Here are some warning signs I've heard of over the years. You might also want to look at ISR's article called Warning Signs that Tell You Not to Take the Job.
- Everyone's afraid of the boss. Respect is one thing; fear is another.
- Threats or sexual harassment. Threatening to fire you for no reason is bad enough. If you're on a tourist visa and you want to quit and they threaten to go to immigrations. Don't put up with sexual harassment either.
- Same advert week after week. If you see them advertising again and again it’s probably because they can’t get or keep teachers.
- Living with your boss. Don’t live in the same apartment as your boss.
- Classes in your house. The employer needs to provide space for lessons.
- Mixed level classes. Most classes are mixed levels, but if it's taken to the extreme you need to be careful. If you have people with basic English thrown in with very advanced students that's not good.
- Mandatory events. Every once in a while is ok but when it becomes a habit that means they’re trying to get you to teach for free.
- No material. They want you to create everything and don't follow have any structure whatsoever.
- Lots of changes. Tons of cancelled classes, changed times, salary differences, and so on.
- Lots of unpaid training and meetings. Some are ok but be aware of those that have excessive unpaid training and meetings.
- Visa promises they can't keep. If they promise you a visa make sure you get one.
- Contract penalties. Don’t sign a contract that has lots of penalties when you quit or one that only has info about how they can let you go but nothing about how you can quit.
- Bank accounts. They want to use your bank account or have you open a new one and give them the info.
- Pressure. Some places try to convince you that you’ll never find another job anywhere else.
- Late pay. Talk to the teachers and ask if they get paid on time.
- No receipts. Even if you're working on a tourist visa you should sign something.
- Salary’s vague. You should be told exactly how much you’ll make.
- Paying for copies. They should make them for you.
- There's no sign out front. A school should prominently display their name outside.
- Bad first impressions. Peeling paint, dilapidated furniture, or a bad neighbourhood aren't good signs.
- Learn English in 6 months. While some people can learn English that quickly the majority of people can't.
- Dangerous places. The institute is located in a bad neighbourhood or they want to you to teach classes in a bad neighbourhood.
- Lots of new teachers. If most of the teachers have been there for less than three months, that's not very good.
- Disgruntle teachers. If everyone's complaining it says something about the school.
- No foreign teachers. Not always a warning sign, but I'd rather work at a school that has (had) a foreign teacher.
- Pay up. If you're asked to pay money, it's probably a scam.You might also want to look at Scam.com and Scam Warners.
- Get rich quick. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. End of story.
- Rich African. Another warning sign.
- Dead spouse. If the person is a recent widow / widower who needs you to take care of their children. Be very careful.
- Western Union, Moneygram, etc. If they require you to accept or send money this way it's usually a scam. Visa fees are paid to the embassy, immigration fees are paid directly to immigration, and travel fees are paid to the travel agent or airlines.
- Cheques. The schools asks you to write, mail, or cash a cheque on their behalf.
- Parcels and packages. They want you to accept or send parcels or packages. NEVER do this. You never know what could be in the package and you could end up in a local jail.
- Dealing with individuals. When dealing directly with a person, rather than a school you have to be extra careful. While it's true that people often hire tutors or au pairs, about 99.99% of the time they go through agencies. Go through an agency. You might have to pay a fee but it will be worth the peace of mind.
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