10 Questions To Ask About Your ESL Job

       Well, you’ve decided you want to go and teach English, and you aren’t sure what you are doing. Join the club. Going overseas to teach English is fun, exciting, adventurous, tedious, and annoying all rolled into one. It’s just like your life in [wherever you are], there will be things you love, hate, like, dislike, and don’t really care about. 

       I still have no idea what I’m doing, but I thought I would share two cents worth of free advice with you. Before you say yes to the job, there are some questions you should ask. Once you have the answers, you can make a better informed decision on what to do.
1. Is the apartment shared with another teacher, assistant, or will it be a private apartment? 
       My school tried for a while to get me a roommate, and I kept saying no. Their reasoning (beyond it was cheaper for the school) was, “You will be lonely.” No I won’t, I am quite happy without a roommate. You just need to make the decision for yourself whether you want/don’t want a rommie. 
2. Who pays utilities?
       My deal is a max of 200 RMB each month paid for utilities. Don’t confuse a monthly maximum with a yearly maximum. If one month my utilities cost 75RMB, and the next month they cost 325RMB, I owe 125RMB for utilities. I wanted a yearly, but the response I got was less than polite. I decided this was not a hill on which I wanted to die, so I tabled it until the next contract negotiations. 
3. What does the apartment include? 
       Is there a washing machine, stove, oven, is it a bed/sleeping mat (not my favourite), couches, TVs, and so forth?
       Make a list of the must items for your apartment before you talk to the recruiter/company. Be sure it is there already for you. The main thing missing from my apartment was an oven (because oven cooking at home doesn’t seem to be super popular here), I bought a good toaster oven for $75. 
       Also, ask about the hot water. You want either an electric hot water heater, or a gas one. They do solar ones on the rooftops here, and they are terrible from what I’ve been told. Lukewarm in the summer, and not warm in the winter. 
4. How far is the apartment away from the school?
       My place is about 3km away from the school. There is a chance you will be offered an apartment on the school grounds with the local teachers. It will be more like a college dorm room with (maybe) a kitchenette. It never came up as an option, but I would say no if it was offered.
5. If the school is more than 1km away, do they offer a bike/bus money/transportation?
       I bought an electric scooter for myself here. They gave me a bike which routinely had something broken on it. Before I got the electric bike, I walked most everywhere I went. If it weren’t for the fact I sweat buckets from May until October I wouldn’t have bothered with the e-bike at all and just kept walking. 
6. Is there a yearly raise in your salary? 
       If yes, how much? Also, is there a cap should you stay long term?
       Mine will go up every year until it hits a cap in 4 or 5 years. You can always change companies when you get to China, but if you find a good starting company, maybe you can settle in for the long haul instead.
7. Important Quesion: What are the required teaching hours, and what are the required office hours when I’m not teaching? 
       Be sure you are getting the answer for both, otherwise you may arrive to find you have double the required hours each week with office hours.
       I have 0 required office hours, and about 17 teaching hours. Remember you will have to prepare for classes at some point, whether it is home/office time.
8. How many days each week do I have to work? 
       I have 5 days each week (M-F). During my last contract talk, they tried to talk me into 5.5 days each week. You may hold a different opinion than me on this, I know the company did. I told them I wanted two days off each week, and they said, “It is 1.5, it’s the same thing.” No it isn’t. 1.5 means it is only 1 day off to me. In the end, they gave 2 full days off each week. 
9. How much vacation time do I get through the year?
       Each year I get Chinese nation holidays, if the kids have good enough test scores. I can’t bank on these days until the afternoon of the day before. Also, keep in mind some “holidays” require pay back days during the weekends before/after the holiday. I also have about a month for Spring Festival, and a couple months for summer. 
10. What do you get paid during your holidays? 
       Some companies will pay you full pay, half pay, or a daily allowance so you don’t die. 
Here are a few things to remember:
  • If you get a job at a public school there will probably be 40-50 kids in each class. If it is a training school then probably 12-15 per class.
  • You will hear “maybe” as an answer quite often. My experience has been it does not mean, “Possibly,” it means, “I don’t know at all. I can’t rule it out, but I have no information about this to give you.” If you get maybe as an answer you can ask someone else, or you can sit back and wait to find out. Just don’t put stock in a maybe.
  • Don’t be afraid to put your foot down. There are a bazillion jobs in China for foreign teachers. They will have a harder time finding another you than you will finding another them. If you want it, and it is within reason, go for it. Don’t be a jackass, but be firm. They will hum, they will haw, but in the end they will probably meet you somewhere near where you wanted. 

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