To do well when teaching English in Taiwan, its important to understand the job environment and the kinds of things that will be offered you. Most teachers and prospective teachers will be contacted by agents. There is confusion about how the agents operate and what they do.
There are two kinds of agents out there: Personal Agents and Contract Agents.
A Personal Agent sets up classes between individuals or small private groups and you. They arrange for you to go to the student’s office or home and then take a percentage of your wages every hour.
In most cases they contact people who post jobs and encourage them to go to their office, telling the students that they can find them a qualified teacher. "Come to my office and take our placement test so we can accurately place you at the right level." Once the student arrives, they offer them classes at 700-1000 NT per hour. They pay you no more than 400-500 per hour. They offer no curriculum, relying on you for all the teaching materials. They are simply a shell of a company through which the student unwittingly passes.
Sadly, most students are trusting enough to believe the omnipotent guy giving them a test. They are uncomfortable in the test situation, so the students are more susceptible to the agents encouragements. "You know, 950 per hour for a 1x1 teacher is a good price. And, you can pay in advance and sign up to get this great discount."
Why do students use agents? Although it’s very simple to find teachers, many students believe that there’s no way they could get a foreign teacher by themselves. Also, the idea of a placement test lends legitimacy to these kind of agents, even though the placement test is largely ignored, used instead just to get students in the door. After the test they ask the student to sign for as long as A YEAR! This kind of agent manipulates the unfamiliarity of the student and charges them dearly for it. This is fundamentally wrong toward the student.
Its even more wrong toward you. They provide no curriculum, offer no ARC and often even no location. You travel to these one by ones. Then, they’re keeping up to 500/hr of the hourly wage. And the risk is all yours.
Further, because the wages they pay teachers are so scandalously low, they can rarely find or keep enough foreign teachers. But, they keep signing up students. So its not uncommon for them to secure students by offering up Your foreign face for a few classes, then switching you out for a non-native speaker at a lower hourly wage (thereby raising the agents take) and moving you on to the next student they need to secure.
This duplicity will redound to YOU. A student-teacher relationship is nearly sacrosanct, and this kind of betrayal is keenly felt (remember, the student has usually signed up for at least 6 months of classes). Chinese culture puts great emphasis on personal contacts. Most of your private students become your closest local friends.
Further, agents restrict what you can say to your students: "Don’t mention your pay. Don’t mention your nationality. Don’t tell them how long you’ll be in Taiwan." And, as they are operating well below the legal radar, they are not above using extra-legal means to enforce any breach of faith they might perceive.
The Second Kind: Contract Agents Wouldn’t it be great to paid a 25,000 NT$ signing bonus when you agree to work at a school? Cash, up front, 25,000… here you are! What a great way to start and settle in, right? How about 30,000? What would you say to 40,000? That’s what contract agents are being paid when you get hired.
For bringing you in they collect 60% of that fee. Pass your probationary period, they’ll collect the rest. Just for giving the school your name they are paid, while you can look forward to being put through your paces teaching 12-20 classes different level classes a week. In some cases you are probably even paying a DEPOSIT: giving 20,000 back to the school over you first few paychecks to ensure that you’ll finish the contract. Not to mention waiting for your ARC, maybe even taking another trip to HK… and the agent has already walked away with a fee of up to $40,000 just for giving them your name. Why should he be paid when its you who are doing the work? You make the decision to work there.
If you quit, the agent is obligated to find a new teacher. But, guess who gets your deposit? That’s part of THEIR contract.
Contract Agent Type 2: Monthly Wage Earner
Perhaps the key reason wages for foreign teachers are so low. The Monthly Wage Earner approaches first time teachers usually while they are still in the west and offers to place them in schools. If you are hired, you’ll see around $50,000 - $55,000 per month. Average wage for an inexperienced teacher, right? The school is actually paying $70,000 - $75,000 every month. They pay the agent. He keeps NT$20,000 and pays you your salary every month.
Further, you’re paying 20% of your 50,000 in taxes. So, for the first six months while you’re making only 40,000 every month, the agent is getting a full NT$20,000 from you.
Also, this type of agents specializes in illegal schools. Schools that, because either they are kindergardens (kindy can't have foreign teachers legally) or maybe not a licensed school, or for any variety of reasons cannot hire a foreign teacher. They come to these agents. The agents don’t tell you about this.
