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Author Topic: Foundation programs (my two nightmares)  (Read 10954 times)

birddog

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Foundation programs (my two nightmares)
« on: August 15, 2007, 11:29:29 PM »
OK, folks, there are about 672 reasons why you should not work in a “Foundations” program in China. I’ll give you the most important ones -- from my experiences.

If you are not familiar with Foundation programs, these are programs operated at universities and colleges, usually in “cooperation” or “partnership” with an overseas institution. The stated “goal” of such programs is to help strengthen the English skills (speaking, reading, writing, listening) of students in China prior to their departure for Australia, the U.K., or Canada. The teacher is usually expected to prepare the students for an upcoming IELTS exam, which is usually required as part of the student’s entry into the overseas university. (Some programs have made “special” arrangements with the foreign institution to somehow circumvent the IELTS exam.)

I have worked with two foundation programs, in two different cities, and I will never do so again.

The first one was in a large city in eastern China, and the overseas partnership was in Perth, Australia. The original job posting sounded promising: good salary (especially for that particular city) and an impressive sounding program. I had a telephone interview with a woman in Perth who conducted herself in a very professional manner and answered my questions and concerns with reasonable and seemingly credible information. She also pledged solid support should I meet with problems at the school, claiming she had a close relationship with the team in China. (I’ll return to this subject later.)

The school dispatched a small group of folks (and a van) to the city where I had been living for some years, to transport me and things to their city and institution (a college attached to a reputable public university). The apartment arranged near the center of the city was clean, spacious, handsomely-decorated, and well-equipped. Two days later, I was to begin my teaching.

When the day came, a school bus arrived very early in the morning (my first class was to begin at 8:00) to take me to the school. The bus ride was almost an hour-long, and the “college” was located in what looked like a war zone. All area buildings surrounding the school had been demolished, or were in various states of demolition. It was just a huge pile of rubble – quite noisy and extremely dusty.

As I entered the gates of the school the building facades (the campus held only a few buildings – two teaching buildings, two dorms, and admin building, and a canteen) looked reasonably decent – white and modern. However, my classroom was shabby, strewn with litter and had no heat or air-conditioning. The building's corridors were open at each end, making the place extremely windy (and this was the beginning of winter).
The bathroom (same one) for the teachers and students was the worst I had seen in all my years in China – no partitions!

After getting through my morning classes, I was taken to the office of the “headmaster” (i.e. the owner) to be greeted. His office was plush, and equipped with lots of modern amenities (with a western-style toilet) nearby.

My teaching schedule was quite unattractive: classes very early in the morning, and very late in the afternoon (last one ending at 6:00PM), with very few classes in mid-morning, and early afternoon. It was explained to me that the “foundation” program was required to work around -- in “cooperation” -- with the students’ major, and so their major courses received scheduling priority. Therefore, I had to arrive at the “college” earlier than the Chinese teachers, and departed campus hours after most of them had gone home. No one at the school attempted to open a relationship between our program and the various majors departments. We were all clearly working in competition and conflict with one another.

As for the deplorable working/classroom conditions, I learned that the building had been erected in 2004!

My five groups of students (two first year; two second year, one third year) possessed the full range of English skills. Some had impressive speaking levels, while others (all in the same large class of 40+ students) had precious little English-speaking ability, or desire to improve. Not only was I expected to improve their skills, but to also prepare them to pass an upcoming IELTS exam required for their entry in the university in Perth.

With each passing day more and more questions arose regarding the program and the working environment. The woman “managing” the program on the Chinese side spoke no English and always offered ridiculous excuses and explanations as to why the working conditions and many of the students’ performance were so low (or simply awful). It turned out that the woman who conducted my telephone interview from Perth (with a heavy Aussie accent) was the daughter of the local non-English-speaking “manager.” They were obviously working together and would say and do anything to lure teachers to that “college.”

I also soon learned (from the students) that two months prior to my arrival, a group of disgruntled students had pelted the headmaster’s office with stones, demanding partial refunds for the horrible dormitory condition he had provided and expected them to endure. The “headmaster” always kept a limo waiting outside his office for swift getaways.

I got myself out of that terrible within three months, but months later (back in the city where I had lived for years) I agreed to teach in another foundation program (albeit initially unknowingly).

