I've just finished up a year and a half in China, so I wanted to share my experience while it's still fresh. First of all, I was in the Wuhan NDI for a year before coming to Dalian for about 5 months. I'm going to just focus on Dalian for this review.
So, where to begin? When I first arrived I thought I was in for a good time and work environment. The staff were far more organized with their emails and requests for documents from me, so I thought everything else would be like that too. There were five foreign teachers in total at the school, and it seemed American teachers were the most sought after. The other American teacher was new to China, but had been travelling around Asia and seemed like he knew what he was getting into. However, I felt they were going to screw him over, which they did. He came on a travel visa, which having read up on the changes in the law recently, knew was going to get him kicked out after they wasted time promising they were going to make it a work visa. So, after about two weeks, he comes in and is fuming mad. He starts yelling at one of the staff members that she had lied to him (which, I do believe she did). He basically had two days to pack up and go to America to get the Z-visa before returning, after a month or so of promises that this event would not happen. To add insult to injury, they told him he would even be able to come back to that school, but at a different branch.
Then there was the head teacher there. To my understanding, the head teacher is sort of the mediator to help us foreign teachers and to be a sort of coach and moral support if needed for us. At least, that was my experience at the other branch. This branch was something else. It's best to describe him as a sell out to Westerners. He had been living in China for years, just got married to a Chinese girl, knew everyone that worked there, and he spoke Chinese pretty fluently (although his accent made it hard for me to tell if he was speaking English or Chinese sometimes). Anyway, the meetings were usually him telling us what we need to do to make the Chinese teachers jobs easier, pretend to listen to our concerns, and then end the meeting with something along the lines of "I'm not going to do what you suggested or make any compromises." For example, I asked for extra erasers since there wasn't enough for every room, and he said, "Yeah, we are short sometimes." Months later, no extra erasers. I would also ask that we rotate the English Corners and other classes he had specially made for the school so that I, nor anyone else, does it more than what is fair. He basically pulled me aside later and said, "No, I'm not changing anything". I then found out, after months of observing, that he had significantly fewer classes than all the other teachers. I would always have five. Sometimes two English Corners classes in a day, sometimes all private or salon classes, but his students would magically not show up. At first I thought he was just lucky, but then I realized the scheduler was making fake classes for him. Then the other teachers noticed, and we started making comments about it. Didn't have much effect. I'm fine with working my full five hours, JUST AS LONG AS EVERYONE WORKS THE SAME HOURS! The other school dealt with this issue in a fair way, and they didn't play these types of games with our schedules. The day that really pissed me off was when only myself and the head teacher were scheduled, and my first two hours, both VIP, same student, were cancelled. Hell yes, what a nice break. Then the scheduler comes over and tells me I have to switch with the head teacher and do one of his classes. I said, "How is that fair?" She said, "You both have four classes today, so it's fair." This was still early on when I was there, so I thought it was one of those "Scratch my back and I'll scratch yours later" situations, so I said fine. Then his last classes magically cancels, and he gets to leave early. Now we are enemies. This type of thing continued the whole time I was there.
In between classes, while on my break, I was ALWAYS asked to do an Oral Test, where you talk to a potential new customer and tell the Course Consultant what level they should be at. After I did it a few times I realized it was just them seeing a white face and not really about putting them in the right level. Of course, since I was from America, and the other teachers had accents, they would ask me 95% of the time. I could also tell when people would come in just to practice English for free and waste my time at these tests, so I would try to cut it short. So, one day, I had about 15 minutes to prepare for class and they ask me to do an Oral Test. I tell them I'm busy and to ask someone else. They basically refused to ask anyone else, and then the director of the school comes in, huffing and puffing in Chinese. You can imagine the game that's being played here. I just tried to ignore it and move on.
This school also gives a lot of English Corner type classes as I mentioned. Luckily, I had already prepared material from the other school and kept it, otherwise I don't know how I could do 4 hours of new material every week. The other teachers also felt drained from it. But guess never got an English Corner? That's right, the head traitor. I mean, teacher. Then there are the VIP classes, which are just you and one student for an hour. The Wuhan school gave you material to talk about (usually just a private or salon class lesson), but this school asks you to make up the lesson. There are materials in the computer, but the teaching method is extremely poor in my opinion. Luckily, I had a grammar book with about 200 lessons that would give examples, explain the reasoning for the grammar, and taught new vocabulary and expressions. Much better than looking up the material on a computer screen ten minutes before class and trying to decipher what the hell they're trying to teach. Exhausting workload, to say the least.
The Chinese staff was also a problem. Many of them were nice, and I could joke with them and have a good time, but some of them would lie to your face and take advantage of your politeness. Many times, Chinese teachers would ask for help with something, which I was glad to do, only to find out that I prepared their lesson for them. They also had some classes that you would teach with the Chinese teacher, and it required a lesson to be prepared. It is supposed to be the Chinese teachers' job, since they only have 1-3 classes a day, but sometimes I would end up preparing the whole thing since they would vanish until a minute before the class started. I quickly learned to make myself scarce during my break time and to come later before class.
In addition, the office has about 6 desks, and 10 teachers. Only the scheduler and the head teacher had their own desk. You would constantly have your seat stolen and have such difficulty getting work done, you'd end up preparing it at home and come to work HOPING a computer worked so you could print it.
However, the main reason I went to this school was for A) the pay increase, and B) a chance to see another part of China while my fiancee got her visa. I knew that when she got it I was not going to just tell them I was leaving and then give me my finally pay and everything works out peachy. I have read too many stories of teachers getting cheated on their last pay when they leave, and this was not going to be different. So, I left as soon as payday arrived, told them I had a sick relative in the US, and that I was going to be gone for a while. Well, about three weeks later, they tell me that I didn't put in a month's notice that I was leaving, so they're keeping my last paycheck. But they'll pay me if I come back (on the next pay cycle, 6 weeks later). So, I only lost two weeks of pay. I'd gladly pay it to get out of that place. In fact, I did.
In summary, AVOID THIS SCHOOL. EVERYONE IS TRYING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOU, YOU WILL WORK MORE HOURS THAN YOUR CONTRACT SAYS, THEY WILL PLAY GAMES, AND EVEN THE HEAD FOREIGN TEACHER IS TRYING TO SCREW YOU. The only thing I can say that I liked was that it was a really clean environment, and the bathroom were also about the cleanest I have ever seen in China.