Ask two experienced teachers whether or not they recommend working for an ESL chain school, and you may get two very different answers. While some teachers love the experience of working for a large company, others finish (or even break) their contracts and vow to never go that route again. Chain schools tend to be in urban centres while independent schools are often more remote. Choosing between these options is a matter of personal preference. Some chain schools have branches throughout one country, as is common in Japan or Korea, while others have schools all over the world. In most cases a chain school has one head office, one recruiting centre, and twenty or more learning centres.
If you are thinking about working for a large ESL chain school, take some time to browse through the following pros and cons, which have been compiled based on feedback from real teachers who have taught abroad. You will also find a short list of some of the major chain schools around the world.
- You will most likely be surrounded by action, entertainment, and shopping. There is plenty to do and discover when your work day is over.
- You may not feel like a foreigner for long. Many other native English teachers will be living and working near you.
- You will have many English speaking colleagues to work with on a day to day basis. Though you are far away from home, it will be easy to make friends and establish a strong community. Your social life will thrive with little effort.
- Most chain schools offer regular bonuses and some perks. These will be described in your contract, so there will be no surprises or disappointments.
- The curriculum is generally set, which means less prep time for you. You may need to provide your own supplementary materials, but most chain schools have plenty of resources, as well as Internet access.
- Chain schools usually arrange your accommodation. They generally have a staff member who deals with landlords or housing complaints. These issues can be difficult to handle when you do not speak the language. Chains schools usually cover the "key money" required in advance by many Asian countries.
- Some chain schools offer free or subsidized foreign language lessons for teachers who want to study the language of the nation they are teaching in.
- Once you have completed a contract successfully there are often opportunities for transferring to branches in other locations.
- Some chain schools will pay for you to upgrade your certification level after you complete an initial contract.
Chain schools, because they generate steady income, will usually pay you the correct amount on time each payday, while smaller independent schools may be less secure. This is not always the case. In 2007, NOVA, one of the largest chain schools in the world, went bankrupt and thousands of teachers complained of lost wages. Visit teacher message boards often to get feedback from those who have worked at the chain schools you are considering.
- Chain schools are usually located in major cities where you will pay higher rates for rent and living expenses.
- Living conditions may be noisy and small. Accommodation is usually non-negotiable and may require you to share an apartment (including mixed gender living).
- If your reason for teaching abroad is to pay off a large debt or generate a large savings account, this may not be the best option. You will be more tempted to spend your paycheque while you are living in the big city.
- It is more competitive to find good jobs in chain schools than in smaller schools in rural areas. To get a good full-time job (don't expect 40 hours a week) you will probably need experience and proper certification.
- Smaller schools in rural areas generally pay slightly more, because they want to invest in their teachers. It costs rural schools more to recruit teachers, so they are willing to offer more incentive to stay.
- Teachers often complain that chain schools do not offer regular raises.
- The turnover of teachers is very high in some chain schools. Teachers may be fired or let go due to lateness, student complaints or even minor infractions. Large chains have strong contacts with recruiting agencies and find it easier to replace their teachers than independent schools that hire based on resumes they receive. Smaller schools do not have a large budget for advertising.
- Teachers who enjoy developing creative lesson plans, or have strong opinions about teaching styles, may find the curriculum and rules of a chain school too restrictive.
- If one of your main reasons for teaching abroad is to experience a new culture and learn a new language, a chain school could cause you to lose sight of these goals.
Chain schools often have set rules of conduct for their teachers that can be quite strict. Some prevent teachers from socializing with their students outside of school. This may be considered a pro to some job seekers, while others will be attracted to schools with a more casual atmosphere.
Ten Major Chain Schools
For more information on the following chain schools, visit their websites via your favourite search engine.
- AEON and Amity (Japan)
- Bell International (UK and Malta)
- Berlitz (International)
- ECC (Korea)
- English First (International)
- GEOS (International)
- Inlingua (International)
- International House (International)
- Peppy Kids Club (Japan)
- Wall Street Institute (International)