I had been hired by a very (seemingly) established and reputable university to join the Foreign Languages department, but at the “last minute” the contract stated I would work for the “International” department (i.e. another foundations program) instead. Normally, I would have refused to sign, but I was already situated in campus housing at that point.

Foundation programs (from my two experiences) are nothing more than commercial businesses operating out of university buildings. The second institution tried to pay me public university wages, but the students (their parents) were paying MUCH more than standard public university tuitions.

The students in foundation programs had two characteristics in common. They have failed (or performed quite poorly) on the gaokao (China’s college entrance exam) and the come from families who are reasonably (comparably) wealthy (at least by Chinese standards). Most of them told me they had paid around 30,000RMB for each year in the program. Basically, their parents had bought them a seat in a university classroom, and the huge sums paid came with promises of entry into a selected overseas institution (the first “college” sent students to Australia; the second “International” university department dispatched students to England).

Foundation programs are completely money-driven (with “deans” and other “leaders” pocketing huge percentages of these tuitions for themselves) and have little or nothing to do with merit or educational integrity. Little or none of the money is actually invested in the program,, teaching materials, equipment, etc. Everyone (admin and students) is just biding their time until they can get the students shuffled off to the foreign university. Some of the students are engaged and diligent, but a great many of them are spoiled and apathetic (not only about English, but most things in life).

In my first situation, the students were expected to achieve an IELTS spoken score of 6.0 to enter the program in Australia. When I learned that a great many of the previous “graduating” students managed only a 5.5 score (which allows them a provisional entry), I expressed concern about this trend -- because the provisional acceptance requires additional, and very expensive, pre-req English course before they can enter the major curriculum – it was explained to me that actually the students don’t mind receiving the 5.5 score because the additional time required for the pre-req English courses increases their chances of immigration! Parties on both end of the equation are making huge sums of money and the teacher is holding the bag for the entire, unethical mess.

The second campus (in great contrast to the first) was enormous with my classrooms spread far apart and always on the top (fifth or sixth) floor of the building (with no elevator, of course). Again, the foundation program was clearly operating in competition with the traditional (and hopefully more ethical) university departments and curriculums.

The students at the second (and more “reputable”) university were eventually bound for England. No IELTS examination was required for them. However, in order to continue in the program from the first year to the second (in China), students had to achieve a passing score of 60% (!!!) in their final semester assessment. The foreign teacher who had preceded me (and bolted) had failed about 20% of the students (we’re talking almost 500 students in total here – 10 groups of about 45-50 students per class, who meet only once a week with the foreign teacher). After teaching the students for about four weeks, I felt they were quite lucky that he had passed as many of them as he had!

Unfortunately, the “International” department “dean” had promised parents that their precious, lazy and failing child would continue toward study in England. She implored me to alter the final grades of the previous instructor, so that ALL students would receive a passing score. I refused (as well as a number of her other outrageous “requests”). As a result of my lack of “cooperation” I was given three days’ notice to vacate the campus apartment. In order words, I was evicted for refusing to change academic scores.

Frankly, I was glad to get away from that hellish place and end the nightmare. I vowed never to go near another foundations program again! After I got myself into another living situation, I contacted the head administrator of the program in England, via email, and informed her of how the university in China had demanded and tried to force me to alter the final scores of the students. No reply.

‘nuff said…


« Last Edit: August 18, 2007, 10:28:18 PM by birddog »
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Raoul F. Duke

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Re: Foundation programs (my two nightmares)
« Reply #1 on: August 16, 2007, 07:09:46 AM »
I wholeheartedly concur. My own experiences with foundation programs were not very good. One common theme: complete academic bankruptcy accompanied by unchecked corruption and profiteering.
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we're building the corrupt, incompetent, baijiu-swilling buttheads of tomorrow!" (Raoul F. Duke)

birddog

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Re: Foundation programs (my two nightmares)
« Reply #2 on: August 19, 2007, 06:20:51 AM »
Thanks, Raoul!

Ok, folks, here’s a very recent job posting for a Foundations program in Suzhou:

Suzhzou - English job offered

Posted By Australian foundation program dept, Suzhou University

Date 17 August 2007

We have a job in Australian foundation program dept, Suzhou University .

