The next step: get a teaching license!

I’ve already posted about how I started teaching subjects in a private program of a public school in China.  The experience inspired me to do two things: 1. stop teaching and living in China.  2. Go back home to get licensed as a teacher.

Just as my last post talked about teaching subjects instead of ESL as a step up the career ladder, getting licensed in your home country is the next step up.  It opens the door to the best jobs at the best schools.  Additionally, no doubt many of you, like myself, have wondered about the long term prospects of teaching ESL in Asia.  What then?  Having a license both opens doors over here and gives you a career should you choose to return home.

The trend of the last several years in ESL teaching in Asia is that as more young Westerners have discovered it, countries have enacted more regulations.  This makes it good for some, bad for others.  Those who meet the requirements have it better than ever.  A teaching license from your home country will probably never be a requirement for every job, but it will put you ahead of everyone else.

I will probably do mine next year online.  For a long time, distance learning was looked down on.  Western Governor’s University on the other hand is well regarded.  It’s teaching college has actually placed first in some rankings.  More importantly, you get a state teaching license.  It doesn’t matter which school you go to as long as you have the government license!

So if you want to bring your career up to the next level, or like teaching at real schools but are sick of Chinese management, this is something to look into.

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A new kind of teaching in Asia: private programs in public schools, teaching subjects for students going abroad

It’s been a while since I posted, but I haven’t had much new to say until now.  I’ve spent more time in China and I have more to write about the job market here, especially for things other than ESL.  First a confession: I hate living in China and I’m going to leave in a few weeks. I was lucky to get a good job in Taiwan, where I am much happier.  I would have gone back there even if I didn’t get a great job.

In the past few years, less than five probably, a certain kind of public/private educational program has exploded in number.  They are private programs in public schools that prepare Chinese high school students for foreign (typically American or British) universities.  They’re not after hours or weekend schools, but are the normal school that the student goes to.  They will typically rent space and resources from a public school, typically a well known one to piggyback on their prestige, and operate independently.  The quality of these programs varies enormously.  Some are for rich, dumb kids who could never get into a Chinese university.  They may even aim to get them into a community college or the equivilent.  Others are very serious about what they do and send students to top colleges.

In general, the older the school the better it is.  The worst have died off by that time, the others have worked out kinks and are used to dealing with foreigners.  Thus, the quality varies so much with this new crop of schools.

So what about the advantages?  Pay is great.  I’m making 20k RMB a month at my school.  Also you get regular hours, no evenings or weekends.  It can also set you up for greater things.  ESL is kind of dead end.  Teaching at this kind of school however made me realize that I like teaching in a real school, but I’m sick of teaching in China.  I plan to go back and get my teacher’s license.  There’s a good chance I’ll end up back in Asia though, just not China.

How can you break in to this market?  Supply and demand favors you at this point.  There is a very strong demand for math, physics, and chemistry teachers.  Economics and English less so.  Requirements can be tricky though.  Schools strongly favor native speakers of English, however when they often can’t get that so have to settle for someone who can speak English.  Other documents are needed, your degree and a criminal record check from your home country.  Legal requirements can even vary by province and some schools help you more than others.  The time to apply was a month ago.  Echinacities and seriousteachers are the best websites to look for jobs, craigslist too.

If you’re new to teaching in Asia, this is a great way to start, if you have the credentials.  As I said though, I’m sick of it here.

