The 411 On TEFL Job Contracts

Conventional wisdom says: never sign something in a language you can’t understand. This makes a lot of sense. In the real world, however, particularly in a field like TEFL, a) sometimes that really is the only legal contract in a country and b) it’s quite possible to lose out even with an English language contract if the school is dodgy. How do you know? Well…you don’t always know. But you try your best, and even when something goes awry, you don’t usually wake up the next morning in the bathroom of a cheap hotel room with a kidney missing.

Some general tips, based on my own experience in three countries:
[Please keep in mind that these are general tips; don’t rely totally on any one source, including the TEFL Logue, for information about something important as what to look for in a contract.]

  • Look for the willingness of the school to answer your questions in general (though obviously this is no failsafe as a shifty school can lie).
  • Get in touch with past teachers and include a question or two about the contract (“Did anything surprise you about it?” “What was yours like?”) in addition to questions about the school, students, curriculum and so on.
  • See how well the school fits your idea of a good one. If you’re not sure, consider mine. This is not directly related to the contract, but I think your overall impression plays an important role in deciding whether a school is “okay” or not.
  • Look for inconsistencies in general (and specifically, between the job ad and the contract, or between what they told you and what you understand from the contract); if you find any maybe inquire indirectly to see what answer you get. Don’t assume that everyone is out to scam you; there actually are mistakes or misunderstandings sometimes…though these can have unfortunate consequences too.

Much of this presupposes that you request and look over the contract before you commit to the job – and if you commit to a job by stopping your job search or by moving to that location sure that you will take that job, in many ways the result is the same as if you’d signed the contract. So: ask to see the contract if you are seriously considering a school.

And what about a foreign language contract?