Tag Archives: Jodi-Teacher

Finding My Place (part 2)

Back to back blog posts? Someone finally has a day off!

So after ending my saga with the “real” job, I decided that perhaps I should focus more on Business English. I was already teaching one group, so I thought I would expand on that. I was also teaching one middle school writing class, so I also let the director of that school know that I could take more hours if she had more classes, as long as they weren’t too young.

I taught kindergarten and elementary kids for most of my five years in Korea. I enjoyed the little guys, but I was definitely enjoying my adult class more. It was awesome to use all my experience in business to go along with my teaching experience, so that’s why I decided to focus more on that group.

As mentioned in my last post, things don’t always work out the way you think they will.

I am fairly confident that I could have built up work with nothing but adult business classes if I really wanted, or that I still could. But it turns out that I got really lucky with that middle school writing class.

First, how I found those first two classes.

The business group contacted me when I posted my details on a site called Vietnam Works. They had reached out to me before I had even left Korea, and they were the first class I ever taught here. They have been absolutely lovely, but sadly the class is coming to an end. The core group is going to be working on a huge project for the next couple of months, so they have to suspend their studies. They are hoping we can work together again, but as I really can’t afford to keep their time slot (which is a prime time slot) held for them, I don’t know if it will work out. Time will tell.

The writing class I found on Facebook, where most of the jobs are. There are loads of groups for finding teaching jobs in Vietnam. An overwhelming number. But it was definitely the most useful place to find work.

Someone had posted a “I’m a teacher, do you have work” post (as many do, myself included) on one of the groups and this director had replied to him saying she had a writing class. I sent an email to her and the rest fell into place.

Happily, she was (and is!) super happy with my teaching. Right from the beginning she was asking if I had more availability, but I warned her that the “real” job could start at any time and besides… if I was teaching full time in the public school I may have to even bail on the writing class I was already teaching. She was over the moon when I told her that I wasn’t going to be taking that job anymore.

Long story short, I now work more than 20 hours a week for her. I mostly teach writing to students in elementary through to high school. I also teach one gentleman English – a lot of general speaking and writing but occasionally it is business focused. He’s fairly low level, so it is a good mix for his class. I do teach a phonics class, but not for much longer. I’ll primarily be a writing teacher.

A writing teacher. How the hell did that happen? I’m a little concerned that I’m in over my head. I can put words to paper (or, more accurately, words to blog about once every few months) but how much ability do I really have to teach someone to write a kick-ass SAT or IB test essay?

I’m going to do my best to skill up for this. Teaching is as much a learning process as anything else. Having never sat a SAT (heh) or IB test, my first goal is simply to find out more about what it entails. From there, how to teach it.

Because I lack the experience to focus specifically on these requirements until I learn me some more, I’m going to do my best to help these guys a) skill up on basics so they don’t make so many “silly” mistakes in their writing and b) get interested in writing. I hope that I can find a way to inspire these sacks of potential into enjoying writing at least a little.

So it looks like, at least for now, I’ve found my place in Hanoi. From Jodi Teacher, kinder kid wrangler and elementary monster tamer to Ms. Jodi, writing teacher for older and more advanced students. Wish them luck!

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Finding My Place (part 1)

I realise that it has been a very long time since I’ve last blogged. Tonnes has happened since then, mostly good. We still love Vietnam and are happy we made the jump to come here from Korea. Honestly, I wish we had come sooner. Much as I love Korea, I’ve been enjoying Vietnam a lot more.

Since my last epic rant about finding work, work has mostly been found. It didn’t work out quite as expected… but then again, when does it?

Both Dan and I bailed on the “real” job that we had been waiting on to start. Dan was smarter than I – he bailed much sooner when he realised that my minimal hours and his occasional cover class was not going to pay the bills, so to speak. So he told the “real” job that he wasn’t going to work with them and moved over to an academy, where he is (for the most part) happy with what he is doing.

::SIDE NOTE::

By “real” job I mean a company with an office, a contract, an offer to get your visa and stuff sorted. A salaried job. In our case, it was a company that placed teachers into the public school system. There are a few that do that. I’m not naming the company as I’m sure others have no problem with them. If you are super curious, get in touch and I’m happy enough to name and shame. Just not publicly.

