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26 questions you must ask before working for any Chinese school


I posted these question in response to another persons post, however I then realized many would miss reading them, hence I post them now by themselves for all to see. If your a newbie who is thinking of coming to China, I think you will find these questions invaluable to you in your quest for a decent or at the least semi decent school.

Below is everything you need to know, and ask, of a Chinese school, or darn near, if your considering a job with them. Don't be shy about asking, doing so could be the difference between an enjoyable work experience and a nightmare.

1. How many classes a week will I be teaching?
Classes, not hours. Actual hours and actual number of classes is a bait and switch scam that schools have been running for years now to confuse teachers. Don't get hours confused with number of classes, schools like to say 25, but that's actually just them counting the number of minutes in each class and converting it to hours.

2.How long is each class?
Always remember to ask that one, some schools are now teaching super long classes of 1 or even 2 hours in length.

3. Is it a public or private school?
While a seemingly small matter, it really isn't. A public school is more likely to treat you better. It's no guarantee, but it's more likely. Also, private schools, always, always make more money. If you are being offered a job teaching 20 classes for 5,000 at a private school, then I'd pass, you can get better working at a public school.

4. Are there any office hours?
Schools will often intice you with low classes and higher pay. However, they will often leave out all the extra work they expect you to do. Interviewing students, taking time to help them after classes, or just having to be there for whatever might come up. These things are in my opinion work. If your requiring me to be there and I may indeed have things to do that come up, I'm working. You will never get paid for this time though, so if there are 25 classes in a week, and it's a 40 hour week, your spending 20 hours sitting on your butt or working on and off throughout the day. It's all free work to, no pay, so be sure you ask about this.

5. Do they cover the cost of electricity and water?
Not so small a thing, believe me. If it's hot, or cold enough, say good bye to a few hundred per month, at least, if they don't cover these necessities.

6. Where is the apartment located, on or off campus?
Believe me, off campus is better. If on campus, look forward to being locked in after a certain time, and not being able to get out, or back in without a real hassle. Are you a prisoner, nah, your just surrounded by walls and can't go anywhere until 7 am. While in truth you could, there will however be a night guard, and he must first be there, or awake. If he is maybe he'll give you a hard time, maybe not. Do expect a school to keep track of your comings and goings if you live on campus. Personally I prefer off campus.

7. How much paid vacation do I get?
Very important question, and one most FT's completely glance over. What many folks don't realize is that, if you work for a public school, your going to be getting two months off of work, fully paid. If you work for a private training school, you won't get that time. You will get some paid holidays, which all together add up to a decent amount, but you also get those at a public school, plus the summer and winter holiday paid, which private schools generally don't give. Something to keep in mind when job hunting.

8. How much time is there in between classes?
This is another question asked by almost no FT's here. Say your first class is at 9am. Great, when is my second class? Seem like no big deal? Only if you don't mind spending 9 hours working to teach just 4 classes. Schools can be tricky. They want you to be there the maximum amount of time for the minimum amount of pay. However, some schools are real whores in this regard, and will gorge on your time, and gouge you to the fullest extent. It is not uncommon for some teachers to go in and start at 8:30, and not be done until 8:30 that night, yet they only ended up teaching 4 classes that day. Now, I don't care if I can go home in between, or do whatever I want between classes. What I want is for my day to be over by a reasonable time. If I have to leave and go home 4 times a day, well damn, that's some tiring shite. Make sure your schedule is a reasonable one, without huge gaps in between classes.

9. How many students would be in each class?
As someone who has taught as many as 70 middle school age kids at a time, I can tell you, it's no picinic sometimes. While you can control that many "most" of the time if you are a decent teacher, it is quite difficult to teach so many people of so young and age. If someone tells you classes will have over 50 students, well, you might want to reconsider. It is posible to do, but you must be a skilled teacher right out the gate, otherewise they will eat you alive.

10. What is the name of the school?
That one seems obvious, yes? You'd be amazed how many people overlook that one.

11. Is over time required?
Another often missed question. Often schools will tell you how many classes you will be teaching, if you ask, but they are really only telling you how many you'll teach during their "slow" times. Some schools are now offering contracts which have different work hours for different times of year. Make sure this ain't the case, and that you have the same amount of hours, and they are agreed upon as the "maximum" amount. No words like "may" or "minimum", make sure the maximum amount is spelled out, and that nothing in the contract is vague or ambiguous.

12. Can I see a copy of the contract?
That's pretty common, and usually a school will send you one witout having to ask. However for some reason, for the purpose of deceit of course, they will send you a sample. I do not kid you when I tell you I have received contracts that were samples alright, and not even about the job I was applying for. Never accept sample contracts, they are indeed that, just samples. Make sure you see the actual contract you will be signing, it will answer many of your questions if it is not a sample. However, ask the quesitons anyway. Also, make sure to explore any vague language, now matter how trivial a matter it may be. Any vague area will be exploited to your detriment, do not doubt, often in ways you had not imagined.

13. Can I see pictures of the school?
If they give you a website address, this may be moot, but I always ask anyway, as homemade pictures can give me some clues that website pictures don't. You never know.

