Many cram schools lowball English teachers with bad contracts. Here’s how you can protect yourself.
Don’t get duped–read between the lines.
BY PHILL FELTHAM
Some advice for new expats teaching English overseas: know your contract inside and out. What you need, however, is a measuring stick to determine what stipulations are satisfactory or ludicrous. I taught English in Taiwan for two years. I was treated well by most of the cram schools I worked for. The stipulations in my contracts were, for the most part, fair and reasonable. Based on one of these contracts, here is a list of some of these stipulations.
In Taiwan, all contracts usually last one year. Mine was dated less than that. In my contract, I was given a three-month probation which meant the school could terminate the agreement at anytime. The teacher could also terminate the contract within a week’s notice. Of course, a cram school suddenly terminating a teacher’s contract is not a good thing, because that means he or she would have to leave the country promptly. Foreigners can’t make a living in Taiwan–and most countries in the world–without a work permit.
My base salary was $60,000 NT (New Taiwanese Dollars) per month which works out to be roughly $2,000 US. Similar to most countries in the world, foreigners have to pay taxes–income or labor–on their gross earnings; however, this cram school only deducted health. This meant I had to set money aside to pay taxes. Luckily, in Taiwan, there are many deductions that I could claim to reduce the amount I owe. The first three months was a fixed salary and, based on my performance, I could make an additional two to five percent after that.
In this contract, my payments would be delayed if the date, usually the 5th of every month, fell on weekends or national holidays–banks weren’t open on weekends. Some cram schools do not pay for public holidays; this job did. Also, my payment couldn’t be held from me for no reason other than suspension. Some cram schools try to withhold money from teachers, however, I never had that problem.
One stipulation that I thought was a little bizarre was “if the teacher was going to miss a day, he or she must give the school advance warning unless it is clearly beyond his or her ability to do so. Repeated failure to inform the school of absences without good reason is grounds for suspension.” What’s bizarre about it? Suspension only and not termination of employment.
“If the teacher is late for work without any good reason, the salary will be docked NT$10 for each 10 minutes. Being late more than 10 times in one month may be grounds for suspension.” This cram school gave me a lot of leeway. Canadian companies wouldn’t offer this stipulation; tardiness results in termination of employment. Sick days were unpaid, and I had to arrive at least 10 minutes prior to class time.
If I wanted to get out of my contract, I would have to give at least one month’s notice. If no notice is given, $10,000 NT of my pay would be deducted. The protection for the teacher on this contract is that the school wishing to terminate employment after the probation period need to give at least 30 days notice. My school honored this contract, however, many schools do not. One cram school owner said that “contracts are only pieces of paper to keep you in Taiwan. You can leave at any time.” This doesn’t sound very encouraging to me.
I was lucky. I never experienced any of the nightmares I’ve heard about cram schools breaching or offering unfair contracts. Each cram school I’ve ever worked for has been good to me and honored the given contract. My only advice is use this information as a measuring stick when you sign your first cram school contract. iT!
Phill Feltham is a journalist who taught English for two years in Taiwan.