My apologies for not keeping you all up to date. My contract with Yi Jian school will be over June 13, so I have been busy trying to line up a new job.
Various sites exist where teachers will post their comments about schools so here are mine.
Yi Jian School:
This school has some good and bad points. Don’t be surprised by anything and don’t expect things to be done the same way they would be done in the West.
I would not recommend this school to a rookie teacher unless Eva (an experienced foreign teacher) is here to work with you. Otherwise you will have a painful time. Note that you do not get paid until you start teaching classes. Observing classes to train is unpaid time.
The kids, parents and most classes are great. You might feel uncomfortable about have everything you do shown on TV monitors, but you will get used to it. Everything else can vary considerably.
Lying is normal here. You may be asked to misrepresent your age, teaching experience or country of origin to parents. It’s just the way things are done here. (I’m not sure if it’s the same in other schools) From this I would assume that its also normal for the school to lie about pretty well anything that suits them.
You will get a lot of classroom experience and come to love your students. I have one class that is uncomfortably large (18-20 students) but the others are more manageable at 6-10. I find the big classes are a waste of teaching time.
There is one school to avoid-the nursing school/high school. All the current foreign teachers refuse to teach there. So likely it will be given to the newest person. In cases of desperation, the school hires part time teacher to teach there. You have the right to refuse classes (something that is not always clear. You just have to back it up by mentioning that you have a return ticket and be prepared to leave the school for home or find work at another school). Be prepared to be subjected to an enormous amount of pressure to teach at this school.
The school uses
New Interchange (not so much-its for older kids)
300 sentences (the old book-There is only one class remaining using this boring book)
The school has a minimal supply of teach tools (hammers/sticky balls). If you buy other things, the school will reimburse you. I did this at first, but now I have my own stockpile of tools that I will keep when I leave the school. Normally I spend 300-400RMB/month on supplies.
There is no training as you would expect in the west. You come with what you have learned from your TESL program and your own teaching experience. ‘Training’ consists of letting you observe other teachers teach until you feel you can teach a class. I observed for one weekend and then started teaching the next Tuesday. Training and class observation time is not paid. Be careful here!
As of May 2007, the current foreign teacher roster is
Eva (1st year with the school-10 years experience and a master’s degree)
myself (1 year in June 2007)
Chris (2 years-now left) was the veteran and former head-teacher. When I arrived, there were three teachers (Adam, Erika and Chris); two of whom were in the process of leaving.
If you are lucky Eva will still be here and will take you under her wing and show you the ropes, help you prepare classes and show you around town. If not you are pretty much on your own.
There are usually 2 teachers in the classroom for all classes. The exception is the New Interchange classes where the foreign teacher works alone. Here the students are older and the level of motivation can vary.
The Chinese assistant is responsible for keeping discipline in the classroom, but the foreign teacher will get the blame for any problems. This has happened to me once. As a matter of course, I usually take the blame for any problems in the classroom. When you come to see the poor conditions for the Chinese teachers, it seems very unfair for the foreign teacher to make more problems for their Chinese assistants.
One big surprise is that all the classes are monitored on closed circuit TV. All the parents are watching the classes and are not shy to complain. You will usually be under a microscope for the duration of the class. Teachers have to remember to teach within view of the camera and speak loudly enough not only for the students, but for the very picky viewing audience.
You are allowed to refuse classes you do not want! Just prepared to back it up with a threat to go home (a return ticket is very useful for bargaining) or join another school.
You are supposed to meet with your assistant at least half an hour before a class to prepare. In theory, each of you is supposed to come with a lesson plan and between the two of you, get the real plan done.
The reality is the assistant will tell you what pages to teach and what they have taught in the Chinese teacher’s lesson. From then on, the foreign teacher prepares the lesson plan.
The school has no guidelines for the preparation of teaching plans. The Chinese teachers have to hand in a teaching plan to the head teacher. It’s not clear what happens to theses plans.
Chinese Teaching Assistants:
My assistants (Vicky, Heidi, Flora, and Connie) are angels! They are super helpful to me. From time to time you will get a new assistant for one class as part of their training.
The school usually turns over all its teaching assistants every year. There is one long serving assistant (Vicky-Nangang campus) who I had the pleasure of working with-She was fantastic. All the assistants are very nice but have varying degrees of experience.
