I have worked at both of these kinds of schools in the last few years, and this is what I think about them. For those of you who aren’t aware, these are the two main kinds of schools that you can get hired to as a foreign ESL teacher in Taiwan. I will be talking about elementary school teaching, not high school, university, or other types of adult teaching jobs that are also available. With a Master’s, you can teach in universities as lecturers, outside of Taipei City (but in New Taipei City). You need a Phd to teach at universities in Taipei.
Naturally, there are also different kinds of public schools. There are semi-public schools, i.e. bilingual schools (Kangshiao, Wagor, Sagor, etc.), American schools, and wholly public schools. Most of these have similar terms of employment. Salaries vary between 70,000 to 95,000 per month, depending on experience and qualifications. Some of these schools will provide a housing subsidy, allotted each month, flights to Taiwan and back home, and/or more, which can seem quite attractive to freshly arrived foreigners or people just tired of teaching at dreary buxibans.
In my experience, there is a lot of time to kill in the office in these schools. Typically, you have to stay in the office from 8AM to 5PM, teach about 23h/week, and be responsible for classes varying from 16 to 30 students. It can be a rewarding experience, but office politics, and minor annoyance can be problematic. Make sure you talk to the other foreign teachers and ask about the turnover rate. This is a good indication of how good this school is with its teachers. Some of these schools might offer some paid holidays, but it could take more than a year for these to get vested. Typically, the best will give you one month of paid vacation per year. In universities, you can expect up to 3 months of paid vacation per year.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that I could make a lot more money in an hourly paid position. I don’t like wasting time, and this happens quite a bit in these schools. For trained and certified teachers, this might be the best way to start teaching in Taiwan.
The buxibans, or cram schools, can be a hit and miss in my opinion. There are some good ones, there are some bad ones, it all depends on the bosses and the contracts. Speaking from personal experience, I like the Kindergarten curriculum of Happy Marian. However, the bosses can be problematic. I’ve also taught at Papa Jordan, Sunshine, Kid Castle, and other schools, but I have to say that staying with your own class for up to 3 years, from K1 to K3, having a full 3h in the morning, coupled with some afternoon hours, makes it a good job. The kids learn English fairly quickly. This can also be the case of smaller American-style Kindergartens. Teaching young kids, from 4-7 years old, isn’t for everybody, and in most schools, you are rotated through classes, from K1 to K3, so that if the schools lose a teacher it doesn’t really affect the parents too much. However, I have found that having to wait 2h to teach 1h two to three times a week can get really draining and time consuming.
Then there are the elementary school programs, or the English classes that happen after the students leave their Chinese school. I find that if you spend a lot of time with your classes, 4-5 times a week, it’s a lot better. However, in most buxibans, students come 2-3 times a week. I find that this is not enough. Typically, in the older classes, grade 5 and above, the students become morose and annoying. This can be alleviated if the students come to school more often. Due to scheduling conflicts, this isn’t always possible.
In order to get a work permit and a resident visa, you need to come from a country that is English-speaking. Native English speakers is what employers want, and any school that tells you otherwise will not be applying for a work permit, so you won’t be teaching there legally.