Teaching English in Taiwanese Kindergartens
Teaching in Taiwanese kindergartens is a controversial and confusing topic. Some say it’s illegal for foreigners to do it, some say that it used to be illegal, some say that it should be, some wish that it were.
The reality is that teaching kindergarten in Taiwan is illegal for foreigners. Many Taiwanese are extremely capable English speakers and the government seems to be aiming to protect these jobs for the domestic economy, or to protect kindergarteners from over-schooling; nobody really knows the reason.
Still, you can definitely get a job teaching kindergarten, but you will be knowingly working illegally and subject to deportation or other legal action if caught. For this reason, kindergartens are famous for having police “raids” where the foreign teachers are rounded up and documented. Nominally, the government has been trying to increase the frequency of these raids but there are still many, many foreign teachers doing it.
There is also the problem that, if you teach kindergarten, you will not actually be given a contract for it as the school will not want to admit that it is employing you to do so. Your contract will say that you are teaching elementary classes at the school.
All that weird information aside, we can get down to what the experience of teaching kindergarten – colloquially referred to as “kindy” – is like in Taiwan.
Kindergartens have a bad reputation for being a bit shady and for treating 4-year-olds like high school students in terms of study habits. On the other hand, the pay is usually the best around. It’s becoming increasingly popular for parents in Taiwan to expose their children to English as soon as possible, and that’s where you come in. Teaching kindy will usually score at least NT$700 per hour, but you can find much more lucrative positions as well.
The job of a kindergarten teacher is either outrageously frustrating or exceedingly rewarding, depending on your capacity and desire. Mostly, you will be exposing children to the language, communicating with them with lots of body language, visuals and sounds. These children are very young, just four or five, and can’t even really express their thoughts and feelings in Chinese, let alone in English.
If you love playing with kids, lifting them up in the air, twirling them around, etc., and have an inhuman amount of energy, you can look into kindergarten teaching.
Teaching English in Taiwan at Buxibans
Buxibans, also known as “cram schools”, are a ubiquitous aspect of Taiwanese culture. The word is Chinese (補習班, bǔxíbān), and literally means something like “supplementary learning class”.
Essentially they are institutions dedicated to improvement in a specific field or area. Buxibans may be schools for music, language, math, science and so on. They mostly exist for the purpose of educating children; cram school students generally range from 1st grade to junior high school. Adult buxibans are available, though are usually referred to by more official titles such as “language schools”.
It’s important to know that buxibans are always attended in addition to normal school. If you teach at a buxiban, your students will already have English class in school and several other classes as well.
Cram schools are always privately-owned and run. This creates a possibly frustrating dynamic where your teaching may be micromanaged for marketing or customer satisfaction purposes. In a public school, teachers are held to a high level of respect.
However, buxibans are expensive, and Taiwanese parents hold strong beliefs about the importance of having their children study at them. Therefore, if you make a student angry, the repercussions can be surprisingly harsh. Parents have an economic relationship with your bosses, and threatening to take their money elsewhere cuts at the company’s bottom line. For better or worse, parents wield a lot of power over buxibans.
Chances are very high that, if you are Taiwan to teach English, you will end up at a buxiban. There are hundreds if not thousands of different companies, so applying and finding the right one for you can be a dizzying experience. Essential in this task will be the Taiwanese expatriate discussion forum, Forumosa. The website has a “blacklist” and “greenlist” for schools to avoid and look into, respectively.
Because students at buxibans are doing them as supplemental courses, classes are usually in the early afternoon or evening. A buxiban schedule is very comfortable as you generally won’t start working until after 1:00 or so. The average workload for a full-time buxiban teacher will be around 20 to 30 hours per week, with pay starting at NT$600/hr.
Unfortunately, this also means that your students can potentially be burnt-out and unwilling to work hard. Additionally, you won’t be able to give a lot of homework as you are competing with more important tasks such as the memorization of the Chinese character for “whole, together, jointly” (合) or recitation of centuries-old poetry.
