Job Awareness - Apply Responsibly (part one)
Thank you to Yvonne Dagan for this month’s IH Journal blog post on job hunting in the TEFL market, a topic which will be continued in the upcoming summer edition of the IH Journal…
People often ask me where I am going to work next and are enchanted when I say ‘Wherever the wind blows me!’ What an exciting TEFLtastic life! What a lot of people don’t necessarily see is that there is an awful lot of hard work, research, and steely negotiation going on in the background. Like any good seed, whilst I may be blown somewhere I will only take root and thrive if the conditions are favourable. So whose responsibility is it to make sure that conditions are conducive to our happiness? Ours. That means keeping a healthy, balanced outlook when job searching in the TEFL market.
The elephant in the NNEST
It is often claimed that in certain markets, the demand for native English speaking teachers (NESTs) outweighs that of the non-native (NNESTs). Positive action has begun to redress this in Europe with TEFL Equality Advocates (TEA) launching in 2014. Look for their striking badge when researching potential employers as a guarantee that you will be assessed equitably.
If a job advert does ask specifically for native speakers, then you have two options. Move onto the next advert and put effort into an application that will be considered or withhold judgement and call the company advertising for the NEST. It may be that on that particular contract, the client demand (unjustly or not) is for a NEST but that the centre does employ NNESTs on other contracts when they have vacancies. Enquiring may sow a seed for the future. If you do feel you are being unfairly treated, take heart as the industry can evolve. Many Scottish, Welsh and Irish teachers regularly suffered the same fate as recently as ten years ago, whereas now it is a non-issue.
This One’s on You
Be honest with yourself and your employer. When you first start out, you take on anything and everything because you need to experiment with different levels, styles and learners. It is good to be flexible but it is also acceptable to ask for things and to set our own parameters. For example, I have never taught YLs because I have clearly expressed my desire not to during every application process and it has never prevented me getting the job. Teaching allocations can be distributed among staff in various ways so be clear and ready to compromise by taking on something else that others may not like so much.
Equally then, don’t apply for a role clearly weighted towards teaching the learner group you least favour or are skilled to teach. Many vacancies highlight the learner demographic upfront but even if they don’t, it is our responsibility to check our suitability for the type of teaching required. You are naturally going to sell yourself for the right job but selling yourself into the not quite right will only result in your own job dissatisfaction.
Cost of living
Most reputable schools will send you a guide to living in their city with useful tips and advice from previous teachers indicating what they think you can live off of. This can be useful but no two people are the same and if the guide has been contributed to by teachers who flat-share like students, then this is what they are basing their cost of living recommendations to you on. How you choose to live is your affair so look at country comparison sites such as Expatistan and sites such as Craigslist for the region or country you are going to for a better feel of how much your standard of life will cost you there and whether it is achievable. It will also help you calculate how much float you will need to take with you until the first pay day rolls around.
Visa Runs and Local Authorities
A decent organisation will be able to support you step by step through your initial VISA application and will help you extend VISAs for countries by giving time off and advice to help you reach the nearest border to reapply. They should also help you register your temporary residency or domicile with the local authorities and try to make this as hassle free for you as possible. Remember that some home countries have strict limits on how many countries you can be resident in at any given time. For Britain, it is the UK and one other so if, as sometimes happens, you are resident abroad in another country but leave for a ten-month contract in a third country, you will have to check your position with the home country and receiving country as to how best to do that.
Holidays can be very confusing to calculate and are very much country dependant. Basic accrual rates in Britain are calculated at 5.6 weeks holiday per year for most workers although competitive rates may be offered on some contracts.
A lot of TEFL job vacancies now specify the holiday allocation up front as an accrual rate or the fixed number of days offered. You should check, in writing, if these are inclusive of Bank or Public Holidays or whether they are in addition. You also need to establish if Public Holidays must be taken as they fall or whether they can be worked and carried forward. The former erodes allocation whilst the latter adds flexibility.
School Year allocation
Other organisations offer you fully paid school holidays, especially if they are offering ten-month contracts and have a lot of YL classes as this better suits their clients’ attendance patterns. Do your own research by checking out the holiday schedule for that region to find out how much they are worth to you in comparison to a holiday accrual rate. Also be aware that if you are taking school holidays, there is a strong likelihood that your flight costs will be affected. Essentially, do these holidays suit you? If not, this is not the job for you as this is how the business operates and they are entitled to manage holidays to suit business requirements.
Finally, always check when holidays are paid as some larger organisations process lump sums at various points of the year and always clarify that the holiday rate of pay is your full teaching hourly rate, not an admin or under the table rate.
In Britain, use of holidays is based on your typical five day working week of Monday to Friday however, you cannot assume that other countries operate in the same manner. Spain and Italy, for example, count Saturdays and Sundays as days that you are available to work and therefore must be counted as days taken. This seems very unfair if you don’t normally work weekends but they are deductible from the holiday allowance you have accrued so be aware, chat to locals and work out how they plan holidays around these restrictions to their advantage.
Benefits and Bolt Ons
Let’s now take a look at what some of the better organisations offer as genuine benefits so you know what to expect or what to leverage with independent centres where possible.
Free language lessons
Some teachers really like and value these, whereas others are not too bothered. I think it shows a commitment to helping the employee settle in and gain basic survival linguistic skills. An employer offering these knows that settled teachers are happier teachers.
Settling in allowance
This is the sign of a good centre with some British Council sites offering two weeks paid accommodation and International House paying typically paying one week. It is welcome as it gives you some breathing space to suss out the rental market on the ground.
Very good centres will have apartments ready to show their staff as part of induction week. This is even better if combined with the settling in allowance as the school is actively supporting you in making the right decision to help you live comfortably for the rest of the school year.
Again, these are frequently offered by the bigger organisations and as a rule are paid for upon fulfilment of your contract. Paid luggage allowances will vary depending on whether you are going long distance or short. Again some of the better organisations may also pay for spousal flights to accompany you.
Private health care
I think this very much depends on where you are as this can be worth its weight in gold. If you are in Europe, it probably won’t make too much of a difference to you; whereas, if you are in Malaysia or Canada, this would be essential. Ask which company it is with and for a copy of the coverage details. Depending on the expense you might be offered part payment only and so you need to find out what the other half costs and whether it is worth it to you personally. Consider how long you are going for and whether you are someone who gets sick often or not. Hard to tell really, but do you think you will actually use it? Something is only valuable if it truly means something to you.
Ongoing training and development
Many good organisations regularly hold a paid teacher development seminar once a fortnight and some, such as International House, might also provide online training or pay for your YL extension training as part of an extended contract agreement. OISE in the UK run a teacher portfolio development system and partially supports teachers through their Delta as do the British Council. You may have your eye on becoming a DOS or a teacher trainer, in which case state upfront at interview that you would like job shadowing opportunities to help your true developmental goals. Development opportunities are only on point if they fit in with your development goals so do be discerning.
End of Part One – Food for Thought
I hope this blog helps you feel more confident about how to manage and negotiate some of these contract rights and benefits. In the next edition of the IH Journal (Issue 40: Summer 2016) I will explore your basic rights further so that we operate as fully empowered global workers in the EFL industry. Part 2 includes advice on the different types of contracts employers are currently offering, pay cycles and bonuses along with tips on how to negotiate travel time to and from off-site lessons and costs incurred.