Dr. Spilchuk – Picking the Right School From a Distance2017-06-02T14:25:37+00:00
Dear Dr. Spilchuk…

May, 2006

Picking the Right School From a Distance

Dear Dr. Spilchuk,

My husband, Richard, and I have been selected to teach Mathematics and English at China. We have accepted via email, but have not received or signed the contracts, yet. As we understand, it is a relatively new school. Is there a way we can check up on the school to find out more about it? They have a a poorly designed web site, which does not give us much information. We also have been trying to find more information about the area and living conditions, but without much success. It is a 2-year commitment so I am a bit uncomfortable about things without more information. We have checked the InternationalSchoolsReview.com web site but there are no reviews of the school. You seem very knowledgeable about schools and the international system. Any suggestions you can offer will be appreciated.

Sincerely,

Jillian Fish

Hello Jillian,

International and IB Schools are often such in name only, this we have learned through the most recent article posted on the International Schools Review web site. My first suggestion is that you contact the nearest embassy of your nationality, closest to the city in which the school is located in order to make some inquiries about this particular school. Your embassy may or may not be able to assist you but chances are good they may have some information.

Certainly, I would not sign for any more than one year at a time with these people. It does seem unreasonable for a school to expect you to commit to two years when little, if any, information is available. And it doesn’t sound like they are making an effort to make information available to you. It may be that they are asking for a two year commitment because if you dislike their school, you are essentially stuck as they will not pay your return airfare, shipping, etc.

Let me ask you, first, where were you recruited to teach at this school? Was it through ISS or through an internet organization? May I ask what you are being paid in Yuan per month? That will give me some better idea of the quality of the school. The better the school, the better the pay. Of course this is not always true but a school that pays a low salary in relation to the local economy shows little regard for the well being of their teachers, and in effect may be using them as necessary fixtures to maintain their “American” appearance.

The average rate of pay for Chinese folk is between 500 – 800 Yuan per month so you can see that a Westerner can live quite royally while in China. Vegetables and fruit are very fresh. I chose to become vegetarian for the two years on and off that I lived in China simply because I was never sure what kind of meat I was eating or where it had been. Other Westerners I know had no such concerns, however; they enjoyed everything placed in front of them and survived to tell their tales of rare and exotic delights. The markets are wonderfully colorful and filled with lovely people who want nothing more than to say “Hello” to you and practice their English. I quite love the Chinese people. At the end of the day, however, no matter how much you enjoy China, a low salary will make your stay an unfulfilling and frustrating experience. There is nothing worse than to be in a great place and be too broke to take advantage of all it has to offer.

You should also consider what the school has stated to be your living accommodation. Have they offered a one or two bedroom flat, power, all appliances, fully furnished, within walking distance of the school, etc.? Is health insurance provided? What about travel expenses and shipping allowance? You need to clarify all of these details. Who is the owner of the school? Is it a person of Chinese descent or other? Who is the Principal? Western or Other? Ask to be able to communicate with both the Principal of the school and with some of the teachers who have already taught at the school. This will be a major telling point if the organization recruiting you will not give you email addresses and names of teachers you can contact. I would even make arrangements to telephone long distance to a teacher who is prepared to talk to you and who is currently teaching at the school. You might check out Skype.com and use their computer-to-phone connection for making your calls. The cost is just pennies a minute so you can afford to talk for hours.

You should also check into what will be the average size of your classes? Some Chinese schools teach amphitheater style where teachers have upwards of 100 students per class. Ask if Chinese laws regarding teaching time apply to you. If they do, you will only be teaching about 1/2 time.

In closing, best wishes and I suggest you post your questions about the school on the InternationalSchoolsReview.com Forum. Please keep me informed as I am always interested to learn how teachers make out abroad. If you have never been to China, I can guarantee you that it will be the experience of a lifetime! If the school looks good and you can get more information, I say go for it for the initial first year and then consider your options. You will not regret it!

Take care,

Barbara

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