Hello, My name is Robert Bett.
I was a foreign teacher at Fei Fan English School in Fushun, China, from November 2011 to October 2012 and the following is a summary of my experience working for this company and living in Fushun:
- Receiving a legitimate working visa and residency permit.
- People in Fushun are generally friendly and most shops/taxi drivers/etc will give you a fair price.
- Your passport will be taken by the management of the school in the process of obtaining your residency permit. This should be a short procedure but the school may keep your passport for any length of time they deem fit. One teacher had his passport back after roughly two weeks, I had mine back after roughly one month, and another teacher didn’t get his back until after about six weeks.
- The quality of the apartments provided to teachers varies wildly. Some that I saw were very clean with provided equipment (fridge, washing machine, cooking utensils, etc) in good working order. My apartment was filthy when I moved in and, over the course of the eleven months that I lived there, one of the lights broke (after about seven months), the washing machine broke (after about nine months), and the refrigerator broke (after about ten months). The TV never worked properly. None of these items were fixed by the time I left despite my alerting the school to these problems several times.
- There is no 5,000 RMB “salary” as stated in the contract. This “salary” is based on ninety hours of work per calendar month. However, classes in the public schools (which will constitute the vast majority of the work) only last forty minutes and you will be paid by the minute. I.e. In a typical day, starting work at 8AM (leaving for work at 7AM) and finishing at 3-4PM with six forty minute classes, you will be paid for four hours of work. In addition, if you do not work ninety hours (as the management of the school understands it), your pay will be worked out at a rate of 5,000 (RMB) divided by 90 (hours) multiplied by the hours on your time sheet. Classes at Fei Fan English School (usually at the weekend but sometimes in the evenings and winter/summer holidays) are usually forty-five minutes to one hour but the availability of these classes largely depends on how many white, western foreign teachers are available. So you will effectively be paid at a rate of 55.5 RMB per hour and, if there are several white, western foreign teachers available, it is unlikely that you will make the ninety hours (with a typical day only comprising four hours of paid work) required to be paid the 5,000 RMB “salary”.
- While the online ads for Fei Fan claim that there are “NO OFFICE HOURS” this is not entirely true. It is true that you can come and go as you please between classes but, ultimately, this is just a way for the school to avoid paying you for the down time between classes. For example, If you have classes from 8AM to 3PM at a public school in the middle of nowhere (as I did), then you will have to sit around the school waiting for your next class while also only being paid for four hours of work. You will also be expected to work split-shifts (E.g. I had two classes at Fei Fan on alternating Saturdays and Sundays. On the Saturday, I would have one class at 11:15-12:00 and another at 3:00-3:45 (leaving three hours of time to kill) and, on the Sunday, I would have one class at 8:00-8:45 and another at 3:00-3:45 (leaving over six hours to kill). The branch of Fei Fan where I usually worked at weekends was a thirty-forty minute bus ride (or twenty-thirty minutes in the car) from my apartment. This means that, while my time is technically my own, I have very little to do and the entire day is largely wasted. In addition, teaching only two classes, I would only be paid for ninety minutes of work.
- Although you will only be considered to be working for roughly twenty hours a week, you will probably be working six days a week and will also be expected to give up your one day off, usually at very short notice, to cover for another teacher or to work at another school with no explanation as to why. This fact, combined with several other factors that I will discuss later, means that during the public school term you will have very little free time. All of the foreign teachers at Fei Fan are on different timetables, due to the fact that they all work at different public schools during the week, and therefore have different days off. This further dampens any prospect of socialising.
- Fei Fan’s online adverts also often claim that you will receive some form of continued training. This is simply not true. The expectations of the school are so low that, frankly, as long as you turn up to the public school on time and no one complains about you, the management of Fei Fan couldn’t care less about what you do in the classroom. The only thing that they care about is collecting their money. A fee which (from the public schools alone) will likely be roughly five or six times your pay (I.e. even if you are paid 5,000RMB, you will still be paid less than twenty percent of the fee that goes from the public school to the owner of Fei Fan English School). It must also be said that the teaching resources at Fei Fan English School are very scant. Most teachers are provided with a book (of which there are several from many different publishers/series’ of books) and nothing else. If you’re lucky you might be able to get some flashcards from the school but these are also disorganised and few in number.
