Monkey Abroad

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ESL training center

6 Reasons Why I Quit my ESL Training Center Job


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.

ESL training center

How I felt during most of my classes at the training center.

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.

ESL training center

Now let’s just hope I don’t get kicked out of China.

Author: Kevin Cook

I want to inspire you to pursue your own dream of traveling and/or living overseas!


  1. Hi. Been following your travels with interest since you followed me when I was in SE Asia. You highlight some concerns I had with ESL teaching. (I didn’t do it but have known people who have). Please note I am not commenting on you personally but it seemed to me that some people who signed up were not equipped to be teachers in challenging conditions and were only there to experience travel rather than teach. Again I am not referring to you but would be interested to know if you think that is a fair comment.

    • Bob,

      You hit the nail on the head. Many who travel are not equipped to teach under challenging conditions. I’ll admit that I’m guilty of this inability in a certain respect. I thrived in my previous teaching job at the public high school, but comparing that job to the language center job is like comparing night and day.

      Though I list the language center-specific reasons why I quit in this post, there are also personal reasons. Namely, I’m not equipped to teach young learners (5 to 12 years old) because I am not patient or caring enough.

      When I originally signed up for this position, I expressed my preference for teaching adults. I was told that I’d teach half adults and half kids, so I took the job. Once I got my schedule and met all of my students, it was… different. It was like kindergarten city, and I have an aversion to toddlers. Maybe if this language center job was comprised of adult students, or at least teenagers, I’d be happy as a clam. But I know now, for sure, that I can’t handle teaching young children.


  2. Hi Kevin,

    I love all your videos! I found this post to be extremely informative. As I am in the midst of my senior year of high school, I am thinking a lot about what I want to do in the future. My dream is to become an English teacher as I have a huge fascination and passion for literature and writing but I also do want to gain experience in teaching ESL. So the question I have for you is, how did you come to begin teaching ESL? And prior to teaching ESL, what were you planning to do in the states? And would you ever come back to the states to teach? Also, did you earn your TESOL credential in Thailand and if so, is it applicable in the US? Thanks Kevin!

    • Emmy,

      Thank you very much! I totally recommend teaching ESL overseas for a while. It’s such an interesting lifestyle.

      Before all this, I saved money for a little while, enrolled in a TESOL course in Thailand, bought a plane ticket, then left for Phuket. That was it.

      Before teaching overseas, I was in real estate and waited tables in Dallas.

      I don’t think I want to teach in America, no.

      Here’s my post about my TESOL course experience:

      Hope this helps!


  3. How’s it going with China? I taught there for 5 years.

    • Greg,
      Thanks for reading! Nowadays, I’m really enjoying my time in China. I’m moving to Shanghai in late August to begin the next chapter of the life abroad, teaching at a better school and saving some money. How was your experience in China during your five years here?

  4. I traveled to china 4x a year from
    1996-2000. I hated hated it!! The Chinese people looked so depressed. Nobody happy on streets no emotion. Official not allowing me to take photos

    We even had to be driven out of the direct route due to sensitive
    Government materials.

    The food was absolutely horrendous.
    The Chinese dishes stunk like rotton garbage. I tried just getting rice with vegetables not.

    I was in Schenzen maybe it is diff now. But I am still sccard by my travels to china and there is no way I will go back there. Not even to Bejing

  5. I traveled to china strictly for business. 4x per year 3 weeks on 1 trip (also other countries)! Sorry but I hated it

  6. Are you still teaching in China?

  7. Pingback: Workers of the World Weekly: September 16, 2015

  8. I just found your blog and I am so grateful for this information!!! I will be graduating in 2017 and heading to China (with my son) to start teaching English. I have some questions for you… 1) Do you think that I should take an extra seven months (graduating in December instead of May), to double major in English and Chinese instead of just the first? Do you feel as though that would get me a better contract and add to my experience significantly, or not necessarily? I am planning on teaching in Asia for two years then beginning a Master’s in Education online (and possibly teaching as well, depending on how it goes), so this is my career at large and I’m interested in setting myself up as well as I can for a strong future. Do you mind giving me your thoughts? xie xie!

  9. hi.. can you message me the school you worked for? i have a contract with one in China. I have done LCs in Korea, so I am quite familiar with the process.

  10. so what are you doing now?

  11. Hi Kevin, thank you for your blogs they have been really instrumental as a newbie. I’m planning on moving to Shenzhen this November…are you in the area? I would love to meet up with local expats. I recently was offered a position at an ESL center and felt uneasy about the hours and upon further reading, especially this post, I’m thinking that going the public school route would be a better option. Do you know of SeaDragon Education? Also any advice on finding housing in China, and whether it is best to live by yourself or with roommates?