::END SIDE NOTE::

I bailed on them at the 11th hour – their fault, not mine. By that time I had reviewed six versions of the contract (signing the sixth) and on the Friday afternoon before we were meant to start, they handed me a seventh.

I couldn’t believe it, and said as much. Keep in mind a couple of things:

  1. The previous contract revisions had been mostly to help them, not just to help me. They weren’t negotiations as I never asked for more than what they had originally offered. It was to clarify wording and to protect myself in a couple of the clauses. All the revisions had been mutually reviewed and approved by both sides.
  2. They were really cagey about the start date. They weren’t sure if it was going to be the beginning of September, making the start date for training two weeks prior… or the beginning of August, meaning we would have to be ready to come in for mid-July.
  3. “Two weeks training”, as verbally confirmed and as stated TWICE in the contract, became ONE AFTERNOON to get the books. I didn’t even know where the school was except on a Google Map, or where the photocopier was, or who the TAs were, or the lady who was supposed to be our support, or even what the effing office hours were so I’d know when to prep. Literally “two weeks” became “two hours”, and when I asked about what had happened to the two weeks, the main HR contact said, “You must have been mistaken.” Um, no. It is in the contract, you fucking moron. Twice.

First – why the start date was a problem. Because they wouldn’t give us a straight answer, it meant we couldn’t give others a straight answer about our availability. It made it hard to take on any summer camp classes or anything because we didn’t know when we would have to run off for this elusive training period. This is when Dan finally bailed and just took on a full time job at an English academy.

Where I finally gave up was the contract. When we were told that we would be given new contracts to sign, I thought they had to be kidding. But Junior HR assured me it was for good reason… we were getting more money. They were doing away with a higher overtime rate and just making the base rate the overtime rate. Which meant a slightly higher salary. Well, right on. That’s the kind of change that I can handle. So, even though I was already extremely dubious about the lack of organisation and training, I figured I’d been through worse in Korea and I’d try my luck.

I waited until the Sunday to review the contract. I. Was. FURIOUS.

First, the idiots didn’t change the salary. So I would have had to ask for another contract anyway. The very reason that they gave us new contracts (or so they said) and they didn’t even check that they had changed it.

More importantly, those sneaky little douchebags had gone through the rest of the contract and made other changes without mentioning it. I’m fairly certain they were hoping no one would notice.

::SIDE NOTE::

Most people probably didn’t. I have a feeling I was one of the first foreign teachers they’ve ever dealt with in the five years they’ve been operating that has even read the damned contract. READ YOUR CONTRACT, PEOPLE.

::END SIDE NOTE::

It wasn’t even that they had pulled up an old file accidentally, either. A lot of the changes that we had gone through were definitely there. Nooooo, they had gone through and made some changes that impacted the teachers, and not in a nice way.

  1. Instead of paying the exchange on the bank rate on the day of pay, they were going to pay a flat $1 = 22,000 dong rate. Seeing as how that day it was 22,900 (and projected to rise), that was a potential loss of over $1000 a year for teachers.
  2. In the original contract, they said that you needed a note if you took more than the one sick day a term that you were allowed. In this new one, they made it much clearer that you weren’t getting paid for that day. Another potential loss of money for teachers.
  3. I specifically asked that they add “in Hanoi” to the clause that said the company could send you to a different center if they needed you to. I wasn’t going to agree to that and end up out of the city. It had been scrubbed again in the new contract.

I could go on, but you get the picture. I was pissed right off because it was so sly of them. No mention of any change but to the salary, which they forgot to update.

I went in to discuss it on the Monday (meant to start Tuesday). They were willing to change a lot of it back, but just for me. Not for all the teachers. Like it was just a negotiation. I still turned them down because they couldn’t assure the following:

  1. That I wouldn’t have to argue with the accountant every month that my pay was meant to be calculated differently.
  2. That the director or whichever idiot changed this contract wouldn’t just up and change the contract again in three months.
  3. That I was really really enrolled in the national health insurance program, and not just being charged a random amount and being told that’s what it was for.

With all these issues already happening, I couldn’t trust them to be supportive and not dicks throughout the school year, so I bailed. Junior HR was very understanding; she knew that what the company was doing was not right.

Once again, I should have trusted my instincts much earlier on, but I was so interested in teaching gifted students (I was being given top classes) at a high school level that I let it cloud my judgement.