The salary is 7000RMB MONTHLY PLUS 2000Rmb housing allowance for 16 teaching hrs, (20classes/week, 40min/class),Plus working visa /medical/airfares

The teacher will teach students general English and management.

The students are high school graduates who prepare to study further in Australia and Canada after this university preparation program
Suzhou university ranks NO 57 out of the 100 national key universities and ranks NO. 9 out of top 10 national most beautiful universities .

we need a teacher who can start from SEPT 1,2007

Requirements:
1) Native English speakers from Canada, America ,UK and Australia)
2) Bachelor degree or above ,business related is preferrable
3) Minimum 1-2 years teaching experience (certified teachers preferred)
4) Having recognized ESL teaching certificate, such as TEFL TESOL or Cambridge CELTA is preferrable but not a must
5) Dynamic and enthusiastic, with a strong sense of responsibility to students

- - - - - -

While I won’t go so far as to label this job ad as “dodgy,” there are some entries I’d like to call attention to, such as the teacher is expected to teach management in addition to oral English (to recent high school graduates with no working experience, yet!). Also, it mentions 20 teaching periods, but it doesn't say how many groups of students the teacher must teach. It could easily be 10 different groups, meeting only once a week (which is what happened to me in the second foundations program I was briefly involved in Nanjing). I’m also rather amused by the wording of “requirement” no. 5: {with a strong sense of responsibility to students” This is amazing as I can only imagine the “sense of responsibility” shown to students on behalf of the institution’s administrators. From my past experience, once they take the tuition and place a foreign face in front of the students, their “responsibility” usually ends there.

There's also no mention of a possible IELTS exam requirement (which is highly likely).

Also, one year ago I had a very unfortunate interview experience with Suzhou University. Prior to coming to Suzhou for the interview, I mentioned some terms in the contract, such as housing allowance (as sent by the agent) and the university said the terms were not acceptable (in other words, they later refused to provide 2000RMB housing allowance). I said the contract was the one THEY had provided the agent. They said her contract was “not true," but I told them I could not go forth with the interview until I saw the "true" contract. Nothing (in the way of a contract) was sent after that; only a very aggressive demand that I arrive in Suzhou three days later to BEGIN the job. Mind you, no apartment was waiting for me. All that had to be arranged after my arrival, but I was expected to relocate to Suzhou and begin teaching within three days. Ridiculous!
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old34

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Re: Foundation programs (my two nightmares)
« Reply #3 on: August 19, 2007, 07:09:23 AM »
Suzhou University has a very well-respected Australian Studies Center and it's been there for a long time. It is (was) as I understand it, mostly funded from grants. When I was teaching at Su Da, the Oz Center was working on a Chinese translation of the Macquarie Dictionary. The Australian teacher/researcher who was there at the time had a reduced classload (2 classes as I recall) and spent most of her time compiling, translating and editing a section to be added on "outback-isms" (which she graciously allowed me to look at as the work progressed - very interesting).

I have no idea whether this Australian Foundation program is connected with the Center or rather some other "profit-center" set up by the school. If the former, it might be worth a look.

However, I strongly agree with birddog and Raoul on the admonition of avoiding foundation programs in general.
Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad. - B. O'Driscoll.
TIC is knowing that, in China, your fruit salad WILL come with cherry tomatoes AND all slathered in mayo. - old34.

birddog

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Re: Foundation programs (my two nightmares)
« Reply #4 on: August 19, 2007, 07:44:19 AM »
Hey, Old34,

Thanks much for offering some additional information about Suzhou University, and their Center for Australian Studies.

My original intent in posting the job ad was to highlight common pitfalls of such job postings and contracts. However, as I noticed it was for a position at Suzhou University, the posting also conjured a personal experience from the past. Due to Suzhou University's mostly high reputation, I was taken aback by their unprofessional behavior towards me.

As you concur, the Foundations program featured the job ad probably has nothing to do with the more lauded and respected center for Australian studies at Suzhou University.

"I wish my first spoken word was 'Quote' so I could make my last word 'Unquote'."
— Stephen Wright.

old34

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Re: Foundation programs (my two nightmares)
« Reply #5 on: August 19, 2007, 08:07:19 AM »
I taught directly in the Foreign Language College. They didn't then, and I don't think they do now, use "agents" for the College.

