Training Centers vs. Public Schools

When you start looking for a job in China, you’ll come across two types of schools: training (or language) schools and normal schools. If my past rantings have been any indication, I much prefer to work at a public school, but both have their pros and cons. I’ve worked at both and have talked to enough foreigners to feel confident that these are valid points.

Training Centers: The Good

Higher salary

In Changzhou, most public schools start foreign teachers at 4,000 RMB a month while training schools will pay double or more, depending on experience and if you specifically ask for it. If you don’t ask, well… prepare to be taken advantage of.

Better classes
Not only do you teach smaller groups (no more than 10-12 and sometimes even one-on-one sessions), you work with adults who want to be there and are serious about English. You’re actually able to accomplish something and become pretty good friends with the students.

Convenient location

Training schools congregate in the downtown areas, so you don’t have to travel very far when you want to hang out after class. The school will usually help you find a nearby apartment, too.

Training Centers: The Bad

Evenings, weekends, and holidays

It’s impossible to see much of your new Chinese city when you work until 8:00 every night. They’ll open (and close) the school a few hours earlier on the weekends, but it still doesn’t help you to travel or even see your friends. Your time off is when everyone else is busy.

Long hours

A training center’s contract may say you only teach 20-25 classes a week, but what they won’t tell you is that you have to stay at the school during office hours. And they usually have extra things for you to do. Technically, then, you’re still doing 40 hours a week, just as much as if you had stayed home.

Sudden changes

They’ll dump a class on you five minutes beforehand or take money out of your paycheck for some ridiculous reason or tell you you have Fridays and Saturdays off only to change it after you’ve already made plans. Nothing is ever set in stone, and apologies are never given.

Public Schools: The Good

Plenty of free time
A foreign teacher at a public school may only teach 12-15 hours a week, maybe less, which is soooooo nice. Plus, you get a lot of holidays (including a month-long winter break) and are actually able to go travel. That’s kind of the point of coming here, isn’t it?

Everything is taken care of
No matter where you teach, you’ll be given a place to live, but since public school apartments are usually on campus, you don’t have to worry about utilities or buying water or replacing lights and furniture. You can even eat in the school cafeteria (not advisable but nice to have).

Teach what you want
You might be given books to teach out of, but this is more like a suggestion. You can just as well go to class and sing songs and play games every day. Nobody really cares what you do. They’re just happy to have a foreign teacher there.

Public Schools: The Bad

Lack of communication

The foreign teacher is on the absolute bottom tier and doesn’t get told anything ahead of time. If there is a holiday or classes are canceled, you might not find out until you’re already on your way to class. Your right to know is often an afterthought.

Huge, impersonal classes

This is China, and the typical class has 40-60 students in it. The school will want to spread you out as thin as possible, too, so you’ll end up with 1,000 different students a week and never get to know any of them. The majority of students don’t care about learning English, anyway.

Full-year contracts

Training schools will also want you to sign for as long as possible, but they at least give you a way out. Public schools insist that you commit to a full year, then charge you thousands of dollars should you decide to leave early. Well, I guess if you’re good at disappearing, there’s nothing they can do about it.

by Clark Nielsen

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