Saturday, February 8, 2014

Teaching overseas: What's covered in the contract?

Suzhou North Temple Pagoda
"According to ISC Research in Britain, there are now 6,400 international schools all over the globe. In a decade, that number is expected to almost double."

--Lau, Joyce. "International Schools Boom as More Seek Education in English." New York Times. 13 Apr 2013.

6400 international schools--WOW. For expat teachers, 6400 schools equals lots of positions available, lots of locations to choose from. From my experience, the schools' teacher benefits packages for expats vary greatly. I do not know how much I'm allowed to divulge about my contract specifically, so I am going to be deliberately vague about the dollars and cents of what the school will cover for us in China.

My contracted benefits are comparable to what I saw from many east Asian schools; European schools tended to provide less in benefits (though they are still great). One of the huge drawbacks of European schools is the 40% tax rate, which is one major reason we preferred east Asia and South Pacific schools to those in Europe. African, Middle Eastern, and South American schools ran the gamut as far as benefits--some were comparable to Asian schools and others were far less. I've heard many times that the east Asian schools--specifically China, Japan, and South Korea--are best for expats wanting to expand their savings accounts.

My 22-page contract itself provides much more detail for each item below, but...

In GENERAL, my school's contract provides:

  • librarian salary slightly more than my current school librarian salary
  • initial airfare to China and departing airfare to home country at end of contract for myself, my husband, and my two boys
  • yearly airfare back to US for all four of us
  • shipping allowance
  • world-wide health insurance for all four of us--no monthly premium; just a 20% copay on all services without a deductible (we currently pay $900/month for our premium with a $3000 deductible + 20% of the cost, so this is a HUGE benefit!)
  • furnished apartment--rent paid by school
  • monthly flexible account (to be used toward anything we need above and beyond our housing expenses--i.e., food, utilities, transport, etc.)
  • paid staff development
  • Chinese work visa for myself and my husband
  • free tuition for my two boys at the school ($24,000+ per year, per child if I were not an employee at the school)
  • small class sizes=HUGE benefit for teachers! According to the staff handbook for Dulwich, our classes are capped at 16 students for K-8 classes; 22 for 9-10; and 14 for 11-12.
  • option to renew contract yearly at end of initial contract

Other things to consider:

  • school year for teachers=187 days/year; this is 10 fewer days than my current contract of 197 days. We get summers, a week-long fall break, 3 weeks at Christmas, 2 weeks in February, a week in April. No Thanksgiving Break in China! Our last day of school this year is June 19.
  • I have to pay taxes to the Chinese gov't (approx. 20%); I'm not sure how US taxes will work, but it looks like since I work more than half the year in another country, I am exempt after my first year. I could be wrong about that though--I've only done a little research on it. The school is going to help with the tax paperwork, thank goodness. I wouldn't know where to begin!
  • Teacher school day is approximately 9 hours (in TX, 8 hours)
  • I cannot accept work (paid or unpaid) from anyone outside the school during my contract period without permission from the school. My main concern there is my reviewing for SLJ. I don't get paid for my reviews, but it is still technically "work."
  • We are not allowed to drive a car in our first year. After a year, we can go into a lottery to purchase a car, but we do not plan to do this. From my research, public transportation appears to be pretty efficient in Suzhou.
  • My boys will need school uniforms, which are not covered.
  • The school offers Mandarin Chinese classes for the staff and spouses. My boys will take Mandarin as part of their regular school day.

A grain of salt:
It is important to note that while this is what my contract states, we are fully aware that things might not be totally as we expect. We are mentally preparing ourselves and our boys for any surprises that are sure to come our way. We can never forget that we are guests in China and that China is very different from the USA. We are continually researching Chinese customs and cultural faux-pas we don't want to commit. We know the pollution is a huge problem (it's my biggest concern) and that we will probably need to wear face masks some days because of it.

I'm certain there will be plenty of adjustments we need to make, and we are constantly talking as a family about being flexible and taking things as they come. We have warned our kids that there will be days that they love China and all that it offers and days that they hate China and wish we had never done this. As exciting as it is, we will miss our Texas friends/family and American food and the luxury of everyone speaking English. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and we know to expect the unexpected. If you are thinking about teaching internationally, you need to be 100% certain that you and anyone going with you can handle the surprises with flexibility and a sense of humor. 

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  1. That is very interesting about the "work". Do they consider all hobbies "work"? What if you were a painter? Is that "work"? What do you do for relaxation? Would they allow TV or reading? I find this one aspect very grey, and I am very curious about this part of your clause, since I want to teach in Korea sometime down the line.

    1. Lyn--I do not know, but I don't think it will be a big deal. I think it has more to do with Chinese work visa restrictions than with the school itself. Because the school is sponsoring my visa, I am only allowed to work for the school. I don't expect the SLJ reviewing to be a big problem--it is an extension of my job as a librarian--but I will ask just to be sure.

      As far as relaxation, I'll read for sure and blog, of course. I am buying up lots of BN books for my Nook since I do not know how difficult it will be to get books in English there. I can have books shipped as well (Amazon ships to China, but $$$), and in theory, I should be able to buy books for my Nook using a US-based VPN.

      We will have a TV in our apartment, but with all Chinese channels, I don't expect to really understand anything for a long while. We're bringing lots of DVDs, and we have Netflix, which we should be able to access on our laptops. We are also talking about getting that Google-TV thing, but we need to do more research on how/if that works in China.

    2. Update on the hobbies thing--I am still able to write for SLJ and continue my blog as normal. I also have permission to publish books if I ever get myself together enough to do that.

      Also, I mentioned TV--Our TV here (our furnished apartment came with two flatscreens) has lots of channels in English. We get History, Discovery, several HBOs, Fox Family, Disney, National Geographic, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, etc. Plenty to choose from!

  2. I love reading posts from other international teachers. I'm an fourth year international teacher currently teaching in Venezuela. Read about my travels at I taught in Beijing in 2011-2012 for a Tier 3 school and got out as soon as I could. I visited Suzhou a couple of times along with Shanghai and would definitely teach in either of those locations. I can't wait to read more about your coming adventures!


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