14. Do you cover all visa costs?
This one is very important really. Some here in China are not, well, working on the best visa, that's all I'll say. Whatever your visa though, the school should cover all costs. The best schools, if they must have you go to HK, will even give you travel money for expenses, since HK is not a cheap place to visit. Whatever the case, a school should cover all expenses, even if you are getting the visa before you come. You must make sure this is in writing and in your contract. If they won't cover your expense, either here or agree to pay you for your visa costs when you arrive, I'd not even bother with them.

15. Would I receive a holiday travel allowance?
Almost all schools give this, and its usually a one time fee during either the summer or winter holiday, depending on when you start. The amount is between 1,100 and 2,200 rmb gerally speaking. This is common, and any good school will offer it.

16. How much is airfare reimbursement?
This one is very important, and a dying practice. Schools are getting so greedy they try and find more and more ways to screw you over. This is one of them. Generally airfare reimbursement is equal to one month salary. If your only making 5,000 though, I would say it should be at least 7,000. If more than 7,000 a month, it in my opinion should be equal to that amount. This "bonus" as it is called is becoming a thing of the past though. Ask for it, most schools still offer a bonus, though some are trying to get rid of it. I have seen some schools offering just 3,000, absurd of course. I could not buy a ticket to the USA for 3,000 RMB, absurd.

17. How many students attend your school over all?
I always ask this, just to see how big and successful a school is. If they try to claim poverty or hard times, yet they are a private school with 10,000 students in a poor city, I will be skeptical.

18. Do you provide health insurance or accident insurance?
Most decent schools will provide some kind of health coverage and or coverage in case of an accident. Make sure to ask for the exact amount of protection offered, if you don't ask this, they sure won't tell you.

19.What hours would I be working?
Another often ignored question, and very important. Many coming here assume they will be doing 9 to 5, or 8 to 5, something of that nature. Nope. Schools have split schedules as often as not, and you may find yourself having to come back for a second shift in the evening. Ask this question always, and get details.

20. What days would I be working?
Another obvious question which is just as obviously over looked by the over eager expat. 5 days a week does not mean you will have weekends off, and if it's a private school, you likely won't. Maybe you get two days off, but not back to back. Or maybe you are working 6 days a week. There are many piggish schools out there pushing the envelope because of expats who are professional stoics who will take just about any punishment that can be dished out. Expect schools to try and take advantage unless you put a stop to it before it happens. Ask questions ask questions ask questions. If they have a problem with answering them, walk.

21. Where is the school?
Another question that is often overlooked, though I'll admit not as much as some of the others. I have knowon teachers who forget as quickly as they were told though, and who couldn't find it on a map. Make a point of knowing and of researching the area. How many people live there, where is the region in regards to it's economic development, what's it like in summer, or winter? Is it a rich area, poor? All these things can and do factor into salary.

22. How much is the salary?
This ones a no brainer, but it's amazing how many no brains there are out there. Always ask this, especially if using a recruiter, God forbid you actually do use one. Often recruiters will say one number, which is totally fictional. You'd be amazed how many FT's take the recruiters word and never even think to ask the school the school about salary the one time they talk to them, before departing for their new job. Always ask.

23.How much paid vacation time do I get?
This is in regards to private schools for the most part. In addition to paid holidays you should get some personal vacation time. Generally it is 2 weeks, some places it might be more, but I wouldn't bet on it. These places are in business year round. However, some places will offer more time, sometimes unpaid, because of a drop off in students during peak holiday times, like summer and winter. This leads to your next question.

24. How much unpaid leave is there?
Some language schools are hurting, usually because of poor management, imagine that. Make sure there is no unpaid leave, or if there is, how much time is it? It's never fun to go work somewhere, only to find that half way through your gonna loose a month of salary.

25. What amenities does my apartment have?
While pictures often speak a thousand words, they don't always show everything. Ask if there is a dvd, stove, ask if it is electric or gas? Does it have a microwave, washer, TV? While the microwave is unlikely, the washer should not be. I have heard stories of people having to hand wash clothes though who neglected this question. Is there a phone, and if so, who covers the cost? Internet and computer, and if so, who covers the internet cost? You'd be amazed how much these things add up, and how often eople forget to ask about them.

26. This is more advice than a question, but watch out for the word "tax" in Chinese contracts.
While it's not always the case, sometimes a school will try and tax you far more than is legally acceptable, and simply pocket the money in the end. As I said, this is not always the case, but be wary when you see the word "tax" in a contract. It doesn't always mean they are going to try and gouge you and pocket the proceeds, but often it does mean just that. Make sure the taxation is legal and of legal percentage.

That's it, these questions should allow you to find out all you need to know about any school your considering working for. I hope it helps some newbies out there who are considering coming to work here, and maybe saves them some of the pains and BS others of us have had to deal with. Good luck.


     Posted by tezzafromaust     July 26, 2008 5:31:04
Thanks for your helpful post. I am in the midst of applying for a job in Sichuan. The name of the school given by the recruiter and that given by the "Foreign Director" of the school differ, and when I google them, no results come up. They want me to pay for the medical report for the Z visa, and some of the conditions in the contract re "breaching the rules" seem harsh and involve payment of 20,000 Yuan and possible court action etc. So many doubts!

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