They’re pretty up front about this before you start; they have to be. Most people don’t think it’s that bad, and if you’re at a newer school with fewer students, it’s probably not. But if you’re at an older, busier school like I was, well, you’re in for quite a surprise.
Not only will you be teaching more hours, but you’ll also be teaching your regular classes on the weekends and perhaps even in the evenings as well. And there are always a few teachers each year that have to work split-shifts. Believe me, your summer and winter months in China will not be much fun.
The intensive summer course at EF is by far the worst time of the year if you’re a teacher, and many people I worked with shared my opinion. In Shenzhen, which starts about a week later than the rest of the country since the kids stay in school a bit longer, the course will start in the first or second week of July.
It will begin on Monday with 4 to 5 main types of classes: those which are for kindergarten age kids, in the mornings; those which are for primary school kids, in the mornings and afternoons; those which are for middle school kids, in the afternoons usually; those which are for high school kids, again in the afternoons; and perhaps another course for reading, writing, or very high-level students, usually held in the afternoons.
You’ll see your Academic Hours (ACH), the amount of hours your contract allows you to teach, go from 30 to 40. One ACH is about 40 minutes, so that might not sound too bad, but you’ve got to factor in the additional time you’ll have to sit around the office planning stuff.
It’s true that they provide all of the materials for you in summer, usually bookwork, project work, and review work. From my three years of teaching intensive summer courses at EF I can tell you that the provided materials are extremely lacking in all three areas. First of all, the book will either be too difficult or too easy for many of the students in your class. You’ll have a mixed-class, which means different ability levels and different ages will be in the same class.
When it comes to the project work, I think most of it is a joke. It doesn’t take nearly as long as the lesson plan says it will, and many of the students find it’s boring. The same thing goes for the review work; it can’t keep the kid’s interest and they won’t find it very fun. So all of those provided materials are pretty much useless, unless you take the time to really adapt them and change them about a bit.
You’ll also find that you’ll be teaching your regular weekend classes, which means a 9.5 hour day on both Saturday and Sunday. You’ll somehow have to find time to plan for those lessons sometime during the week, and when you finish those weekly classes all you want to do is go home, so this is pretty difficult to do. You’ll also be teaching VIP, or one-on-one lessons, when you’re not teaching your regular or summer classes.
Overall during summer you’ll see the quality of your teaching and your fellow teachers’ teaching go way down. And don’t forget the day off they steal from you. You’ll now have just one day off a week, on Wednesday. It’s a real bummer, but it’s in the contract and you signed it. Most teachers realize after intensive summer course, which ends sometime near the end of August, that they’ll be finished with their EF contracts as soon as they come up.
Winter is much the same as summer, but thankfully much shorter. You’ll only be required to teach for 3 weeks during the intensive winter course, but the problem is often how they do it.
My first two years we taught for 2 weeks in a row, usually beginning in late-January or early-February. At that point we’d have 5 to 7 days off for the Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year. We’d then come back and do the final week. I never liked that, and the last winter I worked they changed it so you worked 3 weeks in a row and then had your holiday. I thought this was a much better approach; I think management must have gotten a ton of complaints.
The provided materials will be just about the same as they were in summer, except instead of teaching the ‘A’ book you’ll be teaching the ‘B’ book. Most of the projects and review work will also be similar if not the same, and you’ll run into many of the same problems.
Thankfully since many families in China travel during this time of year you’ll find that many of your weekend and evening classes will be cancelled. You’ll still have to come into the office and sit around for OPT and planning, but at least you won’t have to teach.
You’ll get several holidays while you work at EF, but you won’t like the way that management sets them up. First of all, when there’s a holiday in China, expect that you’ll be working 6 to 7 days in a row. If it’s a 5 to 7 day holiday coming up, expect to work anywhere from 8 to 10 days in a row. That’s just how the Chinese government does it, which never made much sense to me.
Now, what EF does is they move the weekend classes around whenever there’s a holiday. This often means that you’ll teach a full week, have your weekend classes, and then have your few days off or your full week off. When you come back, however, you’ll find that on the first day you’re right back on the weekend. EF will never miss weekend classes if they can at all help it, and it will make your schedule very difficult, and your planning nearly impossible.
In my opinion EF is a very greedy company and they won’t cancel any classes that don’t have to be cancelled. It’s a real pain and no one likes it except the upper-management who I think must be profit-sharing off of it. You’ll just get a headache.
A Final Thought
Whenever new teachers are brought in to work for EF it’s nearly always a month or a few weeks before one of the intensive holiday sessions. If you come in before summer like I did, you’ll do winter, and end your contract before the next summer. They’ll do everything they can to make you stay, often because they’re shorthanded.
The reason for this is that many teachers leave their contracts early whenever one of the intensive holiday sessions is coming up. I would urge you to do this as well. They started instituting loyalty bonuses when you finish out your full contract, which amounted to 3,000 RMB when I left.
That might sound like a lot, especially if you’re planning on travelling or starting over in your home country, but just think back to how you felt during your last intensive holiday course. And you’ll also need to go to the exact last day of your contract to get that loyalty bonus; I told them I wanted to finish 3 days early to get better airfare price back to the US and they wouldn’t give it to me.