Next time, if a contract states (even from a “real” job company) that a. I’m being paid in cash at an arbitrary exchange rate, b. I’m being charged $50 tax instead of a percentage of my earnings, and/or c. I’m being charged $10 a month for health insurance instead of a percentage of my earnings, I’m going to run away, right away.

Interviews, Demos, and Offers (Oh my!)

I promised in the job hunting post that I would talk a little more about the interview process, demo classes, and offer experience here in Hanoi. So here we go!

Interview Process

I would say that at least 75% of the times I sent out my CV I was contacted for next steps in the process. There is definitely a need in Hanoi for teachers who are qualified (this means you have a Bachelor in something, a TEFL Certificate or better, a clean police record, and ideally some experience) so the response rate on my applications was quite good.

I’ve only done a handful of interviews, and they have been interestingly different.

The first interview was with an individual who had found my CV on vietnamworks.com and wanted a private teacher to run classes for his team at work to help them improve their business English. We met at a coffee shop and had a chat. Arranged the class days and times, as well as pay. Talked about what they wanted to learn. That was it. Job sorted.

The second was with an agent. I didn’t realise it was an agent when I sent my details – it was a reply to a person posting on Facebook with a gmail account. When I realised they were an agent, I thought about backing out (you apparently do not want to go through an agency / recruiter here) but thought it would be a good idea to practice interviewing. There wasn’t really much of an “interview”. I filled out a form, gave a brief spiel about myself, and then we went on to the demo lesson (more on that below). After the demo she said that there was no way they could pay me enough. Upon asking about the hours and calculating the pay per hour for the job, she was right. So I left.

Next was a Skype “interview”. I use the term very loosely here. The guy asked me one question (“tell me about yourself”) and then the rest of the time told me what I could expect during the training week and what I would need to do to prepare for the visa process. It wasn’t an interview, it was an offer. It felt like they were just throwing teachers against a wall and seeing who stuck. Although the money and hours would have been alright, I felt as though I would go mad with boredom teaching their program (it was highly, highly structured), so I declined that job.

After that I met another individual who is in the process of building her school. It was more like a traditional interview, but it felt like we were already working together before even 15 minutes had passed. She asked about my availability almost right off the bat and was trying to work in a schedule, so I felt like I had the job before we even really started. I have accepted working with her as our teaching philosophies are well-matched. Right now I’m only scheduled for one writing class every Saturday with her students, but she’s trying to arrange more classes that fit with my schedule.

Another in-person interview with a bigger company that was a little more interview-like again. There were some interview questions, but often I felt more like I was interviewing them, and not the other way around. Afterwards I was invited to do a demo class (more on that below) after which there was more discussion about what my role there would be like. It is the company that I am currently in process of signing the contract with, as I’m very interested in the role that they are offering. More on that once it comes to fruition – I don’t want to jinx anything!

The last interview that I did was by far the most professional, robust, and difficult. It had more typical and expected questions (including the stupidest interview question in the world – “tell me your strengths and weaknesses”) in addition to some pretty tough questions about what you have done or would do in class. They were only tough because if you haven’t done your TEFL course, you would have NO idea how to answer as the answers were highly dependent on the TEFL lesson planning format. Such as describing your lesson using the TEFL lesson planning stages. I must have done well with the interview as I was offered a position (which I’ve had to decline as I’ve decided to take the other role). I thought it was strange that they didn’t ask for a demo lesson after how robust the interview was, but they didn’t.

So, as you can see, there is quite a difference in what you can expect in a job interview here. Seriously from “you’ve got the job, this is a formality” to some fairly tough questions in an interview lasting almost two hours.

The Dreaded Demo

I think demo lessons is what I was fearing most. Especially since I have never taught in Vietnam before. Would my style and experience from Korea fit? What kind of lessons would they be looking for?

First thing to know about demos – they are typically under 30 minutes. It is rare you will be asked to do more than that, unless it is with a very prestigious and well-established company. If a private individual asks you to do a three hour demo lesson (as one did with me, saying it was “usual”… um, no it isn’t) you should either a) insist on being paid or b) run away. Three hours (or even one) isn’t a demo. That’s a lesson. And you should be paid.

