I taught a semester of ESL at a public high school in Thailand and loved it. After that I wanted to try something different, so I made the transition to teaching at an ESL training center in China. Big mistake. Moving to China to teach ESL was a good choice, but signing up to teach at a training center was a bad move. Here are 6 reasons why I ditched that gig.
1. Money Comes First
An ESL training center is a business first and a school second. Parents are encouraged to pay an upfront fee to enroll their child with promises of rapid English development. The pressure falls on the foreign teacher to satisfy these lofty expectations.
Here’s how it works: A language center needs students to make money. The center promises quick results to get more students. Parents nod and pay money. Kids attend class. Many kids don’t care about the class. Parents of said kids think the teacher is doing a bad job because their child doesn’t sound exactly like Morgan Freeman after one month of class. Kid advances to the next level anyway, even further behind than before. Process continues.
If the truth is told to the parents (i.e. their child is absolutely not ready to move on to the next level), they will likely refuse to reenroll their child because the school failed to deliver as promised. This pattern results in a majority of students learning at an improper level in order to maintain a large enrollment and ensure the most profit for the school.
2. Rich, Needy Parents
The kids who are privileged enough to attend an ESL training school often have well-to-do parents, and like most people with extra money, these parents are entitled to complain if their lofty expectations aren’t exceeded.
In many of my classes, the student’s parents sit in the back of class and watch, sometimes for the entire lesson. It’s very uncomfortable, especially when their kid is difficult to manage. It’s like I’m babysitting while they just sit back and watch me unsuccessfully babysit their rambunctious, spoiled child.
Parents eagerly complain if their child isn’t excelling as quickly as promised by the school’s zealous marketing team. If a child is way behind his/her classmates and not ready to advance to the next level, they’ll get bumped up anyway to ensure that the parents pay for re-enrollment.
3. Spoiled Kids
I assume most of these kids are used to having their way at home, so why should it be any different in the classroom? A spoiled kid who’s forced to attend an ESL training class by his/her parents is a recipe for trouble.
All it takes is one or two trouble makers to distract the other students and the class becomes a circus. It’s like herding sheep. They just wandered about aimlessly and I constantly had to drag them back. As soon as I’d gotten the students refocused, another student would wander off.
I sympathize with the children whose parents forced them to attend, but at the same time, those students drove me crazy because they were the ones causing the most trouble in my class.
4. Language Center Hours
During the week I only taught a few hours, but the classes began at 6:30pm. By the time the students finally sat down in my classroom, they’d already been at school all day so their attention spans were fried. Throw in the fact that these kids are 5 to 8 years old and you’ve got a short attention span double whammy. Keeping those students focused should be considered a punishment.
90% of my workload was on weekends. Saturday and Sunday were both an all-day test of patience and endurance. These students, who’d been at school all week, had to attend a two-hour ESL class in the weekend. A few of these kids genuinely wanted to learn English, but most, well, you get the point.
5. Lesson Planning Nightmare
At this particular ESL training center, I taught 6 different levels of students. That means 6 different lesson plans must be created and implemented every single week. The school boasts pre-made lessons and materials ready to go for the teachers and it’s simply the teacher’s job to teach them. In theory it should be a breeze, but in reality it’s a joke.
The students are either way too smart for the pre-made lesson plans, or they’re way too behind to understand the material. The cookie-cutter lesson plans rarely seem to be at the right level. This means that, unless you want to hear complaints from parents, you’d better make most of the lessons up from scratch. But be warned, if you do this, you’ll receive complaints for not teaching “by the book.”
6. No Break
I was fully aware of this when I initially signed up, but like I said earlier, big mistake. There are no winter or summer breaks at an ESL training center. In fact, the hours are more intense during those times because students are out of school. It’s a full-time, year-round teaching fest.
Compare that with teaching ESL at a public school, where teachers get a break and travel stipend during the winter and summer holidays. If you value your free time, I don’t advise singing a contract with a training school.
All of this is just my own experience and opinion. If you’re considering teaching ESL abroad, I don’t suggest working for an ESL training center. Instead, try to get a job at a public school. The hours are better, the pressure is lighter, and the pay is about the same.
On a personal note, I’m finally free of the ESL training center job (for good this time). I quit the job weeks ago, but I remained working due to various obligations. I decided to pay the breach-of-contract penalty so I could escape from the company’s vice grip, and I’m no longer being held hostage.
I’m free, although now I’m in legal limbo with the Chinese government. I’m currently trying to transfer my working visa and permits over to my next job, but China’s thick red tape is squeezing me tight. As soon as I’m in the clear, I’ll share more about my next teaching job.