I’ve been teaching in Taiwan for about eight years, off and on since 2004. I’ve had a few different teaching experiences during that time and I thought it might be helpful for those interested to discuss the differences and what I think are the pros and cons of different situations.
From 2004-2006 I worked for a big chain school. It was my first job out of college. I didn’t like it there much, but I stayed because it took me a long time to work up the courage to leave. I don’t think I’d like it any more today for the same reasons I didn’t like it back then.
Cons: It’s a really corporate environment. You have to punch in ten minutes before class, grade a pile of homework right after class, follow the pre-made lesson plans EXACTLY. You have to go for training a lot during your first year. You might get observed a lot by middle managers who feel obligated to complain whether or not your class was well run. There are weird rules about bonuses and raises that look and feel like ways for management to play mind games with the staff. And the staff is really big, so everyone has to follow the same rules. For example, when one of the new American teachers requested a couple of Saturdays off because, hey, she wanted to see some of Taiwan during the year she was here, then management lashed out with a new “rule” that none of us were allowed to take any more Saturdays off–indefinitely. What I resented most probably was that they felt like they owned all our time. There was no saying that you were unavailable certain days of the week or times of the day. Your schedule could change for the better or worse at the drop of a hat. Also, the hourly pay at the chain schools is generally lower than it is elsewhere, especially for the newest teachers.
Pros: If you’re new to Taiwan and new to teaching English, a big chain school will make sure all your visa paperwork is in order, help you find a place to live, train you, and provide the materials they want you to use. Not having to figure all that out when you probably don’t even speak Chinese is a big, fat luxury that you might want to take advantage of. And after a year at a big chain school with a recognizable name, if you want to stay in Taiwan, you’ll be extra-qualified to find a better-paying gig elsewhere.
Conclusion: Despite my criticisms, even I’ve considered going back to a [different] big chain school for the next two years to make sure I could get my Alien Permanent Resident Card (APRC) on time. It would be a stable place to work and I know they would handle my paperwork correctly. If you’re new, you might like working at a big chain school for similar reasons. But most people who want to live in Taiwan beyond a year would probably be able to find more comfortable situations at other schools.
This is turning out to be longer than I expected, so I’ll put information about other kinds of schools in the next post.