Final notes on applying for jobs

If possible, contact the job directly instead of a recruiter.  The recruiter is a middleman who provides very little real value but has incentives to lie.  Not all do, but generally, try to find a school yourself.  In China, echinacities.com is a excellent site for that, they have China news and guides too.  Seriousteachers.com is great for China and other countries.  Dave’s ESL is the classic site, specializing in Korea but also China, the Middle East, and anywhere.  Websites can be very country specific.  In Taiwan, tealit.com is a good place.  Japan has their own sites as well: http://www.ohayosensei.com.  Eslteachersboard.com is a great site, not only do they have jobs, they have forums for people to say which schools are good or bad.  Other job boards that have forums like that are heavily censored.  Checking out a school is very important.  There’s a lot of scammers out there who won’t pay you or lie about working conditions.  Some just suck to work at.  When talking to a school, whether online or in person, ask to speak to current teachers alone.  This will tell you more than anything about the school.  Make sure they’re not just managers posing as teachers.  Checking out the school online is good too of course, but in my years of experience, I’ve learned that online reviews need to be taken with a big grain of salt.  People are far more likely to post something negative than positive.  Some of the people who go out of their way to post seem halfway crazy, or just intensely angry about something.  I’ve read reviews for schools that I had worked for and been amazed.  When reading the review, does it pass the smell test?  Does it sound plausible or like some angry person trying to smear a school’s reputation?  Look for specifics!  Are they posting a list of vague adjectives and insults, or specific actions?  Try to find recent reviews.  Schools can change, and it might even be a different school with the same name.  Even schools that have branches may have wildly different working conditions.

The job hunt can vary a surprising amount by country.  In some places (South Korea) it’s almost impossible to get a job by visiting on a tourist visa and then visiting schools in person and changing your visa in country.  This is by design, the Koreans got sick of backpacker teachers.  In other places (Vietnam), the opposite is true.  A few schools advertise online (ILA has a reputation for preferring to hire teachers from abroad and not those already in Vietnam), but most don’t.  You have to go there in person and apply, oftentimes doing a demo.  Most places are in the middle though.  More and more, all countries are moving toward the first model, mainly due to visa constraints.  The last few years have seen regulations tighten up everywhere, it’s getting harder and harder to just fly in and start looking for a job.  China has gone this way.  If you arrive on a tourist visa and get a job, you have to leave the country, or at least go to Hong Kong, to get a work visa.  Arriving on a tourist visa and just looking for jobs on foot can cost you serious time and money, but it has the advantage of being able to check things out before you get there.  There are more than a few scammers and bad bosses out there.  Being able to talk to current teachers away from prying ears is a huge plus.  If you must find your first job online though, ask for three current foreign teachers’ emails and phone numbers.  If they refuse or the contact info seems suspicious, you just saved yourself some serious trouble.  Taiwan still seems to be more like Vietnam than Korea in this regard.  But it depends on location and the type of job.  For better jobs, jobs teaching more than ESL, and jobs up north, applying from abroad is more common.  Of course once you land in the country you can start checking out places to work for next year.

The job hunt in China

I’m currently in China.  I was in Suzhou last year, Shenzhen this year.  It’s quite different from Vietnam, I was expecting it to be more similar.  The roads are wider and with much fewer motorbikes, making for a very different look and feel.  There are tall buildings instead of just an endless stretch of skinny, four story houses.  The job market is different too.  More stable for one.  Salaried full time work is the standard instead of by the hour part time work.  There are ESL centers like anywhere else in Asia.  Where I work though is at a bilingual private school.  There are a lot of schools like this for the Chinese upper-middle and upper classes.  I worked at a similar one in Vietnam, but there are fewer opportunities there and the school was much smaller and less professionally run.  At schools like mine, kids don’t come here evenings and weekends just for English.  This is there regular school.  It’s usually half in English, half in Chinese.  That varies by school though.  Last year in Suzhou I taught a wonderful first grade class.  I spend half the day doing English, Math, and Art with them.  My Chinese co-teacher assisted when I taught and also taught them classes in Chinese.  In my current school in Shenzhen I teach an ESL class but also teach A level Physics.  I have my B.S. in Physics.  Overall I prefer this kind of work, but there are both advantages and disadvantages.

