6 Scams ESL Teachers Play on Employers

4 Feb

I’ve read a lot of articles recently warning ESL teachers about picking the right schools. In fact for 10-15 years there have been all sorts of posts on the American web telling potential teachers about scams and wannabe thieves that are trolling the ESL sites waiting for potential prey.  And it is definitely true that foreigners are at risk when they go to teach abroad.  Missing pay, illegal work ethics, refused vacation time, sucky housing, NO housing, horrible students, or -the worst- evil watching parents waiting for you to fail.  

Life can be tough as a foreign teacher, but I thought maybe it was time to mention the other side. After sitting in several schools and making many online ESL Teaching friends, listening to the teachers talk and gossip, I thought someone should post a warning for the schools instead.  To those ESL teachers that are going to get all huffy, cool it! You have your chance to air your grievances on other posts, and I’m certainly not saying that you don’t have grievances to share. Heck, I’ve got grievances to share! Late pay/NO pay, skimpy travel reimbursements, the list goes on. But schools deserve to get the warnings too, it’s not all sun and roses on their side in many cases either.

Without further adieu, here are 6 scams that ESL teachers often play on their employers.


1. Abusing Benefits

Many people talk about how schools/agencies in some foreign countries will tend to short-change you your well-earned, usually required benefits.  But they aren’t the only ones abusing this confusing system, ESL Teachers sometimes do so as well.  I’ve heard of at least two teachers who abused the “medical payout” benefit offered at nearby schools, and I know there are more.  Since the medical/reimbursement/receipt systems are a little more rustic in many foreign countries, it is very easy to either bribe or re-arrange everything to come out on top.

Some raise very unnecessary doctor’s costs and charge it to the school as an emergency medical fee.  They pay a doctor to write the prescription or explanation in English. When the school secretary girl doesn’t know what it says,  they tell her it’s for something serious  (one is simply getting a weekly massage and calling it “therapy”- he freely admits he doesn’t need it, but it’s convenient. Costs the school 80rmb a week).  

Others overcharge the school.  The way it works is that you bring your receipt to the school to ask for money. The teacher’ll either pay the doctor’s office/hospital person to charge a higher fee or erase/white it out and write a higher one anyway. They then pocket the difference.  

2. Double Charging the School

This one is really, really cheeky.  Some schools in foreign countries prefer to pay their teachers in cash.  Sometimes this is because it isn’t all on the up-and-up. They either hire a teacher from a different school for 1-2 hours of work a week or they just don’t want to pay the taxes. Other times, they are in a more rural place and that is just how things work.  Unfortunately, a lot of them don’t take the time to get a receipt. You just get handed an envelope of money.  

This has caused several schools a big problem when teacher’s pull the “Double-Trouble” scam.  The teacher will charge them and get the envelope of money.  They then go to the police and claim that they weren’t paid anything.  The school usually doesn’t have a witness beyond the person who handed over the cash, and there isn’t a receipt.  So the school is sometimes forced to pay the teacher twice.  This may also result in them losing their license to hire foreign teachers or put them under investigation. Such an investigation can destroy the school’s reputation and ruin them.  One nearby school was forced to shut down after they ran into this scam, and other’s are starting to demand a signed receipt in the transaction.  

3. Selling Tests/Grades/Quizzes

This is a kind of obvious scam, but it happens constantly.  Teachers complain all the time about how their students in foreign countries cheat on the exams. It is actually a really, really big problem, even here at my institution (I had to report 3 last semester alone from my class). But they don’t often want to admit that teachers themselves are often a HUGE part of the problem.  

Many ESL teachers are willing to sell their own tests or quizzes for a fee.  Some are offering copies of the upcoming SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT and other US exams that students want to pass (you’d be surprised at how many of these are real).  Others will offer another teacher’s exams that they got a copy of or will offer to convince a fellow teacher to change a grade for a certain fee.  I’ve even known teachers that offered a straight up grade in class loud and clear if the students would pay $50.  It’s shameful, but it happens.

4. Charging the Students an Additional Fee

This scam makes me the most furious, simply because I’ve had a students who were scammed by one teacher or another at different schools and it makes me so angry.  I love my students, and anyone who abuses or misuses them for their own gain should be so ashamed they can’t show their face. It’s worse when it’s foreigners from the US, and I know that the students think all Americans are like that.

Teachers will often charge students a fee outside the school costs, and without approval for the school. For example, one of my students had a teacher at his previous school charge him almost 200rmb to just enter the classroom because “it’s full today”.  Others were being charged extra fees to be allowed to join the class at the beginning of the semester, even if the class was full.  Still others are charged extra money for ‘Classroom expenses’ (what are these exactly?), books they never saw, traveling expenses when they never traveled, field trips they never took, “Activities” that never happened, ‘tutoring’ that never existed, or just a fee for arriving late or if something was broken online for turning the assignment in by hand.  I always report or tell my students to report these people, but they are truly afraid for their grades. Foreigners have a lot of say in their schools, and these scams often go ignored or unreported.  I’ve talked with teachers from around the world who say the same scams happen in their schools. This needs to be stopped!

5. Lying on their Academic/Experience Records

Not going to spend a lot of time here, but as most of us know, a lot of ESL teachers are lying about their school or work records.  They forge diplomas or school certificates, lie about TESL licenses, make up jobs or fudge on the job descriptions.  I’ve known some where just left off jobs where they were fired or where the school reported them for discipline. I knew one that had been deported for illegal behavior from his chosen country three times, but lied on each job application so that he could go back.  

One that is a real problem, though less common is actual identity theft.  Apparently a local teacher got in trouble for this one and I’ve heard of a couple other similar horror stories.  A teacher will steal or buy the identity of a friend/co-worker/school mate for their next job (in jobs like ESL, no documents are safe).  They will use this teacher’s resume, name, SSN#, clean criminal record, clean passport record, and past experience in the country to get the job.  Then they come in on their own passport, but keep the other identity for everything else.  If they are paid in cash and the school doesn’t look too closely at the passport, they’ll get away with it too.  

6. Cheating for the Student/Laziness

The laziness scam is in all teaching jobs, but still drives me nuts.  This is even worse for teachers hired privately by parents or for one-on-one teaching.  Many jobs involve you meeting with a student one-on-one to tutor them on their English schoolwork assigned by a third-party (like their public school or English school).  Some English teachers prefer to take the lazy road to tutoring by doing the work themselves and then having the kids watch movies the rest of the time.  This happens quite often actually, and helps the students not at all.  It takes the teacher 10 minutes to fix 3 pages of grammar mistakes and then they get quite a bit of money (ESL teachers can make a lot from private tutoring) to do nothing but sit and read while the kid entertains themselves.  It’s stupid, deceptive, and needs to be nipped in the bud.  This isn’t fair to the teachers, the students, or your future employers who think you actually did the job.  


This list is far from exhaustive; what scams have you run into with fellow ESL teachers?

One Response to “6 Scams ESL Teachers Play on Employers”


  1. ESL Teacher Scams ~ High-Paying “Mission Work” | Deceptively Blonde - April 2, 2015

    […] recently did a post on scams that ESL teachers pull on their employers abroad.  I thought that was an end to it, but after a discussion with some local teachers I’m […]

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