All the assistants are young women. They are asked to keep their distance from the foreign teachers (the school won’t tell you this) so don’t expect to be socializing with your Chinese colleagues. I was told this by teachers who have left the school.
There is one shocking thing you will notice. Foreign teachers are treated completely differently from their Chinese colleagues.
Foreign Teachers Chinese Teachers
Salary 5000-6000RMB/month 650-850RMB/month
(There are bonuses that can be earned from high survey rankings and monthly test scores.)
Working hours 24 52-55 (or more)
The foreign teachers have their own lounge and are segregated from their Chinese colleagues. There is one thing you will not be told-the Chinese teachers are discourages from having friendships with the foreign teachers and with each other. If you are expecting to make friends with anyone other than your foreign colleagues, you will be disappointed.
Management treats the Chinese teachers fairly badly. Prepare to be shocked. Expect to hear loud shouting sessions where the head teacher will berate her subordinates for varying lengths of time. This is one of the most distasteful and unprofessional things that I have ever seen in my life.
Each Chinese teacher has the first month’s salary and 150RMB/month every following month held back and given to them only when they complete their contracts. The teachers are basically economic prisoners. Salary holdbacks fund the traditional welcome dinners.
The Welcome Dinner
It’s a tradition that new and outgoing teachers get a dinner. Here the bosses, head teachers and all foreign teachers come. None of the other Chinese assistants are invited. Usually, there is a lot of drinking and toasting.
Until you learn some Chinese, your social contacts will be limited to other foreign teachers (from this or other schools) and if you are lucky, English speaking Chinese friends. I met most of my outside Chinese friends from taking Chinese lessons at another schools, and by being friends with teachers who have left the school.
In general, Chinese people are very friendly and happy to make friends with foreigners.
Dating customs are completely different (as can be expected). I have been told that proper dating etiquette does not permit any kind of touching, let alone kissing. If a Chinese girl takes your arm, or kisses you it is to show she loves you. Well I haven’t been on that many dates so I don’t know if this is a universal Chinese custom.
The school is supposed to provide all the Chinese lessons you want. This usually does not happen. The lessons are given by a newly hired Chinese teacher and usually stop when she gets too busy.
I have had lessons from two teachers. If you really want to learn, you have to pay for formal courses at other schools. Bincai school(one of the more well known schools) charges about 700RMB per month. I went to the HSK academy for 260RMB for each 2 week session.
If you want to learn Chinese properly, you should expect to pay for lessons at a school or a tutor.
There are two campuses-Daoli and Nangang. The apartments are small.
Mine is 28 sq. meters (although the school says its 32 sq.m). And to boot, I have one of the bigger ones. When I was recruited, I was told that my apartment would have DVD player, washing machine, Internet and 2 bedrooms etc.
The DVD player turned out to be someone else’s and had to be returned. The washing machine never worked. I had to use a laundry service. Internet means you have a connection-and you pay (you have to read the fine print carefully).
There is a hot water heater that worked once and not again. I’ve been taking cold showers for almost a year now.
The bathroom/shower/toilet is a little 1.5 sq.m cubicle. In Harbin, the city controls when the heat comes on, so you will need to invest in a heater for winter and a mosquito scent disperser in summer. There is an air conditioner.
The building is dirty and unlit (outside) and poorly lit inside. I find it disgusting but you have to lower your expectations here.
For Daoli, there are 3 apartments for teachers-2 are close to the school, and one is a 35 minute walk away (also 11 flights up an unlit stairwell).
They pretty well ignore you unless there are complaints about your classes. This can be a good or bad thing depending on how you like to work. There are no staff meetings, no staff notice boards and only the odd communication. If parents have any complaints, you will be told on payday. Here the owner and the head teacher will go over all the complaints with you. I have had 2 such sessions and they are not too pleasant.
They may start to observe your classes. Here the head teacher or another assistant will sit in you class and take notes. If it’s the head teacher she won’t just observe-during the class from time to time she will as ‘what’s your plan?’ This is another shocking thing about being observed.
The treatment of foreign teachers varies considerably. The head teacher will talk to her favorites or ignore you.
The owners of the school don’t speak English so most of the time no-one really talks to you.
If you want to be paid on time, you have to remind them! Otherwise they will forget to pay you. This is one of the shocking realities here.
The school may time the signing of your contract until after a long holiday. Watch out for this!
