How to: Quit Your ESL Job

South Korea Thailand Travel
by Anne Merritt Feb 22, 2010

Photos: author

How to quit your ESL job without ruining your reputation or that of your fellow teachers, and without having to book it out of the country like a criminal.

Everyone who has taught English overseas has heard of the “midnight run.” A teacher who is homesick, fed up with culture shock, or fed up with work leaves their job (and the country) in secret. I know it’s common, but personally, the thought makes me queasy.

If you didn’t like your job in your home country, would you just stop showing up? Likely not, and it should be no different overseas. You may be avoiding a whole heap of awkwardness, but leaving unannounced makes things more difficult for everyone but you.

My boss at a South Korean language school declared that he would never hire an American for their “reputation” of abandoning the contract without notice. A head teacher I met in Thailand never hired teachers fresh out of university for the same reason.

Quitting is never a picnic, but it doesn’t have to involve sneaking around or leaving people with poor impressions of you or your countrymen. Below are some tips on how to leave a job overseas.

Think it through

Obvious advice, but it bears saying. Breaking a contract may seem inconsequential, especially if you never intend to work in that country again. You did make a commitment though, and something did draw you to that job in the first place. Sit down and have a good think about the situation.

What is it about the job that doesn’t float your boat? If the materials are weak, the schedule is grueling, or the discipline problems go ignored, then a calm-but-firm meeting with the boss just might help. If your boss likes you, he will be more than willing to make changes so as not to lose you.

Is the administration a mess? Is the boss tyrannical? If the working conditions are truly unpleasant and change is unforeseeable, you may be working at the expense of your sanity. Quitting really should be a last resort, but if you’re miserable, terminate the contract sensibly.

Ask around the teacher’s room

All sizeable language schools have stories of rogue ex-teachers and their nutty antics. Ask your colleagues and fellow EFL teachers about past quitting stories. Will the school pony up the last paycheque, or will you find yourself evicted from your flat the next morning? Does your work visa allow you to switch employers in case you want to work for a different school? If your flights were paid for, do you need to reimburse the company? Is there a fine for early termination? Is it enforced?

If the school has a good reputation and has always treated you fairly, then be fair in return. Read over your contract’s termination clauses, give notice, and quit by the book. If you have it on good authority that things will turn ugly when you give your notice, be prepared. Arrange to stay with a friend if you’re evicted, book your flights if your visa may be cancelled, save money in case you don’t see that last paycheque.

Be as clear as you can

The company deserves to know if they’re doing everything right and your reasons for leaving are personal, such as homesickness or a strained long distance relationship. If you’re just not into teaching as a career, give the boss an “its not you, its me” talk, cheesy as it sounds.

However, if the job itself is crummy, explain this in the simplest way possible. Don’t rant or make sweeping comments like “it’s impossible to work here!” The management might not be clued into their foreign staff’s standards of work, and may never have realized that last-minute meetings or unpaid overtime are out of the norm for you.

Lastly, please oh please don’t drum up a dying grandmother story just to get out of your contract. Language school owners talk just as much as teachers do, and everyone knows that nine out of ten “family emergencies” aren’t real. You’re just crying wolf and ruining the credibility of teachers who do get struck with tragedy while overseas. Not cool.

Don’t sleep through the final weeks

You may be mentally finished, but that doesn’t mean you can show up late and play movies in each lesson while Facebook-planning your welcome home party. Train your successor, don’t leave rotting food in your desk, treat students well and respect the time and money they put into their lessons.

If the school is a good one, ask around the expat community and see if anyone can take over your job. They’re likely scrambling a bit to fill your position, and a helping hand speaks volumes of your professionalism.

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