    • Unfortunately I’m not going to be in China for a little while, but I hear Shenzhen is amazing. If it’s possible, I’d always choose to live by myself, but sometimes if you need to save money, having a roommate is the way to go. It all depends on you 🙂



    • Hello,

      I was wondering if you eventually went with Seadragon? I was just recently contacted by them and I am curious about their legitimacy.

      Thank you,


  12. Oh how you brought back my memories of teaching English at a Chinese Training Center. It was not as nightmarish as your experience.

    However, my students were government food inspectors and the pecking order was in full force. I had a high ranking manager with no past English Language schooling and he was treated like royalty by the Training Center Staff.

    He basically sat in the back of the classroom with a Staff member, who continually translating the lesson in Mandarin. My complaints were fruitless.

    Ironically, after 16 weeks the gentleman was awarded his certificate of completion. He Invited me out to a dinner with some of his colleagues who were light years ahead of him in their Engish comprehension. Bye, the way after dinner, he uttreed his fist two English, “Thank you.” appears he was paying attention in class.

    I taught English in China for 10 years.(2002-2012) The experiences make for good conversation.

    Thanks for sharing your Middle Kongdom experiences.experiences

  13. Hi Kevin,

    I have no plans for returning to China, as a teacher.

    Take care,


  14. Wow, I have taught K-12 and University. Your experience sounds like teaching at a university in the US. Keep them happy and get the money. I was an administrator at a university as well and know the pressure of having to make money and keep students as well as our standards high! The worse place I have ever taught was in France. What a hell hole!!! Great for holiday, but not for ESL teachers.
    I used to teach ESL in the US. The pay is low at $85 an hour to adults, but I loved it!!
    I am now teaching foreign languages in Japan (Japanese, Chinese and sometimes Spanish). I use LOTS of comprehensible input (CI) techniques that work well for all levels of students in my mixed level classes. My students are mostly high schoolers. I still like teaching little ones and adults, but for now, I am really into teaching at the high school level.
    I considered China, but I cannot get past the pollution issues. I was in Jilin Province for 1/2 a year and have been to China several times for Chinese teacher training. It is fun for the 2-4 week trainings, but that is about all I can take.
    Good luck on your adventures and thank you for you lists of ideas!!!

  15. Wow. This is what I want to write but am too afraid because of reason 2!!! Here in South Korea its the same exact circus. In fact I own and operate my own ESL after school center and have seen it all. I even had a kid wipe his dysentery poop on my nose once. True story and many others during the 6 years I have been here. I feel like some sort of “freedom” missionary. I encourage the kids to seek other opportunities and most of all I try to keep them entertained. I have it much easier since I run my own place but I was doing freelance teaching for about 9 different academies around the city where I live for a good 5 years. Those are the worst because you essentially have all the responsibility and no control over reason #3. The moms are relentless, entitled and unreasonable however nice they appear. The thing is I can’t express my frustrations publicly because due to the way the culture is structured upon the spreading of rumors it would come back and bite me in the ass hard. Reason#2 is the biggest problem I believe. The parenting in Asia is not compatible with the reality of the current times. You absolutely nailed every fault with ESL programs and foreign teachers especially in Asia. Well done.

  16. I laughed reading this. 100%. You must have taught at EF. I quit after only two months of their BS and am probably blacklisted now. The absolute worst.

  17. Hi Kevin

    I totally understand you. I made a change from ESL teaching to media recently. I am a Chinese major and found ESL teaching to be unfulfilling, Even though I enjoy being around kids, I didn’t enjoy the job at all and it just became a real drag. I was there only for the high wage and really nothing else.

    The other issue was the small expat community in my city. I found some of them to be insufferable bottomless pits and alcoholic trailer trash. Even one guy was operating a business while being a former garden handyman, what talent they’ve got coming to China?

    I had trouble breaching my recent contract however the school let me go once they hired a new teacher. I happy to be out of there after struggling with the 6 day work weeks, 365 days a year. I was often getting sick with colds and flus once every month or too, didn’t even have enough time healthy to get a flu shot. It sent me into a mini depression and I ended up getting anxiety due to the workload. It doesn’t sound like much 1.30-8.30 on weekdays, and 8am – 6pm, but it builds up over time and little you know you’re hitting a 50 hour work week.

    Now I am sitting in an office and enjoying life. I can finally wear a suit again to work and don’t have to deal with jumping children and a lack of desire.

Let me know what you think


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