Tag Archives: teaching in Vietnam

Finding work. Good work.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve already been in Hanoi for over a month now, whilst at the same time unbelievable that it has only been a month. It feels like it has been much longer than that, both in good ways and bad. It seems like it has been longer because it feels good here, man. Feels like this could be home. On the other hand, I think it feels like more time has gone by because we’ve been so busy trying to get settled and find decent work.

I’ve been asked a few times what finding work here is like. And I always answer the same way: Easy, bro. SO EASY. And it is. But I should really be telling people that whilst finding work might be easy, finding good work has been a little tougher.

First, a bit about me if you don’t already know, because my experience and shiz has a lot to do with the work-search situation, if you know what I mean. I am Canadian. Female. I am Caucasian. I have a BA in English Literature and Theatre. I have 5 years experience teaching in Korea. I have a cheesy 150 hour online TEFL course.

That’s me. And yes, all those details ~especially the colour of my skin~ matters. It matters here just like it did when I was in Korea. I’m not just a teacher here, I’m a walking advert for the school. And they all want a particular look, namely white skin preferred. I’d only be better off if I was slimmer, younger, blonder, prettier, and more blue-eyeder. Seriously.

Because of what I look like, my education, and my experience, I’m a highly sought-after commodity. However, it also means that I reserve the right to be a bit more picky about the places I choose to work.

If you don’t have the superficial “qualifications” that I do going on, you can still be alright as long as you have the BA, TEFL (preferably a CELTA), and are a native English speaker. Bonus points for experience. These are the goods you need in order to get a proper work permit and resident card from the government. And the major centers here that are doing thing above the board (Schools/Language Link, E-Connect, APAX, Apollo, ILA, others) will want you to have those papers so you can be legit.

There is a lot of work if you aren’t legit though. There are loads of people running “schools” out of their apartments that are much less picky about your paperwork and more than happy to pay you cash in hand after each lesson. Some of these places end up being pretty good. Some of them are nasty. I’ve experienced both.

While I wait for my REALLY REAL job to kick off in August, I’ve been picking up side work to keep the coffers full. I’ve had two good experiences, and one bad.

The first was good. I teach a group of adults for 2 hours three days a week. The pay is average for Hanoi, but the work is light and easy, and the class is fun. They are eager to learn and have a good level already, so we are mostly building confidence and working on making their written and spoken English more natural sounding and ready for international business. I really enjoy this class a lot.

The second is also very good. Even though it is in an apartment building, this owner has completely transformed the area into a great learning space. Proper desks and classrooms, whiteboards, photocopier, CCTV, the works. She has books ready and the space is clean and bright. I’m teaching one writing class for her, with another starting next week. I haven’t been paid yet, but as long as there is no problem with my pay (which I agreed to once a month), then I will continue to work with this place too. I also really enjoy the class of middle-school Korean kids I’m teaching for her.

Now. The third place. *shudder*

Looking back, there were warning signs. But I had been lucky so far, so I had ignored them. Woe to me, I ignored them. May you learn from my idiocy.

It was meant to be just a cover situation while her teacher was on holidays, but even over our initial text messages she kept repeating how she would love a teacher to work long term with. The two stories didn’t quite match, and it should have been a red flag. The current teacher was on holidays and leaving in the spring, so I chalked it up to that. Now I’m not so sure.

She sent me the address of where I would be teaching. It was just over the arbitrary boundary I had set that I was willing to commute to, but as it was just off a major roadway, Google Maps was telling me that it would take 30 minutes. This is my cut-off for how long I will commute, and coupled with it being for 3 hours of class at a time, I thought it would be okay. When I told the owner that I would be okay with 30 minutes, but that was my limit, she said she understood. Keep this in mind – she said she understood that 30 minutes was the furthest I was willing to travel.

The day before we were going to meet, she asked if we could meet at a coffee shop in the Old Quarter instead of at the school. Now, I thought she was either a) going to be in that area anyway and it would be easier for both of us or b) she just wanted to make it a quicker journey for me. Now, it should have also been a red flag… but I was thinking positively, not that she might be trying to hide something. So I agreed to meet her at the coffee shop.

::SIDE NOTE::

Here is a red flag for y’all that Dan has experienced: Unless it is literally covering one class, that day, pay on completion, do NOT agree to teach without meeting the people you are going to be teaching for. If they don’t care to meet you (aka “interview ya”) before you work for them, they aren’t serious enough about what they are doing.

::END SIDE NOTE::

So I met her. And she was very nice and spoke English well. Both good signs. She’d been in business about a year and had a good number of students. Also good signs. Which probably distracted me from the bad signs.

She couldn’t tell me what they had been doing up until the day we met. As in, we met on Monday and she has Sunday classes, yet couldn’t explain to me what they had just covered. And she said she was the TA. What? That doesn’t even make sense. They also had no textbooks, they did songs and stories from YouTube and played games. This should have also been a red flag, but I don’t know how Vietnam works yet so it may have been alright. It wasn’t.

