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April 23rd, 2020 Quincy Smith

11 Question to Ask in Your ESL Teacher Interview

Teach in China ESL Interview

ESL Teacher Interview Questions

1. Do you offer housing assistance or a stipend? If so, what are the details?

Here you’re trying to get a better understanding of how much help you’re going to get with housing, specifically related to how much of the cost you’re responsible for and if you’ll have help finding a place to live.

You can expect the employer to say a few things:

  • We don’t offer any assistance
  • We don’t offer a stipend but we can help you find a place
  • We have an apartment you can use but you must pay for it
  • Housing is included in the contract

How much help you want is up to you, but at least you’ll know what to expect when you arrive.

2. Do you reimburse any of the visa and arrival costs?

The process of getting to China is both lengthy and expensive and while teachers are expected to come out of pocket for most costs, it’s not uncommon to have them reimbursed at a later time.  Similar to the previous housing question, here you want to get a better understanding of what you’ll have to pay for.

Costs can include any of the following so make sure to ask about each if you’re unsure:

  • Background check
  • Document authentication
  • Visa processing
  • Medical check
  • Flight to China
  • Hotel upon arrival

All of these are negotiable but in my experience, the school should always pay for all visa and work permit costs while things like flight reimbursement are more wishful thinking.

3. When is payday?

It’s common for Chinese schools to pay their teachers mid-month so that if you break your contract you are potentially left without 2 weeks’ pay.  A red flag would be if they pay any later than the 15th of the following month and I’d make a point to clarify why that is and potentially mark it for later contract negotiation. 

4. What kind of classes would I be teaching?

ESL job descriptions can be incredibly vague and you open yourself up to a lot of surprises if you don’t clarify what you’ll actually be teaching.  Will it be grammar, literature, art, or some combination?

You should already know the required amount of teaching hours (if not – ask!) and now is the time to determine how they are allocated.

Things to look out for here are a mix of class types or subjects as that will almost certainly mean more prep work.  Conversely, if you learn that you’re only teaching 2 different classes then a lot of your material can be reused, thereby saving you time and work. 

5. How much prep work or office time is required?

his interview question is super important – in addition to your required classroom hours, how much time will you be expected to spend at the school preparing for class or holding office hours?  

Some schools are going to want you there for the full day regardless of how much you actually teach – your goal here is to determine if their expectations are reasonable or if you can prepare adequately without being there so much.

6. How is the class schedule laid out?

his interview question is super important – in addition to your required classroom hours, how much time will you be expected to spend at the school preparing for class or holding office hours?  

Some schools are going to want you there for the full day regardless of how much you actually teach – your goal here is to determine if their expectations are reasonable or if you can prepare adequately without being there so much.

7. Do you provide the curriculum or am I creating it?

Time to get to the nuts and bolts of your classes – what does the curriculum actually look like?  I’d personally recommend that you don’t teach anywhere that tasks you with creating the actual curriculum as it will take an incredible amount of time and can be intimidating for new teachers.

The best-case scenario here is that they tell you they have books and workbooks for the students and all you have to do is execute the lessons.  Anything less than that will significantly add to your workload, especially when applied to multiple classes.

8. What books do you use?

Time to go one layer deeper and take a look at the actual books – are they professional?  Made by hand? Passed down from class to class? Do the workbooks match the teaching book?

It’s fine if the interviewer doesn’t have the books on hand but they should be able to send you details (or images) of the books after the call – be persistent here as you don’t want to end up having to reuse workbooks or worse, make your own.

9. Are there teacher resources to use for lesson planning?

Time to go one layer deeper and take a look at the actual books – are they professional?  Made by hand? Passed down from class to class? Do the workbooks match the teaching book?

It’s fine if the interviewer doesn’t have the books on hand but they should be able to send you details (or images) of the books after the call – be persistent here as you don’t want to end up having to reuse workbooks or worse, make your own.

10. What duties exist outside of the classroom?

Do not forget to ask this question!  You’re being hired to be a teacher and while it’s not uncommon to be asked to perform non-teaching duties, it’s your responsibility to understand what those might be ahead of time (and potentially put them in your contract).

Things to look out for might include:

  • Marketing the school to potential students 
  • Going on field trips
  • Participating in events like sports day or drama day
  • Attending meetings or parent conferences 
  • Watching the students during lunch or after school

Make sure to clarify how these impact your expected hours and don’t be afraid to push back on something you don’t want to do or ask for additional compensation.

11. Can I talk to a current teacher?

This might be the most important ESL interview question on this list and I put it last so you can better understand what you should talk to this teacher about.  In order to get an objective opinion about the school, it’s incredibly important to talk to a current (or past, if needed) teacher.

It’s a red flag if the school spins their wheels or refuses – another foreign teacher is the best source of first-hand information on a school and I’d be hesitant to move forward with the contract without speaking to one.

Should you ask every question?

No, most jobs are going to spell out some of the above questions in their job descriptions so only focus on the ones that you don’t know and that are important for you.  For example, if you don’t care how much time you spend at school then skip the question on prep time – the goal is to fill in the gaps regarding this position and help you make an informed decision.

Quincy Smith

Quincy Smith

Quincy Smith is a former teacher and founder of ESL Authority, a site dedicated to providing the best resources for anyone looking to teach abroad.

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