|All that glitters is not gold|
|The old story of David and Goliath has inspired all kinds of people down the ages, especially those who feel intimidated by apparently bigger and stronger competition.
How could a young shepherd boy too small and weak to wear body armor possibly expect to get the better of a giant of a man, a hardened and experienced soldier, a national war hero, who was armed and shiny armored to the teeth? Even David’s own side held out no hope for him whatsoever. Simple and effective tactics targeted on the big guy’s weak spot — his exposed forehead — did the trick, and the rest, as they say, is legend.“What are you getting at?” you may well be asking. If you are a teacher who has just arrived in İstanbul with your TEFL diploma fresh from the printer, or a long-in-the-tooth teacher flying in from some other exotic location ready to experience this great metropolis, or whether you are simply ready to change schools for one reason or another, some guidelines might be useful to find your way through the maze of language schools on offer.
If possible, it would first be useful to consider what kind of school you want to teach at and whether you have all the requisite qualifications. Bear in mind that state schools and universities insist on at least a BA in English; TEFL, CELTA or DELTA are an added bonus. If you want to teach young children, you will also need what in England is called a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE). You will also need to get a residence permit, which they will often not help you to do. On the other hand, you should find the private sector easier to get into. Unfortunately it can often be too easy. (If they don’t insist on at least a TEFL type diploma, don’t accept, unless as a last resort before moving up to a “better” school.)
Trawling through the ads on the various Internet sites gives you some choices but no idea of what the school is really like. Top of your list, therefore, will be international language schools accredited by the British Council. Pay and conditions are usually good, but watch out for restrictive clauses in their contracts. Alternatively, there are dozens of Turkish-owned schools, but this is where it becomes a little more bemusing.
Many of the smaller schools are owned by businessmen who have an eye on the easy cash to be made selling English language courses. The demand is so high that it takes very little effort to get a “school” up and running. In general, however, these places are to be avoided like the plague as there are no guarantees that they are even authorized by the Ministry of Education, and one official inspection will catch you in the net as an illegal worker along with the rogue boss or bosses.
Then there are numerous medium-large-sized language schools that have been working more or less successfully for a number of years and have something of a “name” for themselves, so their reputation, whether good or bad, will be known around town. It is easy enough to check by asking around in the bars and cafés frequented by expat teachers. (Just follow the sound of loudly spoken English, laughter and orders for more beer — “bira” in Turkish!)
At interview with the director of studies, who should preferably be a native English speaker, make sure you establish some basic points:
1. How long a normal contract is for and if the school is authorized by the MoE.
2. Is accommodation provided free by the school or do they deduct rent?
3. Alternatively, whether a rent allowance is paid on top of the salary.
4. Does the school assist you with obtaining a residence permit?
5. What financial provision is made for a return trip home, or alternatively what holidays are permitted, whether they are paid for, and what, if any, other bonuses are included?
6. What is the length of a probation period and the conditions? (Insist on a probation period to ensure you and the school are happy with each other. Do NOT be rushed into signing — a very bad sign (literally) — it is your legal right to settle in. You are not obliged to sign anything before starting work
7. What exactly “Full-Time” really means. (About 25-28 hours is considered reasonable. More should be paid as overtime so be sure to clarify.)
8. What is the rate of pay, the pay day in each month, and do they pay it all, ON TIME! (Word-of-mouth will soon confirm if they are telling the truth.)
9. Take a look around the school to gauge its standard and the resources available, particularly if they use an internationally recognized and proven course book. If possible, try and talk to two or three foreign teachers working there before making any decision.
10. Finally, let your “gut feeling” about the place — its atmosphere, feeling, and your rapport with the people you meet there — guide you more than your potential bank balance.
There are of course many other things you might like to know and only the opinions of those who have been here a while and have some experience of the names on your list will be able to guide you further. Above all, beware of being blinded by bigness. Just because a school has lots of branches here or elsewhere, it is no guarantee of their ability to provide an excellent delivery of language education.
by Ashley Perks