A few weeks ago, we received an email from a current teacher in China looking for help deciphering a bit of his current contract with English First, or EF. For those of you that don’t know, EF is one of the largest training center companies in the world and is responsible for educating thousands of students every day.
After some back and forth, I asked him if he’d be willing to answer some questions about working for EF and he agreed to do so anonymously.
The following are the questions I posed to him and his unedited responses – I’m a firm believer in every teacher doing their due diligence when considering any ESL teaching job and I hope that these will be valuable for anyone considering EF.
What is your teaching background? Have you taught abroad before?
I graduated university in the summer of 2016, but due to lack of work experience, I found it very difficult to find a job in my field. In contrast, it was very easy to get hired at EF, they are desperate for more staff and will take anybody who speaks English and is willing to relocate.
Why did you pursue a job at EF and what was their hiring process like?
At university, I had many Chinese friends, and I became interested in Chinese culture and language. EF is one of the best established, credible, and accessible companies recruiting foreign workers. It was my easiest way to move to China and start my career.
What do you like about working for EF?
The camaraderie and atmosphere in the office are excellent. Working on a team of mostly twenty-somethings who go drinking and partying together makes my day-to-day work life very easy going.
Teaching English isn’t rocket science. After my first few months, I became confident and competent enough to easily handle my workload without and stress.
The basic salary is relatively high compared to other training centers, they offer good apartments or housing allowances, flight bonuses, and other performance bonuses.
Is there anything you dislike about teaching for EF?
Their lax hiring process is a double-edged sword. I said earlier I enjoyed working with my colleagues very much, however, some are not very professional at all. I have foreigner colleagues with no university education, and indeed no formal education past the age of 16. They can’t teach higher level classes simply because they are too illiterate. I have colleagues who fetishize and regularly harass the local female staff. I have incompetent colleagues who can’t or won’t complete simple administrative tasks because it is beneath them. I have many colleagues with serious alcohol or drug abuse problems, this is usually tolerated as long as the parents don’t smell anything on the way to class.
Pay is not consistent among staff members, and once you have signed a contract, there is pretty much no chance you can increase your salary. EF increases the basic contract salary fairly regularly to remain competitive with other schools, but by the end of my first 15-month contract, I was training people who were making 1000 RMB more than me every month.
EF has contingencies to stop you moving to a different company. Even if you fully complete your initial fifteen-month contract with them they will not offer you a full (stamped) reference letter. The company policy is that you must work at least two years to earn this. However, EF only offers additional contracts at seven, fifteen, or twenty-four months. This means you will need to work for at least 30 months to receive a full reference letter.
Would you recommend EF to other ESL teachers? Under what conditions?
EF is an excellent company to start a teaching career with. They offer lots of support for new teachers in the form of training, mentoring, and sitting Cambridge TKT examinations. However, I would be wary about signing a long-term agreement with them when you could very easily use them to jump-start your teaching career at a much better job at an international school.