Raoul is probably more up-to-date on all this, but...

...it sounds like you were interviewing for one of the...let's call it..."adjunct" programs that are set up at (not by) the university wherein some group (often faculty or staff members) pay the school a fee to rent space and use the university's name (and use agents to fill the slots). Just an uneducated guess.
Knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is knowing not to put it in a fruit salad. - B. O'Driscoll.
TIC is knowing that, in China, your fruit salad WILL come with cherry tomatoes AND all slathered in mayo. - old34.

birddog

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Re: Foundation programs (my two nightmares)
« Reply #6 on: August 19, 2007, 08:28:40 AM »
Yes, indeed, old 34,

I think you are absolutely correct in your thoughts regarding my past experience with Suzhou University. It is these  "adjunct" programs (Foundation programs are one sterling example) that often seriously tarnish the reputations of otherwise reasonably credible universities. I think many of them have no idea how much harm these attached, money-driven enterprises ultimately bring them.

Thanks, again!
 
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Raoul F. Duke

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Re: Foundation programs (my two nightmares)
« Reply #7 on: August 19, 2007, 10:09:28 AM »
"Suzhou University" is becoming a hard-to-read phrase in job ads.

Overall, SuDa is indeed a very old and respected school. Not a Top 10, but always well up in the top 100.
It directly operates a number of English programs, on different campuses and for different students and different purposes. These vary a lot in quality; I hear some happy tales and some horror stories about "Suzhou University".

Then, there are peripheral programs, like the Center for Australian Studies (their Chundering 101 course is very famous! bfbfbfbfbf), that are genuinely connected with the University. They will prominently mention SuDa in their job ads. Again, your experience can vary a lot from program to program.

Finally, there is a horde of foundation programs and "joint venture colleges" that have attached themselves to SuDa like a nest of ticks. Their only connection to SuDa is in leasing classroom space from them, yet they often trumpet "Suzhou University" prominently in their job and student-recruiting ads. Most of these places ain't nothin' but mangy dogs.

A lot of expats are running around Suzhou saying they work for "Suzhou University", but whether they realize it or not they in fact are working for one of these other places.
Be careful here. bibibibibi
"Vicodin and dumplings...it's a great combination!" (Anthony Bourdain, in Harbin)

"Here in China we aren't just teaching...
we're building the corrupt, incompetent, baijiu-swilling buttheads of tomorrow!" (Raoul F. Duke)

birddog

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Re: Foundation programs (my two nightmares)
« Reply #8 on: August 19, 2007, 12:46:29 PM »
I always admire Raoul's efficient and succinct observations. The "hard-to-read" problem is becoming incresingly systemic China-wide. The same can be said for the second university I detail in my original post. The horrible and (as Raoul aptly calls it) "academically bankrupt" program I was briefly involved was at Nanjing University of Science & Technology; a school usually held in high regard in Nanjing. The foundations program was "run" by the "dean" of the International Department, which is situated in a key administration building in the center of the campus. In all of my teaching experiences in China, it was clearly the worst of the worst -- and there's some stiff competition for that distinction!

But on the other hand, as old34 and Raoul attest, if you ask other foreign teachers about their experiences at Suzhou University, or Nanjing University of Science & Technology, they might possibly tell you a more positive experience, because they were involved in more legitimate departments and programs.

So the question remains... How do FTs get to the core truth of these job postings? How can they distinguish the more legit programs from the phony, fly-by-night ones? How can they extract the truth from those representing these universities?

I like to think that I've learned from my past mistakes; and my list of skeptical and probing questions is now miles long; but somehow I still fail to fully protect myself at times. I try not only to repeat my mistakes but also to warn others about similar traps. Any suggestions???


"I wish my first spoken word was 'Quote' so I could make my last word 'Unquote'."
— Stephen Wright.

Raoul F. Duke

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Re: Foundation programs (my two nightmares)
« Reply #9 on: August 20, 2007, 05:44:08 PM »
Thank you, Birddog...
I think a lot of people simply don't ask. I think a lot of people don't even know it's necessary to ask. They see something like "Suzhou University" and gloss over the details...like the ones that mention the part about the specific program being run by Buford's Academy of Welding and Cosmetology out of Entrails, Arkansas USA.

