Traveler Alert: The 3 English Teaching Scams to Avoid
by Allison Lounes
You just graduated college, you loved study abroad, and you want to travel the world to escape the horrible economy.
And to get by, you want to teach English.
Great! As a native English speaker with a degree, in most cases you already have 100% of the qualifications you need to teach English most places in the world.
But as a green employee, you may not know that some of the companies that may want to hire you are actually counting on your naiveté. They seek out young graduates who just want to travel and get them to accept crazy work conditions, making lots of money off of your skills in the meantime.
Here are three such scams to avoid:
1) Acting as a broker for language lessons, then making you get your own clients and taking a cut of the money.
A new trend in the English teaching industry is convincing young English teachers that they need the backing of a local language company in order to be able to find students to teach. They’ll help you find clients by publishing your name on their website or in their catalogue, and in return, you’ll fork over up to 75% of your billings.
This business model relies on two things: one, that inexperienced English teachers in foreign countries will not know the terrain well enough to find their own clients, and two, that these teachers believe they’ll derive some kind of legitimacy or benefit from having the company give their name out.
The problem is that neither of these things are true.
Often, the companies that run on this kind of model don’t have their own client base either, or they run “introductory offers” that get low-paying clients for a limited amount of time, who disappear once the rates go up. The company has no reason to promote you over someone else in their directory, and the client has no reason to pick you either. So you’re left marketing your own services to locals, trying to get a few clients, while the company takes a huge cut of your pay.
By working for a company like that, you’re betting that people WILL hire you with that company’s name behind you who WOULDN’T hire you otherwise, just because the company is well-known in the area. That’s a pretty risky bet.
2) Making you pay for “training” in their method, purchase their method’s products, or work for free for a certain length of time to “compensate” them for training you.
Specialized learning methods are all the rage in the English teaching industry, with each company trying to develop its own unique method that allows teachers to impart their native-speakerness to their students by waving a magic wand and saying a magic formula. For students desperate to learn English to improve their careers, each new industry gimmick is a promise that this time, they’ll learn twice as much in half the time.
For English teachers, of course, this disturbing method means that it’s difficult to transfer your skills from one job to the next, as each new company will require you to undergo “training” in their method before they’ll give you any students to teach. And since the company is trying to convince their potential students that their way is the only way to learn English, they also try to convince their potential teachers that their revolutionary method is a valuable skill, equivalent in value to a TEFL or even a university degree.
Beware, then, companies that seem to think that training is their gift to you rather than a service for which you should be paid. Any reputable language company will make sure you have the proper qualifications, provide you with the necessary training, and pay you for that training. They’re hiring you for a job, and training is part of that job and should therefore be compensated BY THEM. Don’t let them tell you otherwise.
3) Requiring you to work for a certain amount of time before getting paid or to indemnify them if you leave.
Anyone who’s taught English abroad for any length of time can testify that some teaching jobs are just hell. And when you’re in hell, you need the freedom to get out.
English language companies know that their industry has really high turnover for three reasons. One, English teachers tend to be young travelers who eventually move on to the next place or go home. Two, any English teacher worth her salt will have no trouble finding clients independently after a short time, thus making more money. And three, some English teachers (not all) are just looking to pay their most basic living expenses while they travel. If they find themselves in a really horrible situation, they can leave and find something else because they don’t have families to support.
Many English teaching companies try to hedge against this constant loss of personnel by trying to get English teachers to commit to ridiculously long contracts, imposing a pay structure based on long-term retention, and even trying to charge teachers who leave.
These malicious companies use strategies from withholding the last paycheck, to withholding a certain amount every month that you’ll only get once they decide you can leave, to actually trying to bill you or sue for breach of contract.
In this case, make sure you’re familiar not only with the terms of your contract, but also with local laws regarding the work relationship. In France, for example, it’s really hard to fire someone, but it’s also hard to leave your job, and a company actually does have the right to sue you for damages if you don’t follow the proper procedure for notifying them that you’re quitting and if they can prove that your leaving harmed the company in some way. Companies usually lose, but you don’t want to take that chance and end up paying legal fees.
Have you ever encountered one of these English teaching scams? What did you do?
Please feel free to advise and warn other teachers below in the comments section:
Allison Lounes writes about living, studying abroad, and teaching English in France at www.parisunraveled.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @parisunraveled, or on Facebook at Study Abroad in France.