Teaching English in Taiwan can range from being your newfound calling to “why the hell did I come here?” and a large part of where you fall on this spectrum has to do with what kind of job you get. While a large part of your Taiwan experience has little to do with your job, I don’t need to tell you that job satisfaction is still going to be one of if not the most important influence on your overall happiness so it’s a good idea to get this right the first time. The three main types of schools to hitch your wagon to are: cram school and kindergartens, public and private schools, and Foreign Run Intensive schools.
The most common and least desirable job is working at a cram school or kindergarten. Nevertheless, your first job will likely be one of these. While majority of the English teaching horror stories take place in a cram school, fear not. There is a large variation between one school and the next. There are some things you can look out for to minimize your chances of getting bent over your desk so: sadistic bosses, problem children, and their parents can run a train on you. Avoid: schools without a clear curriculum, schools where you are the only foreign teacher, and schools where you will be interacting closely with the owner. Schools with lots of other foreign teachers, clear curriculum and an intermediary teachers that acts as go-between for you and the owner are going to be at least tolerable nine times out of ten. All these same rules apply to kindergartens.
Teaching at private or public schools is better than cram schools in almost every way: better pay, better work environment, clear curriculum, better behaved children, more dignity, etc. The list goes on. If you are working for a cram school then your second job should be hunting for a new job at any nearby public and public schools. Hell, apply to jobs on the entire island and move if necessary; it’ll be worth it. I would give one weeks notice to my cram school as soon as I signed the contract for a better job.
For those who speak Chinese and can handle high stress work environments and love the smell of napalm in the morning, you might consider a Foreign Run Intensive cram school (FRI). These schools are run by foreigners so you are far less likely to have personality clashes with your boss, classes are run like a military parade ground so discipline is seldom a problem, and the pay is unparalleled.Teachers are expected to: speak fluent Chinese, uphold anal-retentive standards and work through sick days. In return, they are paid more than double what a cram school teacher makes.
While these are not the only gigs in town, they sponsor the vast majority of work permits in the country. A typical English teacher will start out at a cram school and if he is smart, will move on to a more dignified position with a private or public school, or he will opt for the high stress and high salary world of a foreign run intensive school. Don’t fuck this one up. You are going to spend at least half of your waking day at your job. Pick a good one.