Teaching English at First Leap China

I’ve contemplated writing something like this for a while, and now I have successfully completed my one year contract with First Leap China, I feel it is the perfect time. Recently I started up a blog for the recruitment agency that kick-started this wonderful journey, and I have been approached by several people to confirm First Leap is in fact genuine, reliable and an enjoyable company to work for. As a once naive, somewhat ignorant teacher trainee just 12 months ago, I feel an obligation to shed some light on teaching English in China from my experience. So please, read on for an account written solely from my point of view and not for the benefit of profit or obligation to any third party.

 

My centre enjoying teacher’s day

 

Arrival in China

It has to be said that First Leap China do a wonderful job of making you feel welcome. Sally, the woman I had been dealing with until my arrival in China, met me at the airport with a big smile and a cute gift. She then ensured I reached the hotel safely, where I stayed for a further 10 days during training – all expenses paid for. My room was shared with another trainee which was wonderful; together we found our way to HQ for training and were able to support each other throughout the training process. This of course included braving Chinese restaurants and sharing a beer after a stressful day! In fact, almost all of the trainees (25 in this particular group) were in the same hotel, so there was plenty of opportunity to get together, which really did help remind me that I was not alone in this.

 

Training at HQ

*Please note that training has changed a lot since I began working at First Leap

After sorting out the required visa health check on day one, which was also arranged by the company (all you have to do was turn up), the intense 9 day training began. For me, the entire concept of teaching and being around lots of small children was completely new, so it was a lot to take in. Each day was a solid, jam packed 9-10hrs of note-taking, lesson practise and team work. Not only that, but we were required to undertake daily tests, which we were expected to revise for each night when we returned to the hotel. This revision was made simpler with the handbook, which was neatly divided into categories and they told you prior to the test what you needed to know. The handbook is updated yearly to keep up with the changes made to training etc.

Expect to work hard, perform in front of others and feel extremely tired by the end of training. Alongside these feelings, I also felt surprisingly prepared (although not completely) to walk into a classroom and teach. Remember that they have your best interests at heart; they want you to become a good teacher. It is scary going in to the process blind, but at least with no prior teaching experience, I had nothing to compare it to and in a sense that left me mould-able.

After 3-4 days of HQ practise with other teachers, you will be assigned to a centre in Beijing to carry out real-life classes. During the next few days, current teachers will help you with lesson prep, teacher talk and will remain in the classroom at all times to help and observe. At the end of training you will be assessed at random and then the trainer will sit you down and talk you through you strengths and weaknesses.

 

Reading ‘Good Night Gorilla’ with the children
Preparing my lessons for the day

 

Centre assignment

Be aware that you will be assigned a permanent centre during your training period, if you are staying in Beijing. I’m pretty sure this is because they like to observe teachers for the first few days and see where they fit best. If there is a certain centre you had in mind, make sure you let them know during the interview process. It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the centre locations as some are quite far out. For example, I was based in Changping centre (1.5hrs from central Beijing), and although I loved living/working there it wouldn’t be good for those seeking the hustle and bustle of downtown life.

 

So now you’re a First Leap teacher

Throughout my time at First Leap China I received good support from my peers. This included support from my centre AD, my assessor, Chinese teachers and foreign teachers alike. But don’t be fooled, this job requires a lot of initiative and once you get into the swing of things you will be solely responsible for the implementation of your lessons.

Each lesson requires a decent amount of preparation. First Leap have a set curriculum which means the lesson plans are already in place. Spend time reading the lesson notes, checking the flip-chart works correctly and gather all the materials needed for the crafts/games/activities. My centre was wonderful in the sense it had a large cupboard filled with materials, and we were free to order what we needed, when we needed.

 

Cuddles with the kiddiwinks
Being funny is a requirement for the job

 

Can First Leap be trusted?

In my experience, completely. Of course no company is perfect and I ran into some frustrating problems e.g contract changes and communication frustrations, but overall I don’t believe I could have got luckier with a job. First Leap was the only company I applied for in China, and I didn’t give it much thought before signing the contract – I knew I wanted to head to China, so I went for it.

On the run up to arriving I got complete support via email and telephone from both China Link ESL and First Leap staff. I was granted a Z visa which was completely taken care of by them, and I have had no issues during my 12 month contract.

My monthly salary was paid to me on time every month, and if overtime was forgotten, it would be added to next months pay check.

No overtime was ever issued to me without someone first asking me if I was ok to do it.