In addition to her not being able to tell me where the students were at in terms of their overall studies, she couldn’t describe their level. Sure, she could rank against each other (sort of), but she couldn’t actually tell me what their levels were in terms of what they had learned or what they knew. She also had no lesson plans for what I was going to cover, nor did she have any from the past few months as her current teacher didn’t use them. Even though the teacher “prepared everything”, lesson plans were apparently not part of that preparation.

Now, again: Learn from my mistakes. Unless you are hella desperate, do NOT accept a cover position that doesn’t have lesson plans in place and materials prepared. It simply is not worth your time to do a load of planning and prepping for a couple of classes. I know this now. Never again.

At the end of our “interview”, she said that she would send me more information. She also kept pushing that she would like a long-term teacher, and I kept responding that I couldn’t promise anything past July 15. She was really keen to talk more about putting more of a program in place for her school, as she thought I could help her. Later, I found out why.

The information she sent me told me nothing. A lesson plan from eight months ago for one of the four classes. A list of “expressions”. A list of “vocabulary”… except it wasn’t. That list said things like “fruit” and “occupations”… but not which ones they had actually learned. I had no idea which they had done and which they needed to do. I didn’t know if they were learning to read these words or just speak them. Did they know how to answer in sentences?

I called the owner to clarify, and it basically told me that they had been doing whatever. The expressions and vocabulary didn’t match up. There was no plan. So I suggested I just review for the two weeks I would be there and I’d send her my plan. She was thrilled. I sent her my plan. She was overjoyed and said it would be perfect. Remember that – she loved the plan.

This is becoming a long-ass story. So let me cut it short. This was after the first two classes, taught on a Wednesday:

  1. The “school” was her living room with the furniture moved out of the way.
  2. Her mom was cooking dinner while we had class.
  3. There was a small whiteboard just leaning against the wall.
  4. There was her tv and computer.
  5. There was a handful of flashcards, mostly manky.
  6. There were no posters, no alphabet, nothing on the walls that made you think that was a place to learn.
  7. The students came in as they felt like it, making it difficult to know when to start.
  8. There were no desks or mats or anything – they just sat on the floor.
  9. There were no books. Not just textbooks, storybooks. Or rather, there were two storybooks. One of them had no words. The other had all the pages ripped out and there were some pages missing.
  10. Her toddler ran around the entire time I was trying to teach.
  11. My “TA” (the owner, remember) sat on her phone the entire time and was disconnected from the class entirely.
  12. Partway through the class the owner says, “you should have given them a break, let them have one now”. Maybe it would have been great to bring that up before I started, eh?
  13. The second class was only 2 girls (the others were absent) so she said “do whatever you want”. But she also said that I couldn’t teach them the way I did the first class because they would be bored. Even though she had previously said they were the same level. Wut?

If you don’t wanna click in and look at my captions… those are the pictures of the classroom. Between the two whiteboards was her food-smelly kitchen. This is literally all there was. No colors, no joy, no indication that there was a class about to happen.

That was the first night. I’m sure you are wondering why I went back. Well, we needed the money. And it was just two weeks. So I thought I could just suck it up and get through it. But then Friday happened.

  1. An hour or so before class is to start, she texts me to tell me to not be late. I was early to meet her. I was early to the Wednesday classes. So WTF? I text back to say “I’m actually leaving now.” Which I was… because I hate being late. But it is a 30 minute ride… right? So I was going to be about 30 minutes early. Yah, not so much. It took AN HOUR to get there because of the traffic. And worse – she knew it was an hour. When I mentioned it at the end of class, she just said, “yes, traffic can be bad”. Remember before when she agreed with me about the 30 minute commute limit? Yah. That asshole. It is probably also why she didn’t want me to meet her there for our first meeting. Because she knew that an hour was the actual travel time.
  2. More of her mom cooking, her 2 year old running around, and the smell of food everywhere.
  3. These students were some of the worst behaved students I have ever tried to teach, and I’ve had some real bad apples in my classes. Found out at the end that the very worst of them was the owner’s son.
  4. Partway through the second class, without looking up from her phone she says, “Yah, they’re bored because they know this already. You’ll have to do something else next class.” This was after she had pre-approved my lesson plans for the two weeks I’d been teaching, explaining that I was going to review because I had NO idea what they had learned. The lesson plans she had been sooooo happy with.
  5. As I left the apartment, there was the world’s largest cockroach trying to get on the elevator with me.

By the end of the second night, I had had enough. First, I told her that although her feedback was welcome, telling me that I wasn’t teaching what she wanted me to after approving my lesson plans and DURING THE LESSON was not appropriate. I also said that if she wanted me to teach something different for the next classes that it was fine, but she’d have to get over to me that night or the next morning (the next class was on Sunday) what she wanted so I could plan. She agreed.

Now, in while all this bullshit is happening, I also come down with the plague. Combination of grubby kids and stress. So I’m sick sick sick by Saturday. And guess what? By 5pm on the Saturday I still had no idea what she wanted the next day. So I texted her and quit. To be honest, I probably would have quit anyway. On Friday night I had nightmares – legit nightmares – about teaching in her apartment again.

