Choosing a Language School

Choosing a Language School

When I arrived to Krakow in search of my first job as an English teacher I was optimistic.  My feelings were reinforced when I discovered that there were language schools all across the city.  I thought, well, this should be a piece of cake.  One out of all these establishments should want to offer me a job.  I chose to concentrate my search on schools with a central location for an easy, quick commute and since they seemed to be the bigger ones, I concluded that that should be where I focus my efforts.

My very first teaching gig

Needless to say, it didn’t work out as I planned.  After 2 weeks of searching I was still empty handed and frustration started to build.  By then I wasn’t being selective at all and even got on trams that took me close to the city limits.  Looking back at it now and seeing the abundance of language schools available in 2016, I have come to steadily realize that picking a school to work for is no easy task.  It’s complicated peeps.  So I thought I’d dedicate this post to tips and advice on what to look for or avoid when making the decision – a teacher’s perspective and experience, working in many different colleges, language schools, big and small, in multiple countries. So where to start?

In the beginning it’s all about getting that first job and being grateful that someone took a chance on us as brand, spanking-new, teachers.  Of course we need that experience to start, and so we shouldn’t be too picky about where we land at first.  I ended up taking a job offer from a lady that randomly came up to me in the city park because she saw me asking for a job in a language school only 20 minutes earlier.  She and her husband were running a small school just outside the city center, and needed native speaker teachers.  So just when I thought I was out of options this gift fell into my lap and baboom! I was able to stay in Krakow through the summer with 6 hours of work a week, teaching a group of 3 ripe beginners, a group of 2 engineers and 3 teenagers that almost made me quit the profession.  It’s that beginning that makes you question the whole teaching endeavour.  What was I thinking? This is not what I envisioned damn it! Get me out of here!

Fast forward 10 years and there’s a lot to take from all the places I’ve worked at in that span.  So once we get that bit of experience under our belts should we be more selective with the schools/establishments we want to work for?  Absolutely! We tend to choose new beginnings on advice and recommendations.  We hear how great it is here or there and decide that we should give it a go but I’m not sure I agree with that.  Actually, I don’t agree with it. Why should we follow someone else’s path? Why don’t we make our own path?  There are thousands upon thousands of choices, and surely we can manage with a little research to find the right place for us or at least a stepping stone to that ideal job!  Every person will have their own vision of what kind of school they want to work for and you should to.

Big school vs small school

So what have I learned?  I’ve learned that a lot of small schools, which are owned by a family or an individual, will be ultimately looking at their profit margins.  Yup, and those profits are numero uno on the list of priorities.  That translates to very little teacher support and inevitably it’s all about the students and their needs and the teacher is just a means to that profitable end, so watch out!  Shouldn’t teachers have support? If students are taking the lessons for granted, or disrespecting the teacher, then we got a problem Houston!  At bigger schools I’ve always received support from the director of studies or the boss of the school.  They are concerned with teacher quality more, and care for their teachers.  It goes without saying that if you work for a place like that, you’ll be surrounded with quality teachers and enjoy working there knowing that your boss will be fair and balanced with their decision making.

What else? We don’t ask questions about it, but for me, materials are important.  What course books are used in the lessons?  Do students expect to finish their course books? Can we use a variety of materials?  How does the team-teaching or buddy system work? Details please.  Who will I be working with? Who are the students? Details, details, the devil is in the details they say, and that’s damn right!  Do you want to work with some snob? Are the students just interested in getting an exam grade or do they genuinely care about their language abilities?  Does the school have the necessary facilities that will allow you to prepare for your lesson?  Any innovative solutions available are a huge plus because it allows you to work with so much more than just a photocopier, a book and a whiteboard.

Teacher development

All these questions are worth asking and then some.  Personally, I believe the materials and facilities at your disposal are game-changers!  We teachers need to get away from those photocopiers and paper waste.  Are there teacher workshops or teacher development classes at the school?  If you invest in your teachers, the results will inevitably come.  If a school offers all this, then sign me up! We shouldn’t take any of this stuff for granted.  With the right tools and support we can become better teachers! It’s that simple.  If you accept mediocrity then that’s what you will be, mediocre.

One of the main reasons I keep coming back to England in the summers is because they offer teacher workshops and support, there’s opportunity for learning and development. Yes! I’m in! why not?  I believe that once you set that standard the other stuff will follow, naturally.  Pay, great co-workers, perks and/or additional benefits etc.

Location, location, location

What’s left?  The place right?  It’s a big one.  Probably the most important one.  I’ve noticed that many are in it for the travel, otherwise it’s about making the big bucks quickly.  This truly is a personal choice.  Nevertheless, I personally think that a lot of destinations can surprise you in a very positive way.  When I traveled to Australia I had no intention of teaching.  My circumstances changed quickly and I soon discovered that it was a prime place to teach and upon reflection, it was one of the best if not the best teaching experiences I’ve had.  The diversity in the classrooms was fantastic.  People of all ages, children to adults had come to the country to learn the language for all types of reasons: pleasure, personal goals, to become a citizen, to study and get a college degree, to integrate etc.  How awesome is that?  You won’t find that in Korea, Spain, Japan or Saudi Arabia I assure you.  The choice will be an emotional one but think about the professional aspects as well.

That first small school, threw me under the bus. Other schools tried to overload me with more and more responsibilities, some of which weren’t academic in nature.  Some bosses welcomed me with a smile from the first interview, while others gave me the school tour and wanted an answer right away.  Sometimes I got asked grammar questions, as though that was the measure of a quality teacher. Whatever the choice, you can always just have a cold refreshing beer and ponder it that way….. 🙂

It’s as good a bet as any I guess.  But pondering the reasons why we choose a school to work for is a sound and crucial approach in making a decision that has an impact on us professionally.  Stay thirsty peeps…

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