 

Opportunities within the company

I’m sure there are many people that are unlike me, and wish to stay for longer than a year. With First Leap you have the option to remain as a standard teacher, or work your way up in the company via their boot camp programme. This involves further training and can lead to a trainer and assessor position, with the possibility of managerial positions.

During my first few months I also opted to support another centre in a different province for three weeks. These opportunities arise frequently when certain centres are short staffed, and usually all of the available staff will be asked if they wish to do it. A great way to see more of China, get more experience teaching and make a bit of extra cash.

 

No doubt I have left lots of questions unanswered – that is what the comment box is for! I’ll gladly respond to everyone and help as best I can – whether it is First Leap or life in China related – so please don’t hesitate. My experience as a fresh-faced teacher has been nothing but positive and the reason I have decided to leave after one year is purely down to my inability to sit still. 

13 Comments

    1. Hi Jane, lovely to hear from you! Thanks for continuing to read 🙂 Next stop is Australia. Initially for a friend’s wedding and then I’ll see if I fancy staying a while longer. I’ve got another 30 days travel in China first though, so keep your eyes peeled! Hope you’re well.

  1. Thank you for the report. Really pleased that it all worked out for you, particularly in view of how tough it can be, being on your own in another country (I read your post about this). You say you’re not in it for more than the contracted year, so what next, then? 🙂

    1. Many thanks – I’m so glad I stuck through the tough times. What is that saying: whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. I’ve decided to head to Australia for a bit, with no real plan. It has been a lifelong dream to visit, and now the time feels right. But who knows, perhaps I will be back to China sooner than I think. Thanks for reading! 🙂

  2. Thank you Kelly! Very much.

    I am assuming you had a degree? Did you and if so, did you perhaps know anyone with FL who did not.
    ? I ask because our daughter does not have one and is exploring options for teaching in China for a year. She would be fantastic and has tons of teaching experience as a volunteer for years in the USA but…

    We like FL and would love if you could shed light from your experience.

    Much appreciated!
    Best wishes for your New adventures!

    (You sound a lot like our daughter! Positive and energetic and ready for adventure.)

    1. Hi Timothy! Sorry for the late reply. In fact I do not have a degree, but FL managed to get me a Z visa regardless. Having said that, I know that they are not always able to get the legal working visa (Z) and sometimes settle for a business visa. I’ve also had friends working on a tourist visa for the entirety of their contract. This of course is not ideal, but I can reassure you that it is just standard practise in China. There are so many teachers doing it, that if they were to crack down on it they wouldn’t have any foreign teachers left haha.
      FL encourage new teachers with minimal to no experience, and although a degree is preferred, it isn’t necessary. In which case I strongly urge your daughter to get in contact with them and talk through her options. If she’d like to know about other schools/training centres out there, I work closely with China Link ESL (www.chinalinkesl.com) and I’m good friends with the owners. Drop them a line and they will be able to give so much advice about companies as they have links all over China 🙂 Good luck with it all!

  3. Hi there,

    I’m set to leave to work with First Leap for a year in Mid-August. I’ve recently become a bit nervous about the experience, I found your blog comforting though.

    Do you have any advice for me? Do you recommend the school? or want to share anything you wish you had known the first time around?

    I’ll be teaching in Nanjing. My plan was to use my free time to travel around the country and blog about it, kind of like what you’re doing. Why did you decide to wait the full year before posting this piece?

    Any help would be appreciated!
    Tarell

    1. You are going to Nanjing in August? I am going to Zhenjiang to start training in the very beginning of June. We will be pretty close by and I am also starting to get really nervous.

      1. I have also been posted to Zhenjiang for the start of June! I’m still waiting for my visa but am very excited to start teaching again, meeting new people and exploring China….I think we will be ok 😉

    2. Hi Tarell, sorry for the late reply! That is so exciting that you are set to embark on a new adventure in China.

      I guess I waited until the end of the year so that I could sum up my experience. It was a rollercoaster of a time for me, and I didn’t necessarily want my fleeting emotions to taint an overall wonderful experience.

      All I can offer besides the info in this blog is to go with an open mind. If you’ve spent time in Asia already then it won’t be too difficult to adjust to, I’m sure. I really do recommend the school 100% but also know that it has changed a lot since I left. Perhaps contact First Leap and see if they can put you in touch with some current teachers working there – I’m sure they would be happy to help 🙂

      All the best!

  4. Hi Kelly,
    I’m headed to Nanjing next month to teach with FL. Thank you for your post. I found it reassuring and helpful. All the best on your future adventures!

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