The most important thing to remember is that buxibans are businesses, but also happen to be schools. This can have negative effects on your experience, but it will be even worse if you forget that this is the reality of the situation.
Private Teaching in Taiwan
When parents’ complaints start to get unbearable, when your boss is constantly on you about marking or some student or another, when you are simply sick of answering to other people, you may look to the magical world of private teaching, where you are your own boss.
Giving private lessons in Taiwan is a pretty good gig. The pay is quite a bit better, on average, than teaching at a school; some very experienced and tactful private teachers charge over NT$1,000 per hour (about US$32). Also, the schedule, location and materials taught are all decided by you. Private lessons are routinely taught either in the homes of the students or at public places such as a café or McDonald’s.
The field of “private teaching” in Taiwan runs the gamut from playing video games with 5-year-olds to giving hardcore grammar lessons to university students. Scheduling is most commonly in the evening and on weekends, or less commonly in the early mornings. People in Taiwan generally have little free time in the afternoon, though if you find a university student who is studying for an English test or applying for foreign universities, afternoon classes could work as well.
Still, teaching private classes requires a deftness that many lack. Each student will be different and thus have separate desires, learning styles and experience with English. Because you will probably be supplying all or most of the materials and lessons, you should be able to manage these differences.
Also important to know is that the chances are that your private English class is pretty low on the list of a Taiwanese person’s priorities. That’s not to say that they won’t take it seriously, but on any given day there are probably about eight or ten possible things that will trump your class – late-night surprise work meetings, big Chinese school exams, some holiday you didn’t know about, Grandma visiting town – these are all reasons for you to have your class canceled on short notice.
Finding private students is more and more often done online, though word-of-mouth and personal references are still the strongly preferred method. Make sure to ask any students (or parents of students) if they can be contacted by other prospective tutors, so you can get a good reference from a Chinese speaker.
Finally, you may come across situations involving teaching several students at once, a kind of private “class”. This is common as it generally makes it more lucrative for everybody once the middleman is gone.
Teaching at Taiwanese High-Schools
Teaching at high schools in Taiwan is a tough gig to score. Generally speaking, foreign teachers are not allowed to teach at public high schools, which account for the majority of students.
Teaching at private high schools is a possibility, but you will almost definitely need some kind of certification beyond a Bachelor’s degree. Depending on the school’s prestige and stinginess, a basic TESOL certification may be enough, but a Master’s degree will give you a considerable advantage.
Working hours will differ from buxibans as you will be working in the English department of a full-fledged school rather than at a specialized company. This means that you will be probably responsible for working earlier in the morning and for dealing with larger groups of students. High school will have around 25 students per class. Just think of the kind of thing your high school English teacher did – you would essentially be doing a watered-down version of that.
The pay at high schools will basically be the same as elementary buxibans, but will offer you many more hours and a much more “genuine” teaching experience.
Be aware that high school principals often prefer North American accented English, so if you’re not from the US or Canada you might be unfairly turned down for work.
For the most part, the high school curriculum will be set up for you with books and other materials provided. Obviously, lesson planning will be your responsibility, and high school teachers seem to do a lot of it.
Materials covered will focus heavily on grammar and vocabulary. High school students will soon be taking the highly competitive university entrance exams, which test heavily on obscure English grammar concepts and vocabulary words, so parents at these private schools take the two subjects seriously. Still, you will be expected to mix it up and provide a cultural picture of Anglophone living, giving insights on literature, drama, conversation practice and so on. Writing will also be given an importance that it usually lacks in buxibans.
Many high schools separate students based on their English abilities, so you may wind up teaching a few different classes.
Teaching English to high-schoolers in Taiwan is a fun experience but can be a bit alienating. The students are over-worked and generally have a negative image of being in school. They also tend to be shy which is frustrating when trying to get people to talk in a language class.
Still, if you associate children with temper tantrums and runny noses, teaching high school literature can be a breath of fresh air*.
*Fresh air serves only as a metaphor. Those Asian high school sweatsuit uniforms quickly acquire an unforgivably rank odor.
