Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Working abroad is a great adventure, but it is a good idea to do your research. I think back to the time when I was contemplating the big "move" and recall several months of surfing reading and getting as much information as I could. As mentioned in the previous blog entry, my first teaching position was at the University of Beijing, commonly know as Beida, and historically named Peking University. In some ways I lucked out, as it was a good position at a great institution. One that has opened many doors for me. The mere mention of the name is enough to raise a few eyebrows. In other ways it was totally due to my correspondence and interaction with the contact person for the job. Yes, I also had some teaching experience at the college level in the states but not much. My field is communication arts, in the theatre. There are many related fields that are suitable background for success in the area of ESL. If you aren't confident about your abilities to teach in the area, a small investment in an online TEFL certificate course would be money wisely spent as it will open more doors for you at a higher salary. However, most BA educated people will have the skills they need to get entry level jobs, as there is a high demand for native speakers.

One thing you should be aware of is that a school must possess a license to hire a foreign teacher. Although there are many ways around this situation. Sometimes a school will have a license and a teacher will be hired using that license and used in someone else's school. This may cause problems getting your resident permit. Or some schools will just tell you that you can come over on a tourist visa and then they will have your visa changed to a Z visa. This does happen, but if at all possible you should do it right and go through the process, of invitation, visa application and this will save you lots of headaches.

Another thing to be aware of is the practice of farming you out. Typically, a private language school may have heavy weekend schedules. Classes during the week are usually targeted to an older market or business English. The bulk of students are 6-15 years old. So in order to get those heavy weekend crowds, several teachers are needed, but may not be too busy during the week. So many schools contract with schools to provide a foreign teacher. So you are a money maker for them and not yourself. You may also be placed in a situation that is not that great, and you probably will be paid only for the actual hours. You could spend half your day for two or maybe three hours of pay. Travel time, prep, all come at your expense. I'm not sure what the going rate is but I'm sure that it would not happen if the schools weren't making money at it. In fact I have been told that is where the money is at. So be aware that when you read and add for a private language school that says you may teach at a primary or middle school, the school is really brokering you for a profit. That does not mean that the experience will be bad, but you should understand this.

Try to get the emails of any current teachers at the school you are considering. See if they will divulge their salaries and other important details about the conditions. Telephone them or chat on messenger. Do they have staff or ownership that speak English well enough for you to communicate? This is really important as you will need lots of help at first just to do what you need to do. You may want to start with one of the larger language training schools that have been doing this for a long time. You don't want to find the doors to your school locked up and shut down and your salary gone too. As long as your documents are in order you will be able to find another position. Even if it is not the start of a school year. And the last tip; always get a letter of release from your employer at the end of your contract. Without it you may not be able to secure another position. Use your head! You will learn as you go, but you surely should learn as much as possible before you go.

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