When looking for a job in China, location matters.  Most foreign teachers want to be in a big city, and I can’t blame them.  Small cities in China are almost always dirty, ugly, and generic with no unique historical or cultural features.  In a nation of a billion people, exceptions exist, but not many.  Also, Chinese “cities” will almost always include a fair amount of land that you and I would not consider urban.  A better translation these days would be ‘county’.  There may actually be separate towns in these rural districts.  Guangzhou is such an example.  It’s the third largest city in China, but if you accept a job there, you may be in for a big surprise.  Your school could be in rural Conghua or Nansha districts, in tiny little towns, hours away from the actual city.  Unfortunately, some of the best jobs are to be found in areas like this.  After hours language schools are everywhere, especially in the city proper where people live.  Universities are usually to big to fit in downtown, so will be on the outskirts.  Private bilingual schools are often the same way, the neighborhoods they’re in can be boring if not outright depressing and far away from anything fun.  I went to visit a school like this in Shenzhen.  I liked the boss, the contract was good, the school seemed good.  But then I went to walk around outside.  It was practically across the street from the Foxconn factory where they make all the iphones.  Which is kind of cool except that it doesn’t help you in any way.  They have movie theaters and restaurants inside, but we can’t go in there.  So the neighborhood itself just has the dirtiest, nastiest looking restaurants.  Just walking down the street there made me depressed.  The sidewalk was broken, there were no trees or other greenery, there was nothing around that looked fun at all.  I didn’t see any pretty girls to talk to.  Unfortunately, for those of you overseas, it can be very hard to check this out before you get there.  But do your best.  Talk to current teachers.  Check it out on google maps.  Something else that you should consider when picking where to live is mobility.  How will you get around?  If you’re in downtown, buses and the subway will get you anywhere.  If you’re in a smaller city you can probably buy a motorbike, they can be fun and useful to get around (but dangerous, if you’ve never used one before, don’t jump into it).  But bigger cities in China usually ban motorbikes.  So if you’re not in the coolest parts of town, but still technically in a big city, your options are limited.  Buying a car is way too expensive.  Electric bikes are ubiquitous, but not as cool or useful as a motorbike.

The first job hunt part 2: My experience in Vietnam

In 2009 I moved to Vietnam. I stayed over four years. Before, when I worked in a country, I’d hear about the golden age of teaching there. When work was plentiful and anyone could survive and thrive in the market. When I entered Vietnam, that’s how it was. Jobs everywhere, paying a shockingly high wage despite how poor the country was, and things were cheap. Visas were easy too. If mine was about to expire, I’d just hand it into my school three days beforehand and tell them to get me a new six-month visa, the cost was deducted from my salary. Those days are over though. Around Tet New Year (it always happens then), the authorities decided there were too many foreigners making money. So overnight, with no warning, prices on visas went up and regulations went way up. I couldn’t just get a new six-month visa like that. I had to go through a long, expensive process of getting my degree notarized, getting a criminal background check, and more just to get a work visa. Many, many teachers had to leave. Others had to make visa runs to Cambodia every couple months. Jobs are still there, but foreign teachers flooded in and the economy had some problems, so the golden age is over.

This was also my first time living in a third world country. For those of you who haven’t before, you can’t totally understand it until you live there. I remember when I was there, international sites had some videos of traffic in Vietnam. Go on youtube and check it out, that’s what I experienced every day. Rivers of motorbikes flowing down the street, making sudden turns, tailgating, driving on the sidewalk. When you’re standing on the edge of the road and you see a river or motorbikes with no gaps coming, how do you cross the road? Just walk. They’ll all drive around you. But doing it the first time is incredibly scary. The only thing the police do over there is pull people over to fish for bribes. Bathrooms can be vile. Don’t talk on your phone when you walk down the road! You’ll get mugged. If you rent a place, the owner will feel comfortable just poking around your place when you’re not there. Yeah, there’s a lot of things I miss too. It’s a crazy place. But for those who’ve never been to the third world, you can’t really know how you’ll feel there.

second lesson: health, appearance

I’ve cared about my health and appearance a lot more in the last few years. Being healthy and looking healthy will help you in so many different ways, in and out of the classroom. The cumulative effect is huge. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables and avoid junk food and packaged food. I keep grains to a minimum. I snack on apples, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, sometimes dark chocolate. I exercise, both strength exercises and sprinting. I already mentioned that I stay active in the classroom. I notice other teachers (usually using less energy in the classroom) complain at the end of the day or week about how exhausted they are. I feel great. Your students will also respect you more if you have a lot of energy and if you look healthy and strong instead of sick and fat and weak. Classroom discipline will also be much better if they see that you have all the physical and mental energy that you need to discipline them.