Teaching at universities and colleges
Ah, the university – that Grecian place of intellectual growth and exploration, reserved only for the top minds of the generation.
Universities in Taiwan are more or less separated into the public and the private. Whereas many of the top schools in the West (and the U.S. in particular) are private, in Taiwan the most prestigious institutions are public. National Taiwan University (NTU, colloquially referred to as 台大, tai-da) is at the top of the list, and has become a source of pride in Taiwan as it recently broke into the top 100 in world university rankings (it’s currently at the #94 spot).
In addition to the public institutions, private universities are widespread but are decidedly more vocational, without many extensive programs in fields like the arts or literature. These are generally referred to as “technology universities” and are more specialized toward vocations and business.
Generally speaking, you will need a Master’s degree to give English courses at universities in Taiwan. For the most part, though, the area of study of your Master’s won’t matter; you don’t need to have studied English or Education, though having a Master’s in Education will greatly improve your chances of finding a job.
Jobs at prestigious public universities will more than likely be affiliated with a kind of extracurricular language center that the schools have. At these institutions, being an instructor of normal English courses in the main course load requires legitimate academic work and is not simply an “English teaching job” per se. These extracurricular courses will probably be at night and taught through the university’s internal language center. Also, they tend to focus on conversation as the students will get a lot of exposure to reading and writing in their normal coursework.
Private “technology universities” will be structured similarly, though you may be able to get a job that looks more like you are part of the actual English department rather than an afterthought language center.
It’s conventional wisdom here that the public/private universities differ greatly in treatment of studies and quality of teaching. At private schools, money is the goal, and they can be wildly overpriced. They will pay you well but your students may not necessarily value the time they spend in your class. At public institutions, many of the students have high aspirations of work in government or in foreign companies.
For better or worse, pay at universities is about the same as at cram schools. That means the attraction will have to be your love of high-level English grammar and/or your hatred of children.
Teaching ESL at Language Schools in Taiwan
Language schools are essentially the adult version of buxibans. They are places where Taiwanese adults go to improve their skills for a variety of reasons. Some are businesspeople with foreign clients, some are university students aiming to study abroad, some are just trying to get a leg up on the job market.
These classes can vary a lot and are not as standardized as children’s buxibans. Many schools, such as Wall Street Institute, are specifically dedicated to Business English, and will be more likely to hire if you have business experience.
Others function much like you might expect a language class to, with a mixture of grammar, book work, writing and so on. Still others are conversation-specific, as many Taiwanese are relatively comfortable reading and writing English but have weak speaking and listening skills. Conversation classes are very popular amongst Taiwanese adults.
Then, there are test-specific language schools and courses. The unending list of English-test acronyms (TOEFL, TOEIC, IELTS, GMAT, GRE, GEPT, and so on) leaves a big market for instruction on how to pass these exams. Teaching for the tests will be pretty straightforward, with lots of materials already prepared for you in advance.
Teaching at an adult language school, like elementary buxibans, only requires a Bachelor’s degree, but there is a stronger importance placed on experience. If you have taught TOEFL before, have a TESOL degree or have experience in the business world, finding a job will be significantly easier. Teaching English to kids, in many ways, requires little more than talking with a native speaker’s accent. Adults require abstract explanation of difficult grammatical concepts that require a bit more knowledge of the subject.
It’s important to note that adult teaching positions in Taiwan are a bit tougher to come across than those for children. It seems like nearly every kid in the country is enrolled in some English school or another, but time and money constraints on the older generation make it much more difficult for them to take part, resulting in a smaller market. It is generally understood that Taiwanese adults are overworked – their bosses usually expect them to stay at work late into the night.
Also, because of this fact the hours for adult teaching may be sporadic or may uncomfortably concentrate on the weekends. Courses can come and go as students do; an ambitious businessman might suddenly lose his job, or get assigned to a new project that prevents him from being able to make it to class.
If you look for jobs at adult language schools, be sure to discuss the hours that you can be guaranteed, so they don’t pull the rug out from under you halfway into the semester.