I’ve never quit anything like that before, but I honestly couldn’t even imagine going back for one more minute. She seemed to be waiting for it though, as she didn’t seem too concerned that I wouldn’t be there the next morning. It may have helped that I said I didn’t even want the money she already owed me. She did ask if there was anything wrong with her school. HA! I promise I was very diplomatic and just responded, “That’s not my place to say.”

I haven’t heard from her since.

So. Finding work in Vietnam is easy. Finding decent work can be a lot trickier. Definitely be on the lookout for certain red flags:

  1. They don’t give a lot of detail (school name, location, etc) in the advert.
  2. They respond to EVERY teacher that posts looking for a job.
  3. They don’t care to meet you before you will teach.
  4. They want to meet you AND have you do a “demo” lesson that is a) longer than 20-30 minutes and b) not paid. (I had one person ask me to do a 3 hour “demo”. HA!)
  5. They don’t want to meet you where you will be teaching.*
  6. There isn’t a set plan in place for what the students have been learning.
  7. You can’t contact the current or previous teacher.
  8. If it is just covering for a few classes, there is no lesson plan or materials.

There are probably more signs, but this will do for a start. As well, note that some of these should be taken with a grain of salt, as there are different circumstances. Such as number 4 – my adult class met me in a coffee shop, as I was going to be teaching them in their offices and we couldn’t go in there during the day. It worked out fine. Just listen to your instincts.

As well, this doesn’t encompass the more legit, permanent places. They have processes in place and you should, at least, do a Skype interview (APAX), just an interview (Apollo), a very thorough and difficult interview (Schools Link), or an interview and demo (E-Connect). Your experience may even differ with these big companies.

Again, mostly listen to your instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And if even the cockroaches are trying to run away, you probably should as well.

To Visa or Not to Visa

There are two ways (that I know of) if you are teaching in Vietnam: With or without the right paperwork.

You can come here with a tourist visa (as I did) to look for work. That visa is good for three months and you *can* work on it, but only for the three months. When your time is up, you are meant to move on. However, there are loads of people here who follow the letter of the law and not the spirit… they leave every three months and return on another tourist visa to continue working in small centers or teaching private lessons. It’s a grey area, and some people have been busted for it. But there are loads working this way.

Why would you choose to work this way?

Well, there are a few reasons.

First of all, I’m sure there are a lot of people here that are teaching without the credentials that Vietnam requires in order for you to sort your paperwork. You need to be from a country where English is the first language, a university degree from one of those countries, a TEFL or CELTA certificate (or equivalent – and with the TEFL you need an in-class component or they may not accept it) and a clean criminal record check.

Also, there is a lot of freedom working this way. You can make your own schedule and take time off from it just by dropping classes or arranging cover. You aren’t bound to one school, program, or location. You also end up making more money because you don’t pay taxes… a reason why the government really doesn’t want you working this way!

It is also VERY easy to find this kind of work. Hell, we were in our local supermarket and a lady came up to offer us work. We only didn’t take the job because she was only offering $17 an hour.

::SIDE NOTE::

Yah, “only”. If you are fully certified up, like we are, getting $20-25+ an hour is the average. The money here for foreign teachers is sincerely excellent. To the point where you may feel guilty, as the salaries for the Vietnamese is not nearly as good. Not even close.

::END SIDE NOTE::

The other option is to go legit. If you have the paperwork you need, there are plenty of established companies that will help you (although rarely financially) with getting your residency and what-not.

Why go legit if it ties you to one company and ends up potentially being less money thanks to taxes? 

Well, for us, not getting deported was key. I’d like to be all honourable and shit and say that it is because we want to be legal and pay taxes and stuff, but that would be a lie. Because we have our cats, and they will be difficult to get out of Vietnam, it would be disastrous if we got turned away at the border trying to re-enter on yet another three month tourist visa. We couldn’t risk it, so we both looked for (and found!) jobs that would help us get the right paperwork.

Even if we didn’t have the cats, we didn’t want the expense of having to fly to Bangkok or whatever every three months.

::SIDE NOTE::

That “expense” is sometimes as low as about $60, with all the airport fees.

::END SIDE NOTE::

More importantly than the expense of the visa run (which is actually more than just the flight – you also need a visa letter and stamp fees, as well as transport to the airport,  and then there is all the shopping I would do in Thailand, etc), there is the stress. You need to sort the visa letter. Depending on your schedule, you may need to arrange cover for your classes. And, of course, there is the increased risk of incident if you are flying so frequently. If you worry about that kind of thing. We just didn’t want the headache every three flipping months. We are looking to be (or at least feel) a little more settled than that.

I’m not condemning the pop-in / pop-out lifestyle of working here. I think for many it is the only option, and for others the most suitable option. For us, we just didn’t want the hassle or stress. In the end, you have to choose what is right for you.

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!