So how do you look and feel healthy instead of sick? Nutrition matters. Avoid any kind of junk food. Cakes, cupcakes, candy, biscuits, crackers, ice cream, pretzels, french fries and the like are all off the table. I won’t pretend that I never eat them, but I keep it to a minimum. In the long run, I’m much happier. If I have junk food at my house, I eat it. One of the best ways to limit your junk food is just not to buy it at the store and bring home. You’re forced to cook a real meal or eat a healthy snack. If you have to get something, don’t buy half a dozen kinds of things that you like to eat. Just one at a time, and you can’t buy more until you’ve finished the first one. Eat a ton of vegetables, and get a variety. I eat a lot of broccoli, onions, tomatoes and the like. But it’s hard to get all the energy your body needs with just stuff like that. Potatoes and other tubers can make up the bulk of your calories. Pumpkin and related melons are also excellent. Meat and eggs are plenty healthy, they have nutrients that you can’t get from fruits or vegetables. But they are more energy dense, so don’t go overboard. The cooking oils you usually find in the store have a fat profile different from what our cavemen ancestors ate when we were evolving. They have been shown increase your odds of getting cancer and heart disease and can even affect your mood. Avoid them as best you can. These days I usually just boil my food together. At first it will be less satisfying but your tastes will adjust and it will soon enough seem normal. It doesn’t have to be bland though, I will at things like garlic and chilies or even make a curry.

The first job hunt: part 1

Young Westerners going to Asia today have opportunities, but not as many as there were a decade ago. There are still many ways to make good money and have a good career. Getting a good understanding of the lay of the land will help though. Kinds of jobs and numbers of jobs and requirements for jobs varies quite a bit by country and over time. When researching things, try to find recent info. I’ve read some blogs and other websites describing job markets that I knew were totally off. I will tell you what I have experienced in Asia, trying to stay specific. I started in South Korea, teaching in a public school, I was hired through GEPIK. I hated it. Classes were huge, I was given virtually no training or books to use, my co-teacher and principal were bitches, and at least half the class would scream at me while I tried to teach. Korea has a bad reputation amongst English teachers, and the Koreans work hard to earn that reputation. They’re perpetually angry, demanding, and have a reputation for not paying you. I’ll admit the country has advantages. It’s first world (for those of you who’ve never stepped out of North America or Europe, you don’t know how crazy the third world can get) and the pay is good. If you’re in the Seoul area, there are things to see, good public transport, and other foreigners around. I was there in 2007, I don’t think it’s changed enormously since then.

After that, I wanted to work in Japan. Japan’s cool, right? It is a cool place, but not easy to work in. The English job market is old and therefore developed. Those who have jobs there don’t want to give them up. The number of positions aren’t increasing either, for demographic reasons. If you look online, most places require you to already be in Japan or even already have a work visa. Some don’t, but they usually have other requirements. If you have special credentials, give it a try. One big disadvantage is the amount of money you need to start there. It can be a few or even several thousand dollars. No school gives you an apartment, and the deposit is not small either. You’ll have to fly in and survive by yourself until your first paycheck.

I heard things were good in Taiwan. So I went to Kaohsiung after that. I worked there for a year (2008) and absolutely loved the place. Taiwanese people are friendly and polite, everything is cheap but of good quality. The countryside is beautiful and easily accessible from the city, and the city itself is green and pleasant. There’s a surprising amount to explore on the island. When I lived there first, it was easy to find work. With everything being real cheap, life was easy. No experience no qualifications ESL work has dried up though. When I went back to visit a year ago I almost didn’t see any young English teachers like before. Like anywhere, there is work available, but it’s not easy to get. When I lived there, I lived in Kaohsiung, down south. Most of the work seems to be in the north these days, in the area around Taipei. I remember when I lived there talking to all the young English teachers. I met Canadians who would enter on a tourist visa and overstay it by years just working illegally. I met others who would come in and went to some public school in a small town, the principal was just happy to have any foreign teacher there, he wouldn’t get too agitated about papers.