Teachers who are looking to move their teaching career overseas have two options, teach at an international school or teach at a private language school. I’ve done both and I think that teaching at an international school is the best option. I’d like to share 5 reasons why I think this is true.
Reason #1 – disposable income
When I taught at private language schools, it was a luxury to buy paperbacks, and to have my legs waxed. I had to think about where I was spending my salary because I simply didn’t have enough money to spend on non-essential items. Not if I wanted to go on any vacations or have any time off over the summer.
Now that I teach at an international school, I am able to spend my teaching salary as I choose, and still have money left at the end of the month to save. I’m not talking about saving for the summer holidays, or for a rainy day. I can save money just to have it in the bank. I’m now able to save towards a deposit on a house, and contribute to a pension scheme.
Reason #2 – regular paid vacations
When you are an EFL teacher, you will usually sign a contract for an academic year (9 months) or a calendar year. Generally your contract will include a few weeks holiday, but you will be expected to work a larger proportion of your contract’s length than if you were teaching at an international school.
At an international school, your teaching contract will be signed for a period of 12 months. Of which you will be expected to teach around 200 days. The rest of the year the school will be closed and you will be able to go on vacations.
I spent 4 years working in the TEFL sector of the teaching profession, and I worked each summer teaching residential summer school courses. Since I’ve been teaching at international schools, I have been able to take each summer off and travel. I also travel during the school year as there is only two months in the year when I do not get at least a three day weekend.
Reason #3 – normal teaching contact hours
Private language schools that specialise in TEFL are ‘cram schools’. The students mostly attend their English lessons around their other school or job commitments. This means that your working hours will be crazy. At my first language school my working day was any hours I was given between 10am and 10pm. I was lucky because the manager of the branch at which I taught was very considerate of her teachers. Not all the EFL teachers working for the same company were so well treated.
At another school I taught at, each week I had days when I worked a split shift. I would be teaching my first lesson at half past seven in the morning, have a few hours off in the middle of the day, then I would have to be back at work and teaching for another 4-5 hours in the evening and finish the day at 9:30pm.
International schools operate regular school hours. If you are teaching at a school that starts early in the morning, then you will be done with your working day in the early afternoon.
Reason #4 – planning time is ‘included’
TEFL teachers are employed for contact hours. This is the time you spend in front of students. However, lessons don’t just appear out of thin air, teachers need to prepare their lessons and organise resources. When you first start out teaching EFL you may spend as much time preparing for a lesson as you actually do teaching it. I remember when I began, this was the case on a good day, sometimes I’d spend a lot more time agonising over what I was going to do in the lesson than I actually spent in the classroom with my students. Of course, this is not true now, when I am teaching in a well resourced language school, I am able to plan a lesson much more quickly than when I started out.
One thing that TEFL teachers need to know is that while your contract says you must teach 20-35 hours a week, in reality this will mean they are working (between lesson preparation, teaching and marking) 50+ hours a week. And the pay for all your extra time spent planning the lessons is ‘included’ in your hourly teaching rate. I can tell you, teachers become very efficient in planning their lessons quickly!
Teachers working overseas in international schools are employed as full-time teachers who teach a required number of contact hours. But overseas teachers are employed for the whole teaching day, and so their planning time is included in their salaries. I’ve taught in regular high schools in addition to international schools, and I have considerably more non-contact time in which to prepare my lessons when I teach abroad at international schools than when I’ve taught locally at state schools.
Reason #5 – professional development opportunities
I have a number of qualifications in EFL teaching. I have two Cambridge certificates and a Diploma in Second Language Teaching as well. I paid for all of the courses out of my teaching salary, when I didn’t have a lot to spare. I sought professional development opportunities to make me a better teacher, and the schools I’ve worked for have directly benefited from my efforts. But not one of the private language schools I’ve taught for in the past have ever helped me pay for my professional development.
Most international schools have a pool of money set aside for the professional development of their teaching staff. At my current school, there is a budget set per teacher annually. I went to a summit in Singapore this year, funded by the school. I’ve used a number of the techniques I learnt at the summit in my classes since I’ve been back.
I’ve taught overseas at both international schools and private language schools since I began my international teaching career, and I am happier and feel more valued now that I am teaching in an international school.
I found that many private language schools were run by people solely interested in their profit margin, and the quality of language education offered was hardly a consideration to them.
I now teach at a school where I’m treated like a teaching professional, the students’ education is the top priority of teachers and management alike, and I get regular vacations to satisfy my hunger for travel and new experiences.