My first demo was with the agency interview that I mentioned above. I wasn’t expecting it, they didn’t mention a demo until after we had our brief interview. I thought about declining it (wasn’t very keen on working with the agency anyway) since I had been given no notice of a demo, but thought it would be good practice before I went on to other things. She gave me four flashcards (doctor, nurse, driver, singer) and told me to demo a 10 minute lesson on those cards. The “students” would be three years old with some basic English skills. I could have some time to think about how to do the lesson.

I thought about what I was going to do and made a quick plan. I ended up only demoing for the one interviewer. I simply ran through how I would teach those four vocabulary words – having loads of kinder experience it wasn’t too hard. She loved it. Immediately after she said that there was no way they could pay me enough and that was that.

The other demo was a 30 minute lesson. I was emailed a few pages of a textbook and told to choose one section to give my lesson on to high school students. I had a couple days to prepare. When I went in, there were five employees as “students”. I ran through the lesson I had prepared and they were very happy with it. This is with the company I am accepting the role with.

There really isn’t much I can say about doing the demos. If you are given the time, definitely prepare and write down your plan. Sure, you might be able to “wing it”, but having an outline will keep you right and definitely make you more impressive. The only other advice I would give is this: Treat the interviewers like you would students. At one point in my second demo, two of them were talking to each other after our pair work as I was trying to speak and move the class along. I spoke to them just like I would students to get them back on task. I think that may have impressed them more than anything else I did!

The Offers

What I’m finding most amazing about the whole process is how so many “interviews” are actually job offers. I’m getting the sense that really solid, qualified candidates are a rarity in Hanoi. There are a LOT of people here looking for work, but they aren’t always the people companies are looking for. So often if you are good on paper and then show up and aren’t a complete mental, you’ve most likely got the job.

For privates, you will probably agree there and then what the lessons and pay will be, so that generally is the offer. For the bigger legit companies, you’ll be emailed an offer with a contract to sign. I would highly recommend reading those contracts carefully.

In general, this has been my experience in Hanoi. It has been easy enough finding work, now the trick will be making work, well, work. The big company I’ve accepted probably won’t start being a paying job until August or September, as they place teachers with the public schools. The two small jobs I have are small. I need to fill up the rest of my schedule, but I am in limbo waiting on the big company and one of the privates to see what the schedule will be. I’m going to try to get it sorted by the end of this week so I can start bringing in the money. But more on that in another post!

Job Hunting in Hanoi

The two questions I get asked after I tell people I’m moving to Vietnam is: Do you have a job yet? What about a house lined up?

The answer to both prior to arrival was no. Unlike Korea, where you must have a job in order to get your visa (as the latter is tied to the former) and your employer arranges your housing, for Vietnam I was coming in with nothing but a hotel room booked for a week.

Now, from what I understand it is possible to line up both a job and an apartment before coming into the country. But I’ve also heard that it isn’t a great idea unless you’ve been here before, or possibly if you have friends here that can help sort you out.

Why is it not a great idea? Well, jobs and apartments seem very easy to get here. So why would you sign up for something without knowing what you were getting yourself into?

I’ll talk more about my apartment hunt in a separate post. For now, I’ll focus on how I’ve been job hunting.

For months leading up to leaving, I’ve been lurking on various Facebook groups trying to see how often jobs were posted and the kinds of offers being made. There are a good dozen groups that are just for job hunting in Hanoi. One often leads to the other, and all of them have thousands of members. Just try searching groups for “Hanoi”, “jobs”, “teaching”, or some combination and you will find a handful of them. Once you join one, you will often find the others as people post in multiple places. I haven’t found any one better than the other, although there are a few where it is rarer that people post.

There are also websites that you can check out – Craigslist Vietnam, The New Hanoian, and VietnamWorks, just to name a few. I did get an offer before I ever got to Vietnam via VietnamWorks, but overall I haven’t found as much on these sites as I see on the Facebook groups.

On the Facebook groups you will see schools/academies, individuals, and agencies all posting. Keep an eye on the posts and you’ll get a feel for who’s who and what’s what. I’ve been told to avoid agencies, but they can be hard to spot sometimes.

The other kind of posting you will see on these groups are teachers posting their availability and basically asking for work. I actually keep an eye out for these, not just to scope out the competition, but also to see if there are any good offers in the comments! I’ve gotten at least one interview this way.

