Steer Clear of Eton House International School

While Eton House International School in Jinan may be a good first job for someone who’s desperate to work in China, I advise teachers to avoid it. I’m writing a short ebook with more details but for now I’ll share the undesirable aspects of the school, which brings in between $800,000 to $1,000,000 revenue a year. The school staff consists of very nice people, but the school’s policies and poor communication make it a poor workplace. For 2017-18 three teachers have backed out of the position open to teach kindergarten. I’m not surprised.

Points to Consider

  1. The principal lacks experience and has only worked at Eton House International School in Jinan. She’s an example of the Peter Principle, where everyone rises to their level of incompetence. She’s a nice, young woman, but can’t prioritize and is behind in her work. For a couple years the school’s been publicizing that they’re going to be an International Baccalaureate school. The principle hasn’t begun the application. She’s getting the tutoring she needs to fill it out.
  2. Eton House Jinan does not have you sign a contract in Chinese, which is required by Chinese law and in fact is the only contract that’s actually good in China. If they change this, you should have a person who’s neutral, translate the contract for you. Often the English and Chinese wording are quite different.
  3. After you sign the contract, you’re in for numerous surprises. For example, the contract says nothing about the teacher having to pay 4 months’ rent and taxes for the apartment. It simply says you’ll be reimbursed every month for your apartment. Later you’ll be told to bring $2,000 to $3,000 for your apartment costs. Most jobs provide housing so there’s no need for you to take one that requires you to take from your savings back home and then be in arrears for months. You can negotiate for the school to pay the 4 months rent, but when you do, expect to have to remind them and do a bit more persuading so they follow through. Get any negotiated benefits in writing.
  4. Communication is horrible. The Principal’s Assistant is an intermediate English speaker with little understanding of business, education and adult activities such as finding housing. She’s your main contact. The Principal is often busy or off campus. She’s the only staff member who can make decisions. Good luck.
  5. If you have a Masters degree, you’ll be the only one at the school with an advanced degree. I can’t imagine how a school that charges $20,000 a year for pre-school lacks trained professionals of the highest caliber. Thus the conversation and thinking in curriculum and teaching is at a subpar level. Teachers just don’t discuss issues the way professionals do, though some think they do. You’ll see signs in the school for the “writting (sic) table.” You’ll hear teachers talk about the Inquiry Unit on Self-Expression about the Gingerbread Man story, a story where the lead character does not express himself in any meaningful way and where the students don’t do work where they express or think much about their opinion of the story.You’re better off getting experience in your home country and then moving to a real international school, one that already is International Baccalaureate.
  6. All the good jobs, and even the bad ones, I’ve had overseas provided teachers with free housing. With Eton House, you’ll be on your own. You get a housing stipend, but unless you want to live in a hovel, it’s probably not enough. If you teach for Eton House in a major city like Beijing or Shanghai, it will be about a third of what you need. Then on top of the rent, they’ll tell you after a couple days of apartment hunting, that there’s a 50% tax and a management fee. So all the time you’ve been looking at filthy apartments, you don’t realize that you can’t afford them.
  7. The teachers in Eton House Jinan must use the same restrooms as the children. Yes, that’s against the law in most countries — including China. Space is tight in the school.
  8. Space is tight in the school and they’ll eventually move to a new building, but for now there’s no teachers’ room. Teachers have a few tables with computers in the corridor. This lack of space and delayed move to a building that’s of appropriate size appears to be another sign of the principal’s lack of leadership skill.
  9. The school is most concerned with saving money. If you miss your flight to Jinan from a larger city, the first thing you’ll be told is that you need to foot the bill for the next flight. Concern for you as weary, perhaps lost traveler is nil. In fact, money will be a big topic at Eton House. The administration’s main concern is money.
  10. A lot of the problems at Eton House Chengdu (see this review: http://www.gochengdoo.com/en/listings/item/eto_32240/etonhouse_international_school) are evident in Jinan. That review was eye-opening. The principal in Chengdu has advised Jinan on curriculum design. Imagine!
  11. While cheerful and imaginative, except for the blatant Eton House posters which continue to sell the school, the classrooms lack a good selection of books in English or Chinese. There are a few, but no where near enough for 15 children. Like in Chengdu, there are few copyright compliant teachers manuals. The only one’s I saw were infringed copies of manuals for phonics.

For-profit schools have their problems and many are on display at Eton House. It’s a decent job because the salary is okay for someone who is new to the field or just seeking a job in China. The sort of professional nomad. If you have a degree in education, I’m sure you can do much better.

ESL Watch

ESL Watch is a very useful website for teachers looking for jobs. Like Yelp or Trip Advisor it offers reviews of employers worldwide in the field of English as a Second Language. If you want to avoid a horrible job, checking this site can help you steer clear of the dodgy employers.

Like anything, you have to discern whether the reviewer is a hot head or the employer pretending to be a satisfied teacher. Despite this, it’s a step in the right direction.