They skip on down to the salary and benefits. bfbfbfbfbf

Experience helps us spot the traps, as we both know. But it's just impossible for any of us to completely protect ourselves. There's just too many dimensions of weaseltry; it's impossible to think of or cover everything.
We all get burned sometimes. You get burned sometimes. And I get burned sometimes. llllllllll
You just add another chapter to your list of pitfalls to avoid. And you come on here and try to help others not fall into it in the first place.
« Last Edit: August 20, 2007, 05:50:01 PM by Raoul Duke »
"Vicodin and dumplings...it's a great combination!" (Anthony Bourdain, in Harbin)

"Here in China we aren't just teaching...
we're building the corrupt, incompetent, baijiu-swilling buttheads of tomorrow!" (Raoul F. Duke)

birddog

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Re: Foundation programs (my two nightmares)
« Reply #10 on: August 21, 2007, 06:19:45 AM »
Another “Foundations” job posting to bring to your attention (comments to follow):

Salary RMB 10000 need 4 ESL teachers - English job offered
Posted By China-Europe Education and Research Foundation <teslchina@gmail.com>
Date 20 August 2007
ABOUT OUR COMPANY
The CHEER Foundation (China-Europe Education and Research Foundation) delivers a Sino-UK Course which combines the UK university foundation course with the traditional Chinese 3-year high school program.
Our head office is located in Beijing, and we have branch in Shanghai. Our co-operative high schools are located in Eastern and Southern parts of China.
ABOUT SUC
SUC (Sino-UK Course) students who successfully complete the three-year course will be qualified for direct entry to undergraduate study in British or European universities. Two courses currently run in Changsha, Hunan Province and Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province. We need three experienced English foreign language teachers for our course in Wenzhou key high school. Preference will be given to British nationals.
The facilities at all SUC partner schools are excellent. There are 16 classes per week and each class lasts forty minutes. Our curriculum focuses on "New Interchange" (English for international communication), 'Vocabulary in Use' both published by Cambridge University and both supported by selected reading materials. We continuously look to improve our materials and expect our teachers to bring suggestions for curriculum improvement. If you were offered this job, you would have the freedom of how to use the materials and supplement the materials with head teacher approval. SUC wishes to grow and develop along with our SUC teachers, who will benefit from being part of a growing organization.
Our students are aged between 16 -18 years old. They have a strong desire to learn English for effective communication in academia and the world of Arts and Business. In view of this, their motivation for enhancing their English skills is to improve their English communicative abilities. The curriculum therefore helps enhance their listening, speaking, reading & writing skills as well as their understanding of different cultures and traditions. Teachers will also be required to participate and organize activities with SUC students.
________________________________________
TEACHING POSITION DESCRIPTION
1. Teaching English as a second language including listening comprehension, reading, writing and speaking communicating.
2. You are required to follow but also suggest improvements to the teaching schedule and lesson plans.
3. Organize activities for SUC students according to teaching targets.
4. You are also required to set and check homework when required.
5. Testing the student's oral and written language skills each month and participate in mid-term and final exams.
6. To help SUC students develop and provide support to help them meet the necessary targets.
REQUIREMENT & BENEFITS
1. The candidates must have TESOL or ESL qualifications.
2. The candidates must have experience of teaching English, Arts, Science, Communication and Media, Art & Literature, Business related subjects or Modern European History, American History and Government.
3. Candidates should be native speakers with an University degree.
4. Free accommodation and meals with no utility bills.
5. 10,000rmb per month with the bonus on completion of full year course.
6. Return fare from country of origin
7. Other benefits discussed at interview.
We do however provide well equipped accommodation comprising one living room, one bed room and bathroom. All apartments include free PC and broadband connection, TV and satellite dish for western sports, films and documentary channels. Any necessary household appliances are also included.
________________________________________
INTERVIEWS AND PLACEMENTS:
1. Candidates are required to come to Shanghai or Beijing for an interview and training.
2. Candidates will be sent to Wenzhou or Changsha high schools as part of the contract.
3. Payment will be subject to experience and qualification level.
CONTACT JACQUELINE KWONG VIA EMAIL
teslchina@gmail.com

