TEFL Contracts: Protect Yourself Before Signing7 min read
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney for questions or concern with regard to a specific issue or problem with TEFL contracts.
TEFL contracts can be both confusing and a little scary for first-time teachers and seasoned veterans alike. Knowing that you are protected and that the document you are signing actually contains what was agreed upon can be troublesome. TEFL contracts in many countries throughout the world are often written up in the local language and contract law can be quite confusing even if you do know what is in your contract. Find out what to look for in your contract as well as what to do to ensure you are protecting yourself from schools that may be less than scrupulous.
Look Into the Employer’s History
One of the first steps you can take before you even accept a job is to look at an employer’s reputation according to other teachers. If other teachers have had problems in the past outside of a few isolated incidents then you should be aware you could easily have problems also. One of the best things you can do is ask the school to put you into contact with a current teacher, preferably through email so the teacher can answer at their convenience and provide you with more accurate and honest answers.
Ask about any downsides
You want to ask them about specific issues they have had such not just in the classroom but also in dealing with administration. If you are being promised accommodation ask the teacher if what they were given matched what they were promised in terms of the pictures and the facilities. Ask the teacher if other benefits such as reimbursed flights or transportation were delivered or if they had any troubles.
Ask how issues were dealt with
One thing that should raise a red flag is if past teachers have had any troubles having issues resolved such as with their pay or discrepancies in their contract. This is a sign that the employer is either incompetent and will be difficult to deal with or that they are purposefully giving you a raw deal. Again, take what you are being told into context and don’t look at a few isolated incidents as a sign of the employer’s overall reputation. However, if you are hearing of consistent problems and teachers that work there are telling you things that validate this then you should think twice before entering into a contract with the employer.
Have TEFL Contracts Translated
Once you have talked to other teachers and validated that the employer you are looking into is a place you are going to want to work you will need to sign your contract. One of the most important things you can do is have your contract translated into English if it is not already. If it is already translated you will still want to take both the original language version as well as the English version to a professional translator who can check that they both say the same thing.
Remember that in many countries the English language version of your contract is not legally enforceable, so even if the employer has provided you with an English version it is the local language version of the contract that is legally binding.
If there are any discrepancies between the two, you will need to ensure that the employer changes the local language contract to match exactly what it is supposed to say. If not, then you could find that later on, you may have difficulty claiming promised benefits or other issues.
Make sure that when you are having the document translated you don’t just go to the cheapest option. You want to make sure that you go to a translator that is reputable and won’t cut corners by doing something like running your document through Google Translate (which some will do) and then cleaning it up. Remember that the price you pay for a more premium service could save you from costly issues later on.
Have TEFL Contracts Looked at by a Local Attorney
Just translating the contract so that you can read it isn’t going to be enough unless you are an expert in labor law in the country you are going to work in. Make sure that you take the contract to a local attorney who specializes in labor law so that they can tell you anything you should be concerned about.
This is going to be important in the instance the school has put in anything which can be used to deprive you of payment or other benefits. It has happened before and teachers have been denied benefits and payment on the basis of a contract created in bad faith. Having someone who is a professional review it thoroughly can save you from suffering the same fate.
As with the translator, it is going to be important that you don’t just walk into some random and cheapo attorney or labor law expert. This isn’t to say that you need to go for some high-level lawyer that is going to set you back tons of money. But, as with many things in life you are going to get what you pay for and with your livelihood on the line you are going to want to make sure the person looking over your contract is fully qualified and properly incentivized to do a good job.
Familiarize Yourself with a Few Local Laws
You don’t need to take a class in labor law in the country you will be working in. However, it can be extremely helpful knowing what the laws are relevant to your situation so that if any problems ever arise you can have a better idea of if you are being wronged. This could be something like understanding how many hours a school can legally make you work for, whether or not there are laws covering overtime pay, what to do if the school doesn’t pay you, or if the school is refusing to help you with a visa when they originally promised.
You are also going to want to make sure you know what organization or government office you need to go to if a situation does arise that can’t be worked out with the school directly. Don’t think that just because you are a foreigner that you won’t be helped. It is true that there are many places in the world where workers have very little rights and TEFL contracts don’t mean much. That being said, even in countries known for corruption or poor enforcement of contracts there are usually avenues for workers who are having issues and it won’t harm you trying if you have been wronged significantly.
Negotiate Better TEFL Contracts
The final thing to remember is that if anything in your first contract is not to your liking do not hesitate to negotiate. Everything can be negotiated. Especially if you have good qualifications.
If you don’t like the pay then make give them a number that you prefer more. Are there some benefits that aren’t included which you would like to see such as flight reimbursement? Tell them. Don’t settle for the first contract just to be nice.
As discussed in a previous article on knowing your worth, the TEFL industry is big business and while there are many schools in rural areas that don’t have a lot of money, plenty of schools do. Don’t let them use the excuse that you are doing a good thing for children to lock you into a bad contract.
Remember that there are currently more jobs than there are teachers. If the school doesn’t want to negotiate with you then don’t be afraid to say no and look for a better offer at a different school.
I want to help you find an awesome job in the ESL industry and then excel at it. I’m a TESOL certified teacher with over three years of experience working both online and offline. I have worked with students ranging from young learners to advanced level university speakers and have worked in recruiting and hiring, teacher training, and content creation. I’ve seen the good and bad of the ESL industry and I’m here to tell you about it.