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Who to go through for a position teaching English - Aston?

Sam Ingram

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I am a recent graduate of University interested in teaching English as a foreign language abroad with China as my first choice and simultaneously learning Mandarin.

This is something that I have wanted to do for a while now however family issues during University prevented me from taking a year out in order to do so. Last year I applied for the BBC's Journalism Trainee Scheme and was shortlisted, but rejected eventually. I believe this was because I didn't have much experience with languages and have not travelled extensively beyond family holidays. So I see this as an opportunity both to fulfil a small dream and get the experience hopefully necessary to get a place with the BBC once I reapply this year.

I have recently been in contact with Aston who are apparently "extremely interested in my application" and are based in Wuhu. I discovered them on a University jobs website.

I currently have only a BA, with no TEFL qualification. Money is tight at the moment so I would prefer to go for an english teaching job that doesn't require such a qualification. I could scrape the money together if I need to, and I am aware that jobs that don't require TEFL wont be as good as ones that do.

I have researched Aston and it seems like they are not trustworthy. I got that impression from their correspondence. Some of their documentation promises a paid-for apartment, some says you need to find your own but they will help, some says that you have to only pay phone and heating bills while Internet, water and electric is paid for by them. They also promise ten hours of Mandarin lessons a week, but elsewhere promise one or two hours.

Some of their documentation even says that you receive a free hours lesson for every hour you work, which is ridiculous considering the parts that say your shifts are nine hours a day, five days a week. A friend of mine spent a summer a couple of years ago working at a Panda reserve and his 'ten hours of chinese lessons per week' turned out to be two girls working behind the bar who would begrudgingly teach you if you wanted to learn.

So I'm pretty disillusioned with Aston and am wondering, firstly, if anyone has any experience or has heard any horror stories/good things about them. Secondly I'm interested in any other agencies (I'm unsure what the correct term is) or schools that people on here would recommend for someone in my position. Ideally I would like a short contract, which I why Aston initially interested me, and I would love to live and work in Shanghai or one of the larger cities.

If anyone could give me some advice, point me in the right direction, or tell me that what I am doing is completely wrong then that would be great.

Thanks for reading,


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I can't say anything specific to Aston, but just wanted to respond to this...

AFAIK, to get the correct visa to teach, you also need 2 years TEFL experience. So yes, there is a good chance that the schools that would be willing to hire you would be of the "dicer" type.

While this is technically true this should hardly discourage you; in practice many schools (including in Shanghai and Beijing on down) are willing to hire just about anyone with a BA (and even less). Although the requirements are occasionally enforced more tightly, in general you should have just as much access to "decent" teaching gigs as more experienced teachers - this is because the wage ceiling is extremely low in nearly every Chinese school with English teachers, so it's worth it for them to dismiss experienced teachers with high expectations on conditions/wages and replace them with relatively in inexperienced teachers.

Of course, you might feel inclined to describe schools with that kind of attitude towards experience/tenure as "dicey", but that would preclude your employment at a majority of English teaching schools in China.

In general from a English teaching gig you should expect an apartment (or add several thousand to your wage), low hours (16 or less teaching hours), and no Chinese classes tied in (which are prone to employer whims later on - better if you just arrange them yourself from a higher wage job). Perks with better jobs include paid holiday (1 month a Spring Festival) and return tickets - these are pretty common, although less so at private schools. Been awhile since I taught so I don't know the standard monthly wages for TEFL around China anymore.

Those are just my opinion, others may differ.

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Well, I can say something Aston specific - I worked there for just over 3 years, and I'm even the narrator of one of their recruitment videos :-P You'll find that different Aston schools in different regions have slightly different rules. I assume you're in touch with the recruiters in Dalian. Confirm with them exactly what the conditions of your contract would be - you should believe them, and not any other rubbish that might be floating around the internet. I find it very difficult to believe that you would be working 9 hours per day, 5 hours per week...

Generally speaking, you'll get a free apartment though will be expected to share with another foreign teacher. You can request to live alone, but you'll be expected to pay half the apartment's rental cost. You can choose your own apartment if you like, the school will give you their standard apartment fee added to your monthly salary to spend on apartment rent as you wish.

You won't need a TEFL cert before you go - the degree is enough to secure your visa and any permit related to your employment. Aston provide their own in-house TEFL course which is not bad - certainly as good as anything you'd get anywhere else. You can get yourself a place on the course by asking the Dalian recruiters about it.

Again, I strongly recommend that you confirm everything with the guys in Dalian. I know most (all?) of them personally, and they're good people.

And no, I'm not earning commission :-)

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Is Aston in Dalian still called Future? I worked there several years ago. In those days, most schools were operated by Aston themselves, and were quite good to work for. Since then, most of their expansion has been through franchising. I have no idea what the current situation is like, but I suspect that conditions at schools vary somewhat depending on who owns the school.

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I believe it's two years post-degree work experience of any kind - it doesn't need to be specifically TEFL work. That's just a general work visa requirement, not one specific to teaching jobs.

I would ditch agencies altogether. Figure out where you want to work and what kind of job you want, then go looking for schools that might employ you and try and get in touch directly. It'll be a bit tougher, but you cut out a middle man.

