BY NAJIYAH KELLY
Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure.
WAIT!!! Before you sign that contract, check out these tips for what to look for in an English Teaching contract in China!!
In this changing world, ESL teaching is not the way it was before, in the past. Schools, especially in bigger cities, are treating education like an industry, a form of business and foreign teachers are what some schools use to keep their mills running. So, in the “education industry” many new teachers, and even seasoned teachers, are uneducated on the legalities of the contracts that they are presented with. It is important to know what to look for, what to ask for, and when to walk away from a trap. Some schools only care about making money and good teachers loose their passion for teaching because they sign up with schools who only want to abuse them and can legally screw them over once those teachers get enough sense to stand up for themselves. Chinese parents will pay a lot of money for education in China and foreign language is one of the bigger selling points for a school because of its popularity.
So, if you find yourself in the position of looking for a job and you find a school that you that gets your interest, just take a little extra time to look over the contract. Think in detail about what you need to haggle for and what you REALLY need that you may not even realize. Finally, don’t be afraid to walk away! If a school is not wanting to be fair with you in the beginning while negotiating a contract, you probably will dodge a bullet by not signing up with them anyway. The last thing you want to do with your time abroad is to end up in a legal battle with a school that is deceitful and vindictive.
1. End of contract bonus. Make sure your contract has some form of end of contract bonus and it should state how much it is. If the bonus is performance based, have them state some criteria how they will determine grade your performance. The more details the better. Parent satisfaction, class quality, preparation, attendance, professionalism in dress code etc. They should list what they will be looking for to judge your performance, not just vaguely say it is performance based or you could end up in a situation where they don’t want to pay you and make up fake reasons for why you should not receive it, when all is said and done. I would say that this is standard and most schools offer this. If your school does not offer this, it is a red flag that they are cheap, cutting corners, and trying to skim off the top and get the most out of you that they can.
2. Actual work times. （To get your normal hourly wage, divide your monthly salary（after tax) by the hours you work in a month.) You need to get a clear defined work time spelled out in your contract, otherwise the school can call you in at any time for any reason and call it work related just to use you 24/7 as their work dog. I have worked with schools who would call me and send messages at all times of the day, on the weekends, over the holidays. One of my previous school owners even messaged me at 9:45 on a Saturday night to ask me about one of the weekly reports I had written about my students. When I told him that I need to defend my personal time, he insisted that it was an emergency that I should respond to the parents concern immediately and that this was Chinese culture and that I need to be able to respond whenever the parents wanted. (I have lived in China as a teacher for over 6 years. This is not Chinese culture) I told him that my contract hours were from 8-4:45 M-F and in the contract it says in two places that work should be done during work hours. He could not accept this and terminated my contract for “not having good teamwork”. This is real. This happens. If you see red flags for a school, honestly it is in your best interest to avoid it. Leave, find another one.
a. Overtime compensation. Is overtime mandatory or optional. Is overtime paid at the normal hourly rate or is it paid as time and a half?
b. School events? Halloween parties, holiday events, CHinese New Year? October Holiday? Graduation ceremonies? Are these mandatory? Are these paid? At what rate? Overtime or normal hourly pay? Will travel time to these events be compensated and will traveling expenses be paid or will transportation be provided? After the event is over, will transportation home be provided or compensated for?
3. What are your actual duties? Will you need to create the curriculum from scratch or do they have lesson plans already. If they say they have lesson plans already, ask to see them. See for yourself what they have prepared. The school I was with told me up and down that they had a curriculum. Did they? No. I ended up making all of the lessons myself from scratch. No training or guidance were given.
4. Support From the School. Will you be required to communicate with parents? Will you be required to write progress reports on the students? How often? How will the school handle communication between you and the parents? How will they manage the parents if there are any disagreements? Will they threaten to fire you every time one of the parents has any minor complaint?
5. Contract Termination
A. What are the consequences if the school decides to terminate the contract early? Will they compensate you for the time you worked? Will they give you a package for terminating the contract? Under what circumstances could they terminate your contract? Can they terminate at will? or do they need to provide a clear reason? What reason qualifies as justified? Is there a protocol that they follow before they terminate if they are unsatisfied? Will they have a meeting? Will they give a warning? Or will they just fire you? Is there a handbook that explicitly states what kinds of behaviors and reasons would be cause for a termination? Can they make changes to that handbook whenever they want over the course of the year? Can they terminate you for vague reasons such as “parent dissatisfaction”, “student dissatisfaction” or “lack of teamwork”.(These are real reasons that schools have submitted before as reasons for terminating a contract.)
6. This may be the simplest and most useful advice. Talk to current teachers at the school about their experience.
A. If there are other teachers at the school, talk to them about their experiences. Read blogs that other teachers have written about the school. It is the best way to get an accurate reflection of the school culture, and teacher satisfaction in their roles. Ask them how long they have been working there. Ask how the turnover rate for teachers is at the school. Ask them how happy they are with their work load and how they feel about job security? How they treat their current teachers is exactly how they will treat you.
7. Don’t forget. Ask for the handbook.
Many times there is a clause in the contract stating that the handbook is an inseparable part of the contract but schools don’t usually give it to you unless you ask for it. I have heard teachers say, “If I knew about these rules in the handbook, I would not have signed the contract.”
8. Know the Labor laws!!
Check out Chinese law on Labor contracts or contact a professional if you can. Here is a snippet about probation period time limitations from the “LAW OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA ON EMPLOYMENT CONTRACTS”
If an employment contract has a term of not less than three months but less than one year, the probation period may not exceed one month; if an employment contract has a term of more than one year and less than three years, the probation period may not exceed two months; and if an employment contract has a term of not less than three years or is open-ended, the probation period may not exceed six months.
An Employer may stipulate only one probation period with any given Employee.
No probation period may be specified in an employment contract with a term to expire upon completion of a certain job or an employment contract with a term of less than three months.
The probation period shall be included in the term of the employment contract. If an employment contract provides for a probation period only, then there is no probation period and the term concerned shall be the term of the employment contract.”
Be sure to negotiate the length of that probation period, Most times the monthly salary is paid at a lower rate during the probation period so the longer the probation, the more money you are losing.
Take your time to think deeply about the terms and conditions in your contract. Think seriously about what you want from the school. It does not matter how nice they may seem in the beginning or how many things your agent or HR may promise you. If there is a dispute, the only thing you have is your contract to fall back onto, and some schools may even try to go against that. No promise or agreement or wechat messages will help you. It costs money to take a school to court, so its not as easy as just saying, “I’ll just sue them if they break the contract.” Often times it costs thousands of RMB to move forward with legal proceedings so if they break the contract, most times you can only walk away and hope to find a better contract. Understand this BEFORE you sign a contract. Are there any conditions that state what the consequences are for the school if they break the contract? Are you comfortable taking the risk of being at the mercy of a power hungry principle who has no consequences for kicking you out on your bum? The only thing that you can do to protect yourself is to make sure the contract is going to cover you in case of any future disputes BEFORE you sign it. Be safe, give yourself time, save yourself future grief. Don’t become another sob story.