Choosing Your EFL Teaching Job – The WebMD Effect

Jan 14, 2013

So you are contemplating an EFL teaching job or even better, have been offered one!  For many of us 21st century people, the next step is to research your school and where better to look than online forums.  Unfortunately, there’s a lot of negativity out there!  So, here’s where I want to caution you on what I call the Web MD effect: diagnosing an illness based on apparent symptoms.  What could I possibly know about any of this?  Well, I have been a teacher for many years including U.S. public school, and so my … gibberish … detector is pretty strong.  So read on, to see the true, the false, and the meaning of it all.

Many negative posts are written by fired teachers

While researching a school, I came across an EFL teacher who had only hateful things to say about his former school.  After a bit of inquiry into this former teacher, I found out that he was fired from the job for showing up for class after having been drinking.  Seriously?  Any teacher, anywhere, should be fired for that transgression.  Reasons include that you will not be able to give good quality lessons, and you are being a bad influence on your students.  But in my opinion, the main reason is you are responsible for the students you are teaching.  If you were impaired even the slightest, what would happen in an emergency?  As a teacher, your job is to protect your students, and there is no way you could ever do that. Another reason for negative posts from a teacher is because they got in trouble for showing up late.  It’s a big deal.  You are responsible for your students.  If you aren’t there, who is in charge? Reading the review for what it says vs. what it means. Of the biggest complaints I see on the forums about teaching abroad are salary, student behavior, and treatment of teachers by the school.  Let’s individually address:


I’m sure you will realize that the amount of money earned at some schools seems less than what you could make working, or even teaching, elsewhere.  Fact is, you can live very well in China with EFL teaching.  Think about where your money will go, and how your salary matches cost of living.  Trust me when I say you can stretch your hard-earned money here much farther than you can in other places.  Many EFL positions will offer either housing or stipend to put towards an apartment.  Even if they don’t, however, housing is inexpensive enough that you can find a place that is clean, safe, spacious and worth your money.  Need transportation?  Many jobs offer a service, and let’s not forget about the superb subway and bus systems that crisscross the cities.  None of these options are expensive.  All of them are worth it.  Additionally, I cannot begin to go on about how you can eat well for very little money.  In fact, just today a friend was raving to me about the delicious, filling breakfast she ate for 3 RMB (about USD $0.50!!!) While saving a bundle, your salary can ensure a fantastic lifestyle, complete with travel.

Poor Student Behavior

Whenever I see this complaint on forums, I laugh.  There is a behavioral standard that EFL teachers expect their students to have, especially over here in China.  Newsflash: kids are kids everywhere.  What I mean by this is, some days, your students will be angelic.  Other days?  Absolute terrors.  Often there will be no perceivable reason for this.  But it’s a fact of life.  Kids can be affected by something you don’t realize: from not having enough breakfast, to having an issue with a friend, to their sneakers being too tight!  Kids may have negative reactions to other parts of their day during your class.  It happens.

Treatment of Teachers

Earlier, I mentioned behaviors of teachers that can get them fired.  I want to go back to these a little bit, just to, again, reiterate that no matter where you work, if your boss were to catch you drinking alcohol while working or showing up late habitually, they will not be pleased.  They may yell.  They may not be as respectful.  They may let you go.  Just because you are providing a service abroad does not mean you have the right to act unprofessionally.  

Another complaint I see has to do with your employer being considered rude.  This is a common issue in EFL teaching when working in a Chinese-run school.  I think the main way not to feel insulted is just to keep in mind that communication and mannerisms are different here.  Also, don’t forget that your employer is speaking to you in English, which is not his/her first language, and therefore, may come across as abrupt, brusque, or impolite.  Try to listen more to what is being said than the inflection, and gather the message. If you are unsure, speak up to confirm.

I also observed EFL teachers feeling frustrated for being denied the allowance to teach from their own materials.  Some did anyway, and faced consequences.  Getting in trouble for this is not your boss being unjust.  Schools often have set curriculum that is expected to be followed.  This is true in schools the world over.  If this is how yours works, then you have to deal with it.  However, when you complete your contract and if you feel your top priority is an ability to utilize your own materials, then look for a school that allows it.  Don’t forget, when speaking with a school about an EFL job, you are interviewing them just as much as they are interviewing you.  It’s okay to ask a question like that!  

In closing, I think it is important to be careful what you read.  So often, people will post negative reviews.  They are looking for a place to vent, and you just happened to read it.  Instead, ask the school if you can speak to other EFL teachers who are currently employed there.  Use your intuition when speaking to them.  In all honesty, what you hear will differ from the negative comments you read.

Written by:  Eileen Belluscio


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