Should I Teach English Abroad at a Chain School or an Independent School?

By
January 19, 2021

You’ve got your TEFL/TESOL certificate and now you’re planning your teach-abroad timeline for 2021! But before you start applying for TEFL jobs, have you considered what type of school you’d like to work for? Should you teach English abroad at a chain school or an independent school? We’ll review the pros and cons of each so that you can make an informed decision about which is right for you!

What types of schools can I teach English for?

Most people who plan to teach English abroad in a traditional classroom will find opportunities at language institutes rather than K-12 public schools. For these teachers, applying for jobs can include a choice between larger, well-known chain institutes or smaller, private institutes.

Start planning for new possibilities with the 10 Best Places to Teach Abroad in 2021! 

Chain schools

A chain, or franchise, school refers to a language institute that has multiple centers around a country, or even all over the world. These chain schools usually have a main office in addition to their branch schools and will have a department focused on recruiting. Some examples of popular English language teaching franchises include:

  • Wall Street English: A brick-and-mortar chain school with nearly 450 centers spread out across more than 27 countries.
  • British Council: An organization based in the U.K. that works with more than 100 countries to place English teachers at their physical centers around the world.
  • English First: An established language institute chain with schools in over 50 countries, including more than 350 language schools across 100 cities in China.

Independent schools

An independent school is one that usually has just one location. Sometimes, an independent school might have a few locations, but it’s not a big operation. Independent schools include private schools and local language centers. They usually aren’t big into recruiting, and they have a smaller staff than chain schools. At an independent school, you’ll likely know everyone — from fellow teachers to the school or language center director — by name.

Public schools

Though not the focus of this article, there’s a third option when it comes to where you can teach: public K-12 schools. A public school is any school that’s run by the country’s local, state, or federal government. This is perhaps the least common type of school that English teachers teach in because you typically have to have additional local, state, or national certifications from wherever you’re teaching in order to be eligible for a position in a public school. However, you can sometimes find placements in public schools through government programs.

Here are a few examples of government programs that place English teachers in public schools:

Bridge graduate, Lana, teaches English at a school in China

Bridge graduate, Lana, teaches English at a school in China

What are the pros and cons of teaching at a larger chain school abroad?

One option is not better than the other; rather, it’s a question of which environment is the best fit for you.

Pros

  • Structure: Guidelines and rules will be clearly laid out for teachers, and you’ll know exactly what’s expected of you from day one.
  • Training: When teaching at a chain school, you’ll likely be offered some formal training on policies, procedures, online platforms, and more before being thrown into your first class.
  • Reviews from past teachers: Since chain schools employ many teachers, you’ll easily be able to find honest reviews about what it’s really like to teach for the school or company.
  • Ability to transfer to other schools in the chain: You might be able to transfer between a chain school’s centers, meaning you’ll have the opportunity to live abroad in many different places!
  • Possibility to take on other positions within the company: In addition to teaching, many chain schools have opportunities for you to take on side work as a trainer, recruiter, interviewer, social media admin, and more to earn some extra money.

Cons

  • More students: While this can be seen as a pro, it might also be a con if you prefer establishing closer relationships with a few students rather than seeing many different students each day.
  • More structured: Structure could also be seen as both a pro and a con since some teachers may like more freedom and more flexible rules.
  • More corporate/less personal: Teaching at a chain school will typically be a less personal experience since the company has a large number of English teachers to manage.
Bridge grad Chelsea Olivias at an English center in Hanoi, Vietnam

Bridge grad, Chelsea Olivias, at an English center in Hanoi, Vietnam

What are the pros and cons of teaching at a smaller, independent English institute abroad?

Pros

  • A closer relationship with students and faculty: Teaching at an independent school gives you the opportunity to build close relationships with students and other staff members.
  • The smaller number of students: You might have fewer students to manage and will be able to focus all of your attention on them rather than having to start over with a new student each day.
  • More flexible school rules: Since independent schools are less corporate, they are typically less rigid when it comes to your teaching style and general guidelines.
  • More support: Fewer teachers usually means more support is available for them from the school’s admin.
  • Resources: Independent schools might provide you resources (like props, print-outs, flashcards, etc.) that chain schools don’t. On the other hand, if you’re teaching somewhere that’s really remote or economically disadvantaged, you might have to teach English with limited resources.
  • Having a say in the curriculum/design your own lessons: Independent schools will almost always leave lesson planning up to teachers, and some schools even allow teachers to design their own curriculums.

Cons

  • Pay varies depending on the school: Your pay rate will depend on the area in which you’re teaching rather than worldwide accepted rates. This can be a good or bad thing, depending on where you’re located.
  • Less flexible working hours: Teaching at an independent school usually means that you’ll have set hours that you’re required to teach. They don’t typically allow you to set your own hours — although some do, so if it’s important to you, bring up your hour requirements during your interview!
  • Having to design your own curriculum/lessons: This can be seen as both a pro and a con because while it gives you the freedom to decide what you’re going to teach and how you’re going to teach it, it also means more time spent on class planning.

What about teaching English online?

When it comes to teaching English online, you’ll face a similar decision when choosing between working with a large, well-known company, such as VIPKid or Open English, or a smaller start-up company. The pros and cons are also similar.

Large online tutoring companies

Large companies provide a bigger student base, which can mean higher income potential for teachers. Having access to more students can also mean more flexibility with regard to your teaching hours. Larger companies may offer more opportunities for career advancement, such as from tutor to tutor trainer, recruiter, interviewer, marketing specialist, and more.cons include the more rigid structure, impersonal or corporate feeling, structure, and lack of freedom when it comes to lesson planning or teaching.

Smaller online tutoring companies

Smaller companies may specialize in teaching a certain niche, such as a particular age group or English proficiency test preparation. They also tend to give teachers more freedom when it comes to lesson planning or teaching, foster more personal interactions with other staff as well as students, and provide a less corporate environment.

 

In the end, whether you teach at a chain school vs. an independent school (or a large or small online tutoring company) depends on your personality and what kind of experience you’re looking for. Both are great options for teaching English!

Have you decided what type of school you’d like to teach for? Check out Bridge Job Advisor Kevin’s top tips for finding an English teaching job in 2021!