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Yes, Dalian Aston schools are still called "Future School". Same company though.

Roddy's right, you're meant to have 2 years of post-grad experience, but this is *loosely* adhered to.

Agree about avoiding agencies too. No need to use them, it is so easy to find jobs without them, so why give them a cut of your cash?

Anonymoose is right too - conditions will vary depending on who owns the (Aston) school and where it is. Recommend you get yourself into one of the more established hubs like Xi'an, Dalian or Jinan. Time spent teaching at the smaller, and particularly the newer, schools may not go as smoothly... but that isn't to say that all the small and new schools are rubbish. Again, I know some of the managers personally and they are great people that will really make sure you are looked after.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hey Sam,

Have you considered working at a university?

I came to China without much (any) experience other than a degree in Chinese from an Australian university and a 60-hour online TESOL certificate (which I could have gone without because none of my colleagues seem to have one) and applied for a job through an agent at Beihang University (北航大学)in Beijing here I've been working for the past 1.5 years. There have been ups and downs and cultural differences that have been overcome but overall it has been a great experience.

Let me summarise the benefits of working for a university or public school rather than a private English college:

1. Less dodgy - university work contracts are printed by SAFEA, State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs (Yes, being a native speaker of English makes you an expert! :P) so you don't need to worry about being cheated by your school, and you will be paid regularly because unlike a training centre, the university is not there to squeeze as much money as they can out of you and your students

2. Getting a legitimate working visa/permit is less of a hassle - Many private schools will ask you to work on an Business (F) or tourist (L) visa, even though this is totally illegal, whereas a university will sponsor you for a Foreign Expert Certificate and a work visa.

3. Free time - Working at a university, you will rarely have to work more than 20 hours, and often significantly less. I started off working 18 hours a week (9 classes), and in my second year I received a 'promotion' of sorts, and now only need to teach 8 hours a week (4 classes). This means that you will have time to improve your Chinese, and the university might even let you go to some of their Chinese classes if you ask nicely enough. Oh, and many of your students will jump at the chance to teach you Chinese 1-on-1 for free (they may or may not ask you to help them with their English in return, depends how much they like you!)

4. Better working hours - University hours are Monday-Friday/ 8am-5pm. Many private schools will ask you to work weekends and into the evenings (because this is when the kids you teach have time to come to class), which will kill your social life and isolate you from locals.

5. The students - At an English training centre you will likely be teaching spoiled brat 暴发户 children whose parents can afford to send them to private English training centres. At a university, you will be teaching 18-25 year olds, your own age group, so there is much more of an opportunity for genuine cultural exchange and maybe even making friends. The downside of course is that there will always be a few students in each class who don't really have any interest in learning English, but have to attend because it is a compulsory class. Then again, if you are nice enough, are able to gain their respect and make your classes stimulating, they won't be a problem.

6. The pay/living conditions - This really depends on how you look at it and what your goals are. Universities will pay you less than a training school (I get Y6000 a month plus a free apartmet worth about Y3500), but you also work less hours. Private training centres will pay you Y10k plus (in Beijing, anyway), but this may or may not include a house, and as mentioned earlier, you will work more. And, if you do want to make money, you will have so much free time working at a university, that you will have no problem finding part-time work at training centres or doing private tutoring, as there is a huge demand for both (I make Y100-200 per hour doing tutoring).

7. Choice of locations - English training centres are inevitably concentrated in rich/developed cities. This isn't really a problem, but if you are hoping for a more genuine or meaningful experience, you might be better off looking for work in a far flung university or high school somewhere and really become a part of the community and feel that you are making a difference. I have one former colleague who is working at Tibet University, and she absolutely loves it. Working at a private language school, she wouldn't have had that opportunity...

8. Holidays - Universities give LONG holidays, i.e. whenever the students are on holiday, so are you - which opens up huge possibilities for traveling or internships/language study. Private language colleges will not be so generous, and might even ask you to work more during holidays!

In conclusion, If your main goal is to get a feel for the country, make local friends, have enough spare time to learn Chinese and holidays long enough to travel, rather than to make money (and as explained above there isnt really much difference)... I would consider working for a University or High School rather than at a private language school.

Sorry if what I wrote isn't clear, I wrote it in a bit of a hurry! Let me know if you have any questions


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I should probably also add that I haven't actually worked at a private English school but I did begin the process of applying to a few before being put off by the horror stories/generally strange atmosphere of the one interview that I actually attended! I also have a couple of friends that work/have worked at them.

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Aston seems to take advantage of those that are fresh off the boat. I stayed with a friend teaching for them last year and his living conditions were pretty bad. He was placed on the top floor of a 7-story building without an elevetor. The windows were broken in the kitchen, with a washing machine that didn't work. The building's heat didn't work, so they were given a large space heater in the living room. Yet the building's wiring was also terrible, so every time they turned it on it would blow a fuse. He eventually got a new washing machine, but the power blackouts were always a pain.

One day we visited one of his co-workers that had been teaching for a few years and his place was amazing. Well furnished with a brand new flat-screen TV. Basically, I went from one of the worst apartments I've been in, to one of the best. All he had to do was negotiate.

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