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.
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.
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.
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.