The school cooks lunches but I usually eat out. As a rule, all the foreign teachers eat elsewhere.
Bincai (best apartments, good managements and very professional)
Modern English (Nangang campus- great atmosphere, friendly colleagues)
Worst by reputation are:
I was shocked at the number of Harbin schools that are blacklisted. Everyone has their own opinions after a while. Each teacher can have a completely different experience at the same school.
5000RMB/month plus an apartment is pretty well the minimum wage for foreigners. I wouldn’t take anything less even if you have no experience. Demand for teachers is huge so you have considerable bargaining power.
I was initially offered 4500RMB/month but haggled my way up. Now Yi Jian is trying hard to save money so likely they will try to bargain you down. Don’t accept this and just keep looking for other work.
In Harbin here are what some other schools are offering
Modern English: 6000/month (1 years experience)
Nasdaken: 7000/month (with no apartment)
Bincai: 5000/month(1 month probation) to start and increases your salary to 6000 in less than a year and to 6500 after a year.
Star College Harbin Normal University: 5000/month with 2 days off per week, 2 months paid vacation per year (very nice!)
One of the good things about Yi Jian is that there is no need to keep office hours if you are not teaching. However it is one of the lowest paying schools.
If you have a white skin, you are the best type of foreigner that a school can want. I was rejected at one school because I look Chinese! This is one of the silly realities of teaching in China.
For a fairly minimal lifestyle you can expect to spend 1500-2000RMB/month. To set yourself up, you need as a minimum
A cell phone
A bank account (this you can’t do on your own unless you know Chinese)
The biggest initial cost is likely a collection of DVDs. There is no English TV in Harbin. There is a small store that sells English DVDs (pirate copies) for 7RMB each and up. They offer service in English and replace any defective DVD. This store is very near the Daoli school.
I got the cheapest cell phone I could find at 348RMB. You have to pay in advance for service-you don’t get a bill.
The school helps you set up a bank account and shop for a cell phone. This is one of the nice things they do.
Here are my expenses for March 2007.
Lunch at a food court cost around 10RMB. Dinners elsewhere can vary tremendously. You can eat very well for 30RMB. Most restaurants do not have English menus though. You can expect to point and guess a lot and hope for the best.
Snacks Food Toys Dates Food Court Meals DVDs Other Total
1 8.0 28.0 36.0
2 10.0 10.0
4 48.0 48.0
5 100.0 30.0 130.0
7 10.0 40.0 50.0
8 1.9 1.9
9 99.3 4.9 104.2
11 102.0 102.0
12 55.0 65.0 20.0 22.0 162.0
13 34.2 30.0 64.2
15 20.0 12.0 32.0
16 10.0 68.0 35.0 69.7 182.7
17 2.0 20.0 22.0
18 5.0 5.0
19 78.0 9.0 87.0
21 36.0 22.0 58.0
22 25.0 25.0
23 15.0 35.0 54.0 104.0
25 32.0 21.0 53.0
26 30.0 30.0
27 43.4 25.0 15.0 83.4
28 41.4 47.0 15.5 103.9
29 5.0 5.0
30 68.0 5.0 73.0
31 5.0 5.0
13.9 467.3 405.0 93.0 75.0 276.0 20.0 227.1 1,577.3
There are at least a couple of Wal-Marts in Harbin. Carrefour is here too. There are plenty of places to shop in the Daoli downtown district. The other districts I don’t know so well.
Everything closes down around 9pm. After that, its nightclubs, bars and bowling only. The city can be beautiful in some areas (downtown Daoli) and quite ugly in the outlying areas.
Don’t expect much service in English around the city. You really need to have a translator with you and must learn a few basic phrases ASAP.
Prices are fixed at the bigger stores but you can usually haggle at the smaller shops. If you look like a foreigner, expect to be gouged regularly until you know what you should be paying and can say a few basic shopping phrases.
When I did my original research, I was unaware that there were sites and blacklists. Much to my surprise, later I was told that this school was blacklisted by a teacher in 2004. One of the complaints was the teacher’s passport was stolen and withheld.
Now that I have been with Yi Jian for almost a year, the full story about this school is much clearer to me. The person in question is an email friend now so I know much more about what happened.
I hope this information gives you a better idea of what to expect working at Yi Jian school, life in Harbin and teaching in China.
Labels: Yi Jian