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Section I: Teaching English in China continued

Working Split-Shifts, Weekends and Overtime

Overtime is usually expected, and therefore mandatory, during intensive winter and summer programs.

If you work at a private English language school (training center) then you will, as a matter of course, work mostly on weekends and during the evenings because that's when the students are available. At public schools, you normally will not work over the weekends unless there is some special event like Sports or Teacher's Day or a mandatory rescheduled work day to compensate for the Golden Week Holiday.

You should specifically ask your prospective employer, before signing the contract, what his or her expectations are regarding split-shifts, traveling time between branches (if that applies), and overtime. That is, you need to ask if overtime is mandatory or strictly voluntary.

Many schools, for example, will have you teach at branch A from 11:00 to 11:50 then teach at branch B from 1:00 to 1:50, then head over to branch C for a 2:40 to 3:30 class and will only credit you with 2.5 hours (150 minutes) of contract teaching time even though you have been directly involved in school business for four-and-a-half hours that day (not including your transportation time to the first class and from the last class)! If this is the expectation (and it often is) then you need to clarify this before you sign anything and you need to ask yourself if you are okay with this arrangement before you agree to work for this employer.

As a rule, unless you have some special credential (e.g., IELTS examiner) or offer something otherwise unique that is perceived as necessary and hard to find, there will be very little room to negotiate with in this particular area because a) it is common practice and b) it would be very difficult for them to alter this arrangement for one teacher and not everyone, and crediting travel time between branches towards workload completion for all the teachers would result in a lot more overhead (overtime pay) for the school.

Another situation that is common in public schools is to have a teacher conduct four classes in the morning, break for lunch at 11:30 then return to the school for the final class of the day at 3:30. What you would really prefer is block scheduling so that all of your classes, for that day, fall within either the morning or afternoon sessions with no more than a 10-minute break between classes. That will take some negotiating and isn't always possible. As recompense, you might ask if you can finish with your classes at noon on Fridays (not too difficult to grant for many public schools).

Overtime can be either voluntary or mandatory. Obviously, if the regular teacher is sick that day and you just happen to be available, you—as the available teacher—are going to be pressed into service. Overtime is usually expected, and therefore mandatory, during intensive winter and summer programs. The overtime rate of pay should be specified in the contract (and the universal overtime pay rate appears to be 100 yuan per hour at private English language schools and 50 to 70 yuan per hour at government schools and universities). A good practice would be also to specify the maximum amount of overtime you are willing to work per any given month. Be very careful to clarify, beforehand, that if the school asks you to teach during a holiday period—during which time you would not normally have to work as many hours for that month as usual (along with everyone else)—that the school is treating it as overtime and not as an offset against the maximum number of contractual hours.

We are aware of a teacher who graciously agreed to work (what he assumed to be) overtime during a holiday period and, the following month, when his paycheck was short, was informed that he wasn't entitled to overtime pay because he had only worked within the contractual maximum number of hours the previous month (even though he had personally worked more hours than everyone else at that school). These types of questionable business practices occur all the time at many private English language schools.


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