How to Choose the Right ESL School for You

How to Choose the Right ESL School for You

Deciding what school to work for is one of the biggest decisions you have to make as an ESL teacher. This decision should not be made lightly. It will not only affect your professional life, it will set the tone for your overall experience and cloud your view of the country. Do your research and consider all aspects of the life you are setting up, not just the money and location on offer. Here are a number of things you should consider when you’re making this pivotal choice.

Don’t Rely on Third-Party Recruiters

Recruiters have their place sometimes, but they aren’t usually necessary when you’re looking for a job teaching English overseas. (It’s worth mentioning, however, that this refers to recruitment firms, not necessarily the recruitment department at a chain of schools.) There are lots of jobs available, and recruiters only confuse the issue more. It can also be difficult to tell if the recruiter is legitimate, and if they ever ask for money, then run away fast! There are lots of ESL job sites as well as country specific websites where you can find your own job. And chances are the pay will be better if your school doesn’t have to pay the recruiter first.

Choose your Location First

Decide where you’d like to live before you start randomly answering job ads. Shanghai and Beijing are big and exciting cities, but sometimes China’s smaller cities can feel homier. They’re a lot cheaper too. If you decide on your destination first it will cut down on the number of jobs you have to consider. There are a lot of them out there.

Check out Online Review Sites

There are a number of review sites that will be a priceless tool in your search. If you see a job advertisement that looks good, check it out on one of the many job review sites. The reviews on these sites are written by past employees and will give you a good idea of what the job and school are like. Just remember that every school and job will have good and bad points. Don’t disqualify a school because of one bad review. Try to pick out what exactly made that reviewer unhappy and whether it will annoy you as well.

Talk to Present Teachers

Lots of schools will give you this option to make you feel safer with your choice, and you should take advantage of it. Talking to the current teachers, usually by email, will give you a bird’s eye view into the job. They can also let you know if there are any problems you should be aware of before you sign anything. Ask them some questions about the lifestyle in the city they’re teaching in, as well as questions about the job itself. You’re not only taking on a job when you move to another country to live, you’re taking on a new life. You want to make sure it’s a life you’ll enjoy.

Talk to Past Teachers

This tip is a little more difficult. Chances are the school won’t have the contact details of past teachers, but you can always try. Present teachers may be reluctant to bad mouth their employers while they’re still reliant on their pay check. Past teachers won’t have this concern. Their point of view and even their complaints will give you a much clearer view of the job and employer you’re considering.

Balance of Staff

Whatever school you choose, make sure it has a good balance of western and local staff. The work culture in other countries is vastly different to what is expected in western countries. If you work for a company that is managed by locals, it’s likely that you will be faced with conditions or work hours that seem extremely unfair to our western sensibilities. In many schools in Vietnam for example, teachers will often start at 8 am, finish at 11 am, and then have to stay at the school until they teach again at 2.30 pm. Those three and a half hours in the middle are unpaid, but the teachers aren’t allowed to leave. If you have western management staff, the chances are better that they won’t accept these kinds of conditions any more than you would.

Compare the Perks

This tip sounds a little mercenary, and it is, but it’s also important. There’s a huge demand for English teachers these days. If you have a degree and a TEFL certificate or CELTA, you can take your pick of jobs. A lot of the time, the only difference between these jobs are the perks. Make sure your flights are paid and find out when they’ll be paid. Also, the process for organizing a visa for some countries is extremely difficult, so make sure your school will do this for you. Check out bonuses and holidays and everything else that’s offered. Basically just make sure you get the best deal you can.

Once you’ve decided to move to another country and teach English, choosing the right school is a huge decision. Your school will be your main source of support and help while you’re learning to live in your new home. Making the wrong choice could lead to you feeling unsafe at worst, or miserable at best. It could even lead to you flying home a few days after you arrive, that’s not unusual in this industry. But by putting a little more thought into the decision you can avoid a lot of common problems, and set yourself up for a wonderful adventure in another country.

Do you have a tip for choosing the right ESL school? Share it with us in the comments below.

Want to know more about teacher training? Visit our teacher training blog. Or visit our Teaching Abroad Blog for more on living and teaching ESL overseas.

About the Author

Gayle Aggiss an ESL teacher and a dedicated traveler. She’s taught in Fuzhou, China and Hanoi and much prefer smaller cities to the larger options. When she’s not on the road, she lives in Perth, Australia.  She writes about education, ESL teaching specifically, and you can view more examples of her work at