- Socialising is difficult enough in Fushun given that there are only a handful of foreigners living there and the general level of spoken English is very poor (even amongst students who have studied English their entire lives). It is made more difficult still by the fact that the culture of gossip and lying amongst the staff of Fei Fan English School is exacerbated by the “Foreign Teacher Manager”. This man will say anything to anyone to attempt to get his way. He is a compulsive liar and a coward who will say or do anything to avoid direct conflict and to create divisions amongst the foreign teachers; both between the foreign teachers themselves and between the foreign teachers and the Chinese staff (including the owner of the school). He is also a jealous man with very little emotional maturity and he will attempt to destroy potential friendships if he sees it as any kind of threat. At one point, I received a text message claiming that it was now against the terms of the contract (which are prone to constant change) for teachers to socialise with other teachers or Chinese teachers/teaching assistants outside of official school functions (of which there are a handful in the whole year). In addition, his level of formal education, teaching experience, and the general level of his spoken and written English is very poor for a native speaker which makes his constant meddling in work matters almost as frustrating as his constant interference in the social lives of other teachers.
- Although the terms of the contract promise up to 8,000 RMB “airfare reimbursement”, the management of the school will not be forthcoming with this money. As the end of my contract was drawing near, they started to refer to it as a “bonus” (as opposed to “airfare reimbursement”) and, when I confronted the school’s owner about this money, it became clear that I was never going to receive the money promised in the contract. After getting clear answers to questions about what to do at the end of the contract (E.g. how I would receive any remaining pay, what date would be most convenient for my departure, etc) I asked about the airfare and was told that my “behaviour” (I never missed a class, was never late for a class, never turned down a new class and covered for other teachers on several occasions) would have to be reviewed and that she had “not thought about this problem yet” (with only a few weeks left on my contract). In addition, she could not give me any details about how I would receive this money, when I would receive this money, what receipts/tickets the school would need to see to prove my expenses, etc. It became clear that I was never going to receive this money and so I withdrew my services and returned to the UK with only one month left on my contract.
- Fushun itself is a fairly small industrial city and, as such, there are hardly any foreigners, virtually no nightlife (unless you love KTV), and (unless you are fluent in Chinese or befriend a Chinese person with a high level of English (very unlikely in Fushun)) there is very little to do. The few bars that do exist in Fushun are extremely overpriced and are largely aimed at wealthy Chinese businessmen looking to show off to their friends/mistresses after being kicked out of the KTV’s. I would not recommend living in Fushun to anyone in their twenties. I am in my early twenties and, although I am generally fairly happy in my own company, I was often very, very bored and miserable living in Fushun. It is also a very dirty city and the air quality ranges from bad to awful. I travelled to Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai, Qingdao, and Dalian while I was in China and, although I only spent a short time in each of these cities, the air quality in Fushun was easily the worst. It is particularly bad in the winter when people start burning vast quantities of coal to keep warm. Fushun is also, even for China, a very noisy city. People will set off fireworks any day and at any time and drivers in Fushun couldn’t survive without their car horns. Fushun drivers are also (while generally driving fairly slowly) extremely reckless drivers and crossing a busy road can be a daunting experience.
It must be said that these opinions are only a reflection of my experience working at this school and living in this city although I’m sure that several of my colleagues would agree with many of the points raised if asked (while others would simply lie to your face).
It should also be said that all points raised in this post are ones that I consider to be above and beyond the usual challenges faced when living in China as an EFL teacher (the lack of home comforts, language/culture barrier, poor management/scheduling, the vast and continued deprofessionalisation of EFL teachers in China, etc).
I hope that this is of some use to anyone looking to learn about Fei Fan English School in Fushun, Liaoning, China; especially to those of you thinking about accepting a position there.
If anyone has any questions don’t hesitate to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cheers, Robert Bett