How do they get you an ARC? Ghost schools or fictitious Chinese classes. Some agents operate their own schools. They ask you for all the necessary documents. Assure you you’ll get an ARC. And you do. But, because the ARCs are all in Chinese characters, you can’t tell that your ARC isn’t with the school you go to teach at every morning. These agents use their own schools as a front. They have registered you as working at their school. Should your real school ever get raided, guess what? You're moonlighting, working illegally at another school!
Chinese classes? Maybe they can’t add another teacher to their own school’s rolls. Or, maybe you don’t have a degree. Monthly Wage Agents enroll you in Chinese classes, getting you an extendable visa and an ARC so you can stay. But, if you’re found teaching with just this, guess who gets an abrupt trip home? And, all the while you’re paying them NT$20,000 per month for these privileges. NT$240,000 you’re not going home with.
Also, you will be paid by the agent, not the school. If the agent finds fault with you, even if you’re a GREAT teacher at your school, you’ll be left to fight with them to get paid and still have to go to work.
They’ll Help Me
Do the agents take time to carefully consider the personnel policies and review the school before they contact you? The current explosion in the bushiban market means the kind of schools using agents are the independents: the major chain schools already have in-house recruiters. It’s brand-new schools, kindergardens and the like, who are using agents. Because the schools are all scrambling to secure themselves in the market, the last thing they have given thought to is how to treat the Foreign Teacher. Will the agent tell you that? Agents earn their money by getting you in the door.
Do the agents check the viability of the curriculum? How could they? If they were able to review English textbooks, they probably would be in the textbook business. English teaching has become commoditized, no different from selling widgets, and one of the biggest profit makers after tuition is textbooks. The independent schools especially have realized this. So… "Let’s publish the books ourselves? I’ve got a color copier and a binding machine here…". And these become the materials through which your performance is based.
Also, you are losing time. An agent knows how long you’ve been looking for a job. They can wait you out. "You know, this is a really good school. I have checked them out. Other teachers are interested." You could easily be finding your own new job instead of being pressured…
Eventually, if you choose to use an agent, you’ll wind up getting desperate. And, you’ll take that job, and they’ll get paid for the "service" they’ve provided: you.
It would be difficult to describe this as helpful.
What’s Fair There are English teaching jobs ALL OVER Taiwan. Come with enough money, US$1,000 - 2,000 to get you here and set up comfortably. If you are concerned about arriving without a job, then go with one of the majors. Otherwise, do the search yourself when you arrive. The jobs are so ubiquitous you’ll get the opportunity to evaluate them and see where you’d like to work first. You can talk to people there without someone saying, "You need to choose now. I have another teacher waiting." And, you'll get a higher wage.
It's the teacher who chooses to sign at a school and the teacher who does the work. If your teaching generates NT$900/hour, or $40,000 up front or $20,000 extra each month, then you should get it.
Protect Yourself and Your Income If you think the job sounds sketchy, cut and paste the following url to anyone who contacts you with a job offer:
It asks the following questions clearly in English and Chinese. Then, you can decide. Or, negotiate.
Are you an agent for a student?
Are you getting a fee for introducing me to this job?
If I take the job, are you willing to share part of the fee with me?
What is the student paying you per hour?
What are you paying me per hour?
How long have you been in business?
Are you an agent for a school? If so, are you an independent person acting as an agent to different schools; a company incorporated as an agency; a busiban which also contracts out as an agent; a language institute which acts as an agent?
Are you getting a fee for introducing me to this job?
If I sign with the school, are you willing to share part of the fee with me?
Before I agree to work at the school I need to see a complete list of the rule and obligations that the school has for foreign personnel. Can you provide me with this?
Will the school take a deposit? Is it negotiable? Do you understand that a deposit will make it very hard for me to agree to work at the school?
During my contract, will I receive my pay from the school or from you?
How much will I be paid every month?
As a result of my accepting the job are you getting paid every month by the school? If so, how much?
How much will I be paid every hour?
As a result of my accepting the job are you getting paid every hour by the school? If so, how much?
Will I get an ARC?
Will the ARC list me as working at my school or another school?
Will I get a working visa or a student visa?
Do you want me to work while only holding a student visa?
How long have you been in business?
Are you a school offering a job at one of your own locations?
Before I agree to work at the school I need to see a complete list of the rule and obligations that you have for foreign personnel. Can you provide me with this?
How much will you pay me every month?
How much will you pay me per hour?
Will I get an ARC?
Do you require a deposit? Do you understand that a deposit will make it very hard for me to agree to work at the school?