaching Internships in China