In my first week, I’ve been contacted half a dozen times and I’ve already done three interviews with a fourth and fifth in the works. I’ve already verbally agreed to take one group on as a class, and I’m holding off on an academy’s offer until I finish with the interviews I have in the pipe. The other interview was with an agency. The job wasn’t right for me (even she said the salary was way too low for me) so I declined. I’m fairly confident that had I been less picky about where and with who I was applying, I could have been working already this week. There are definitely cover classes I could have picked up.

So if you are thinking of teaching in Hanoi, there is definitely a need for teachers here (especially qualified teachers!) and work is plentiful. I would recommend signing up for the various Hanoi Facebook groups before you even leave and start getting your finger on the pulse of the job scene here.

In another post I’l talk about my interviews, demos, and the offers that have come through. There have been three so far, and they’ve all been very different, so I’ll probably dedicate a post to each one.

Next Stop: Vietnam

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a post in an airport. I think the first time was also the last time, when I was collecting my thoughts in the Vancouver International Airport when I first flew to Korea in 2005.

My situation back then was a lot different than it is now, but a lot of the feelings where the same. Then, I had never flown outside of North America and had never lived anywhere except in BC. I was also just freshly on my own from a long-term relationship and had thoughts that I would be back when my one-year contract was finished with new insight into what I really wanted to be doing and such with my life.

This time, I’ve traveled to nearly 30 different countries, have lived in 3 different countries on 3 different continents, and I’m a married woman moving ahead without my husband and cats, who will follow as soon as they can. And I definitely have no delusions about figuring out what I am doing with my life. I doubt I will ever figure that one out.

But there is a lot the same. I suppose it doesn’t matter which cliff you are standing on the edge of, the tightness in your chest and the butterflies in your stomach are still the same. I had some safety in place then (a job and housing on arrival, pre-arranged) and I have some safety now (mostly in the form of experience and my husband’s support). I had fears then and I have fears now. Everything changes, yet everything stays the same.

Overall, I’m excited and terrified. I don’t think I have all that much to be truly worried (pretty sure I’m going to survive) but at the same time, this is another huge risk. I’m just very hopeful that because the last jump worked so well, this one has a lot of potential for greatness, too.

Korean Immigration Update

I only just realised that I didn’t update on the extension of my ARC card with the complication of the new passport.

Turns out the only complications where due to the information I got from immigration.

Now, I’m not saying the hotline lady was wrong, but I didn’t need all the stuff that she thought I needed, and I needed stuff that she didn’t tell me that I needed. Apparently, if a Korean calls, the requirements are different. I dunno why.

In the end, Mr. Money and I went to immigration together. I had to bring my passports (old and new), my ARC card (Side Note: I know technically that “ARC card” is “Alien Registration Card Card”, along the lines of an “ATM Machine” being an “Automated Teller Machine Machine”, but I don’t care. Everyone says “ARC card”, because just saying “ARC” as in “Bring your ARC” sounds hella weird.), and proof that I had my flights out of Korea booked.

That’s right. I needed to bring proof that I was leaving the country, something that the hotline lady failed to tell me.

However, those three things where all I needed to bring. There was a form filled out (Mr. Money did that for me) and then he like… invented? some sort of certificate (as in ‘hand-written’) that I signed (it was in Korean and he doesn’t speak English, so I signed that blind).

That was it. Didn’t cost me any money and the entire time in the immigration office was about 12 minutes. And now my ARC card is sorted until the end of May. Awesome.

One other thing to note: The officer at the immigration office didn’t seem to care one iota that my passport had been updated or whatever. So being beyond the “14 days” that you have to let immigration know that you’ve gotten a new passport isn’t nearly as bad a situation as hotline lady made it sound.

Decisions Made

Last week we had a quick meeting with the bosses. There was no “offer”.  We aren’t even sure why we had to meet with Mr. Money, he had nothing to add to the meeting. But we have come to a decision.

I will be leaving in May to move to Hanoi, Vietnam. Dan will follow when his visa is finished in September, as long as there is no monkey-business that prompts him to leave earlier.

I’m going to try and chronicle what we are going through a little with this transition. I was very curious what others in a similar situation (moving from Korea to Vietnam, moving as a couple, moving with pets) have gone through and there isn’t a lot out there. Or, rather, there is a lot, but trying to get through all the (often conflicting) information is a nightmare. So this will be our simple story about what we had to do.