Teaching English in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City)

Teaching English

When you have a plan of teaching English in Vietnam, you might take the following experience in consideration. Is teaching English possible without experience and educational background? You won’t find easily an organisation that offers a job to someone without both. If you do find one, it might be a pretty bad organisation, as you will read in this post. The good organisations go for quality and pay good salaries, which means a minimum of $20 an hour. They hire only teachers with a bachelor degree and/or native English speakers. They provide the necessary documents to the teacher in order to get a work permit and visa. This can only be applied for when the candidate has at least a bachelor degree.

In order to manage a work permit and visa, you must provide original documents which are authenticated, stamped by the institution that issued them and by official departments like the ministry of foreign affairs and/or embassy in/of your country. This will usually be required when you teach English for government schools instead of private schools.

Many organisations and/or schools are providing free accommodation to the foreign teachers.
Of course, there are plenty of organisations which provide teaching jobs to almost everyone interested. French, Ukrainians and more countries where the people have a very strong accent when speaking English. They’re all working at the place the following story is about.

Organisation

pic-sy2This particular organisation is located at Cao Thang, district 3 of Ho Chi Minh City. The following story is about Super Youth Language Schools, as the English name is. They have a Vietnamese name too. pic-sy1The schools are located all over the city. Beware with thinking about teaching English at a different school of them. They have 7 brands of schools and each brand has several, or up to 35 schools. The organisation is one and the same and therefore you can expect the same issues as described in this post.

The salaries vary between $15 and $22 per hour. As per their information. You better count on it that you will be on the low end of that unless you have really proved yourself as a teacher. When you have years of experience and educational background you might get more than the $15. For people with a year or less experience and no educational background, you’ll get $15 per hour.

Having a TEFL certificate won’t count for your wage. Their excuses are plenty. The TEFL certificate has been an online course. Another excuse is not enough experience, or not having a bachelor degree. They have an excuse of not being a native speaker too, but I spoke with natives who got to hear one of the other excuses to get the $15 only. So, you probably get $15 an hour.

Contracts

sy-contract-8You won’t get anything compensated. Not your accommodation. Not your transportation to the schools, which are located all over town and they don’t be bothered by keeping in mind to send you to schools near where you live. sy-contract-2No compensation for applying for work permit and visa. You will be responsible for everything, even the taxes. The organisation doesn’t transfer money from their bank to your bank account, not even to a Vietnamese account. You’ll get everything in cash twice a month. They don’t pay taxes for you.

As you can read on the contract in pics, they make a contract that they only have the advantages of foreign teachers, but refuse to take the disadvantages. Only you can get yourself in trouble when the authorities catch you for working illegally without having the permit and visa and without paying taxes. They made sure by contract that they have no responsibilities whatsoever as your employer.

Hours

How many hours of teaching English do you get? There are a lot of different possibilities. There are teachers with full time 32 hrs. Other teachers got contracts of full time 24 hrs. There were with part time 18 hrs and with part time 12 hrs. Now, count 12 hrs into $15 and you know what you can earn per week.

I can tell you that it won’t be enough for a living, not to mention saving. With 20 hrs a week you can live reasonably nice and save a bit, but not if you live in a hotel and need to take grabbike taxi’s to the schools. Saigon is not a cheap city. You work six days a week. The day off at these particular schools is Fridays. Midweeks you work usually somewhere between 5.15 pm and 8 pm, only 1,5 or 2 hrs a day. Saturdays and Sundays you work between around 8 am and 11 am and between 4 pm and 7 pm. This can vary in time a little per school.

Communication

As mentioned you get paid twice a month in cash. No doubt about that, although it happens that there are differences between the hours you make and what they pay you. The excuse is about not having written your classes in the instructors book on schools after teaching English, which is a doubtful excuse.

The organisation hardly replies on emails with questions from teachers. You can request a school nearer. You can apply for leave/holiday. Don’t be surprised if you never get any answer in person. As if you don’t exist. They deal with schools, they care about the schools. They don’t care about most of their foreign teachers. If you quit your job and send an e-mail about it… they don’t reply on it. I have not found a single point of decency in the organisation.

The organisation demands that you sign a one year contract. When you stop before the expiry date, they demand a half salary. As if they haven’t earned enough on you without paying any taxes. The periods you get paid over, run from the 1st till the 15th and from the 16th till the end of the month. you will get these periods paid on either the 5th or the 20th of each month. This means that you always lose max 5 wage days when you quit and play it smart.

Planning structure

No teacher knows exactly who is making the schedule or which teacher goes to which school and how many hours exactly. It might be planned by the school and the organisation combined. Usually teachers will be shifted to different schools every three or four months by the management. The exact reasons for that are not known, but you can guess. One of the disadvantages could be that when you finally know the names of the many students, you will be shifted to another school.

Class managers

There are foreign teachers and there are class managers in each class. The class managers are for 95% Vietnamese women. There is a lot of friction between the two. The structure is that the foreign teacher is responsible for teaching, but the Vietnamese class managers are frustrated by that. They like to teach too, but they need to look at the foreigner. So often thsy-contract4e class managers are already teaching your lesson 15 minutes before you come in. Teachers are to teach and class managers to manage a class. This is in most cases not happening.