- - - - - - - - - -

About eight months ago, I had numerous telephone discussions with CHEER representative/recruiter Jacqueline Kwong. She was always very pleasant and professional on the phone, but ultimately I closed my relationship with her after a few weeks. At the time (as now, and it seems, always) she was in desperate need of teacher(s) for both the programs in Wenzhou and Changsha (I was only interested in Wenzhou). I was in Hefei, Anhui at the time, and although she and I had numerous telephone discussions about the position, my qualifications (four years experience in China, previous university teaching in USA, and 2 masters degrees), she kept expecting me to travel from Hefei to Shanghai for an in-person interview for a position in Zhejiang. I had supplied all necessary documents and credentials to her, and she made no offer of travel or hotel reimbursements for my interview with her in Shanghai. She wanted me to come quickly to Shanghai, return to Hefei and again, quickly depart for Wenzhou.

When I asked to speak with teachers presently teaching in Wenzhou, she was not forthcoming with contact information.

Also, from the beginning, I had made a special requirement of having my things (and myself) transported by van from Hefei to Wenzhou, should the position be offered to me and accepted. Throughout our period of discussion (via email and telephone), she always agreed to these terms. In the end, as we were close to agreement, she suggested I find my own way to ship my things from Hefei to Wenzhou. Thanks! Bye!

Perhaps the position(s) in Wenzhou and/or Changsha are OK, but keep in mind that these positions seem to always be open, and again, my own personal experience with Jacqueline Kwong was fraught with “red flags” (pardon the pun).

 

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AMonk

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Re: Foundation programs (my two nightmares)
« Reply #11 on: August 21, 2007, 09:39:00 AM »
And I also see that the issue of  Z VISA and/or RESIDENT PERMIT is not addressed up front!  Never a good sign, IMHO.
Moderation....in most things...

cheekygal

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Re: Foundation programs (my two nightmares)
« Reply #12 on: August 21, 2007, 09:58:53 AM »
Quote
Salary RMB 10000 need 4 ESL teachers - English job offered



Quote
3. Payment will be subject to experience and qualification level.

I already see one clear contradiction which makes me doubt they will ever pay 10,000 to anyone.

birddog

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Re: Foundation programs (my two nightmares)
« Reply #13 on: August 21, 2007, 06:05:52 PM »
OK, thanks for your observations... Here's yet a different posting, but I feel certain is the same job (below).

AMonk, notice the visa issue is addressed (although it doesn't indicate who pays), but cheekygal, as you said, notice what happened to the 10000RMB salary!

wenzhou coastal city ,Zhejiang province - English job offered

5000-9000 in Wenzhou key high school asap

<sunnia78@126.com>
Date 21 August 2007

Our head office is located in Beijing, and we have branch in Shanghai. Our co-operative high schools are located in Eastern and Southern parts of China. We need three experienced English foreign language teachers for our course in Wenzhou key high school. Preference will be given to British nationals.some benefits are offered before:

1)Start date:asap ,work in wenzhou coastal city,zhejiang province
2) Salary is 5000-9000RMB
3)work schedule:16- 24classes
4) Student age: 16-18old,
5) round trip ticket for 1 year contract.
6)provide well equipped accommodation comprising one living room, one bed room and bathroom. All apartments include free PC and broadband connection, TV and satellite dish for western sports, films and documentary channels. Any necessary household appliances are also included.
7)offer working visa

Requirements: 1) under 65old. 2) Native English speakers from USA,UK, Australia, Canada and New Zeland or Ireland 3)bachelor degree or higher 4)Documents(resume,copies of passport and diploma,references letter,one recent photo


 
"I wish my first spoken word was 'Quote' so I could make my last word 'Unquote'."
— Stephen Wright.

cheekygal

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Re: Foundation programs (my two nightmares)
« Reply #14 on: August 21, 2007, 06:16:01 PM »
5-9 is a VERY vague number difference. I worked for kindergarten before, their add stated: 12-15,000. Of course, they only paid 12 and 500 extra for transportation a month. Note: there were no benefits, except paid 2 weeks holidays and public holidays. Each sick day, hour, FIVE MINUTES -  were calculated out of the salary.

What sort of office is located in Beijing? Of Wenzhou high school? That sounds strange.
What are the teaching hours?

Here's another one for you: since we are on the ad subject, what would a kinda perfect add for you would look like?