“Discharged”

I haven’t been very public about this but three weeks ago, after a wonderful culminating event at my summer volunteer teacher training, I opened an email from my job saying that they didn’t think they could get me a visa in time (hogwash — you can get one in 4 days or if you go to Hong Kong first 36 hours) so I wouldn’t be able to return to China to teach.

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It was quite a shock and while I’m not still reeling from this, it still is hard to take. What’s more I had a job offer in June, but I decided to stay where I was. Blasted! I should have changed. Now that it’s too late for that job.

I did email back (one day I’ll post the cold toned email I received) to clear up any “misunderstanding” about when I could submit my passport for the visa. I was able to do so August 7th, when last year they didn’t even ask for it till August 16th.

(Yes, last year there were delays and we were all late, but as I wrote you can expedite the process and get one in a few days as I’ve said.)

I asked about jobs at the home campus, but there are none and I asked if I could return to China in the spring, but never got a reply.

Considering that my colleague, who was an exemplary teacher, but vocal about the problems in our program was not asked back, I’m not surprised. I too was vocal and raised issues, like we need a curriculum. (Our program had a que sera sera curriculum where our employer left all the details of the courses up to us. That allows for a lot of creativity, but there should be some framework, not just a textbook. In October, when I asked about putting together a curriculum, I was told that my employer “didn’t have enough skin in the game.” Huh? It’s not a game. Besides, as one former colleague estimated, the university probably earns $1,000,000. So you think they could invest something in their China programs. It seems right.

As a colleague said, “How is X University even accredited?”) Other issues I’ll write about at a later date.

I have been busy job hunting and have focused on library jobs since I’m almost done with that Masters. I’ve also done a lot of writing, revising one project and starting others. I was bound to leave China at some point, but I wish I had more time to job hunt — and a chance to send all my valued belongings back to the US. I’ve got an apartment full of belongings, some meaningful and important and others household goods I can give away. I haven’t gotten around to figuring out when I can take care of that.

Prayers and good wishes are most welcome.

 

Advice

A friend has a friend who’s considering changing careers and teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language. My friend wants me advise her friend and we’ll meet on Tuesday.

I have enjoyed all the students I’ve worked with — from kids in Japan to university students to college professors in Indonesia to adults on up to 90 years old in Japan. Like a lot of teaching work, you get to connect with interesting people and to be creative. However:

  • There are only a few countries where American’s can get jobs without to much difficulty: South Korea, China, Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. Japan has become hard to find work in. Europe requires an EU passport. South America has few opportunities.
  • It’s not a job that welcomes older people as you near 60, as we all do, no country I’m aware of wants you.
  • In the US most jobs are part time. The place to work and have job security and decent benefits is the K-12 realm. If that’s not your ballgame, you’ll be stuck stringing together a few part time jobs.

    Adjunctivitis has become the norm and it’s exploitive.

That’s the reality. I pity friends who went and got Masters degrees thinking EFL would be a second career for when they get older. It isn’t.

SIEC 2017

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SIEC stands for Summer Intensive English Course and it’s the second time I’ve led one of the sessions in Indonesia. This year I went with my friend and former colleague, Helene. Helene taught writing for publication while I taught presentation skills. I dread giving presentations so this was a challenge, but I found some great materials and my students, all working instructors, worked hard and in our final day presented their research in a mini-conference.

I was honored to work with these kind, hospitable people. They quickly formed a supportive learning community and were so kind and helpful in the feedback they gave each other.

On the weekends they took us sightseeing and at the end they showered us with gifts and kind words.

I so admire the dedication and effort they’re putting into making Indonesia more of a part of the academic world.

New Semester

I’m half way through the first week of the new semester. I’ve got new students. Some new English names: Nectarine, Molin (she made it up herself and it has no meaning), Cookie (a boy who likes cookies), Stark *a boy), Jagger I the student never heard of Mick Jagger), Moco (?), Nikey (a misspelling of the shoe company), Ankh *suggested by an Australian friend of a female student), Tab(??) and Garcia (not inspired by Jerry) I’ve had a lot of Cherries and a couple Apples and an Olive as English names, but never “Nectarine.”

What’s very weird is I’m the only English teacher here. The other four are still waiting for their visas. One should arrive this weekend and the others sometime after. I can imagine their frustration with the uncertainty. There’s very little information during this process that started months ago and probably takes longer than any other country.

We’re having weird weather. This past weekend was in the high 60s and today we have snow.

We’ve got one new IT professor and she seems quite nice. She’s got a lot of food restrictions and hasn’t wanted to eat out, which is a shame since food is so central to the culture.

My schedule’s okay, but Thursday I finish at 10 and I don’t teach again till Friday from 2pm to 4pm. I did need Friday morning off to attend my online class, and am grateful for that, but teaching Friday afternoon every week . . . ? First World problem, I know, but how I’d like to move that to Thursday.

The books have all arrived in time and all my students have theirs. For another teacher, who’s teaching IT classes, they’ve boycotted the book because they feel it’s too expensive. I’ve been in classes where the book was expensive, but I just wouldn’t dream of not getting it.

I had planned a few projects for sophomores, but it turns out I’ll just have two sections of freshmen. C’est la vie. I miss my old students, but these new ones will be lovely too.