When you try to teach a class 1 where the kids are noisy and don’t understand English, the Vietnamese class manager refuses to manage the kids and help explain to them. She does write down comments about the teacher after class, to the management, that you can’t control a class, while keeping silent herself.

It is absolutely unclear what the school policies are regarding students. Students come in late regularly, sometimes up to 20 minutes. It’s distracting the other students and disturbs the lesson. Students drink and eat bags of chips, sandwiches, peanuts, etc. in the class room, which is not really helpful to get them involved in a lesson. Even a child with Down Syndrome was crawling over the floor, between the legs of the teacher once.

Clocks in the classroom

sy-contract7In each classroom hangs a clock, but most clocks indicate a different time. When one classroom has a clock which runs 4 minutes behind and you leave as on the correct time shown on your watch. The class manager looks angry or has a comment that you leave too early. When you stay the four extra minutes and go then to the next class, that class manager looks angry and has a comment why you are late. As if you are responsible for their clocks. You can’t do good in either way. Not by reacting with a joke and not by reacting that they should get their own house in order.

Another ridiculous thing, bring your own markers. The class managers and schools are on budget, despite the huge profit making machine this organisation is. When you ask for markers to class managers, you’ll get another angry look. Oh, who’s duty is it to provide erasers?  In many of the schools you erase the whiteboard with toilet paper.

Materials

sy-contract1A lesson plan? Forget about that when the class manager already taught your lesson (partly) to the students. There you stand. Materials are lacking. You get an old copy of the books. Often with different texts, images and exercises than the students have in their books. There you go with your plan. You arrive 20 minutes before teaching and are expected to make a plan for up to 6 classes for the coming three hours.

I know teachers who brought flashcards themselves, with opposites. The unit of the book which had to be taught was about opposites. When using the flashcards, most of the class managers had negative comments. How ridiculous. Can you teach when a class manager is looking at you as if she wants to shoot you? Why isn’t there any teamwork between the foreign teacher and the class manager?

Teamwork

Help each other, give ideas and support to each other. It makes the whole atmosphere in the classroom so much better and the students would’ve so much benefit of it. It doesn’t happen, instead they opt for comments to the foreign teacher. Make him feel uncomfortable and if possible look like a fool. The contract states that you must respect the class manager, but I assume that that’s not stated in their contract, to respect the foreign teacher.

Sometimes you have to teach a topic for speaking. The topic is about Easter, but none of the kids has ever heard of Easter. You will be expected to talk about it for one hour while kids are visibly bored. When you switch the topic to Christmas, so that you get the students involved and engaged in something they know and understand, the class manager looks angry because it’s not about Easter.

Schedule

Teachers get their schedule when they arrive at school, between 5 and 30 minutes before the class starts. Up to the teacher how early or late they come. The schedule has often wrong unit numbers to teach, which makes the teacher prepare a wrong lesson. It happens that even during teaching, the schedule gets changed.

I can say that the whole idea of a lesson plan is of absolute nonsense. A method, yes, each teacher has it’s own method. They might not be appreciated, but a method is a method. Once you get into the content and teach for about 2 months, you’ll teach the same things repetitively and therefore it becomes a routine and you don’t need a lesson plan.  All will depend on the size of the class. There is a difference to stand in a class with 60 students than in a Super Youth Language School class of 10 students in a class room of 9 m2. Students sit on a kind of baby chair with a plate on it on which they can put their book.

This organisation doesn’t have to be the standard for teaching English in Saigon. There might be better ones to find. Many vacancies for teaching English can be found at eslcafe.com and ajarnrecruit.com.

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4 Comments

    1. Hi, There are a lot of options to find teaching jobs in Vietnam from many organisations. 2 names of org’s are mentioned in post (eslCafe and arjarnrecruit. You can find more sites for teaching jobs (Craigslist is another one). VPBox in Hanoi is an org. check Saigon Vina Language Centre in HCM or also in HCM a relatively new org called Aurora. For jobs there you can email to avietnamjobs@gmail.com
      Asemlink in Vinh city is one and you can find many more. In HCM alone are several big ones like AMA with schools all over town in every neighborhood. When you email them for jobs, attach your CV, Degrees and other associated docs.

  1. Alex

    This comment is 100% accurate about this organization and many others here. I have been a teacher here from 2012 until present; the past 4 years I have taught independently because the centers are as you’ve described. I’ve had a lot of success with teaching students in my home using my own growing library (500+ books) and method. To anyone who comes here and works anywhere, just do your best to do a good service to these kids and families. Thanks.

    1. Robert Strefski

      Thanks for that confirmation Alex. Although I didn’t really expect changes or improvements, it’s good to hear that things as described have a shared opinions/experiences from other teachers.
      Teaching at home might be the better option as long as there is enough room for a couple of students. Another thing is to have books and materials for different age groups. You had years to get to that point, but for someone relatively new it’s gonna be a bit of investment or time consuming I guess.

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