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Carden American School íV A Review

 

            Carden American School is a small company owning two schools: one in Sanxia and one in Neihu.  With the exception of a Pre-English class (essentially a primer class), all classes are taught by native speakers in both schools, with assistants in Chinese.  This review is meant for prospective teachers more than prospective customers, though parents may be interested in knowing what goes on.  One thing that this review is not is endorsed directly by the school.  I will be as honest as I can be, within the restraints of professionalism.  I consider all my co-workers my friends.  This will be the last you hear about my more personal experiences.  They vary too wildly to be useful in a review here.

            As an overall experience, working for Carden is very good.  As with any job, there are good days and bad days.  Some days you walk out with a smile on your face, and others you walk out cursing every human being under the age of ten.  Regardless of how much you may love your job, these days are inevitable.  ItíŽs the things that give you this tight and frustrated feeling that I will address first.  ItíŽs always best to get the bad news first, so here are the ížConsíĘ of working for Carden.  I encourage you to read both sections, even if you decide something in

 

Cons
Location íV CardeníŽs main school is located in Sanxia (also spelled San Hsia, though other variations may exist).  For those readers who may not be familiar with Taipei County (like myself still) Sanxia is a small city located at about a 20-30 minute drive from the nearest subway (MRT) station.  This is the terminal station of the Bannan (blue) line.  For those a little more familiar with the geography, Sanxia is located somewhere between Banqiao and Xindian.  Coupled with the fact that there is very little to do in Sanxia makes this a poor choice for heavy partiers.  If you go out a lot on weeknights, this is a poor location.  Even worse if you speak little to no Mandarin.  Unlike Taipei, English ability is scattered and quite low so far.  ItíŽs improving, but things are often far more difficult than one might like.  As a summary, Sanxia is intensely dull, difficult to travel from and a challenging experience for expats.  One lives for the weekends, and travel in and out of the city can be quite expensive if you are aiming for convenience.  The bus routes need much improvement.

 

Low hourly pay íV Though there are benefits that help undercut this, the schoolíŽs hourly pay isníŽt the best you will find in Taipei.  At only 500 NT an hour, the pay may seem quite paltry.  However, you should look at the ížProsíĘ section to see what the benefits are that improve the salary. 

 

Taiwanese management íV Though English proficiency among the owners is quite high, it is far from perfect.  Miscommunications are common.  Also, in addition to being in a very competitive market, this is a small business.  The ownership is very thrifty.  I guarantee if you doníŽt ask for something, you woníŽt get it.  Negotiation is alive and well here, so be prepared to work for every little perk you might want or need.  However, like many things, you should also look at the ížPros: Honest ManagementíĘ section before you think IíŽm disparaging the ownership. 

 

Extra workload íV Though this is well on its way to being improved, Carden does still put an extra workload on its teachers.  We are expected to prepare a great deal of our own teaching materials.  This include stories for reading classes, worksheets for writing classes and rhymes and songs for conversation classes.  Since we also have social studies, art, math and science classes, we are responsible for lesson plans and teaching/learning materials for those classes as well.  DoníŽt think, though, that there is no curriculum.  We are given a curriculum with vocabulary, grammar points and many fine details.  Some things are left open to the teacher however.  This extra workload isníŽt as intense as it may sound once one gets used to it, but it is time consuming.  To make it more irritating, we are unpaid for office time.  This is a significant amount of work, but it also has its rewards and it allows each teacher to get their fingers into a little curriculum design.  It is still a lot of extra work, so it is definitely a low-point of the job.  We have more and more material available all the time, and the extra workload is cutting back.  It is still there, though. 

 

Control íV Almost every element of our lives has something to do with the school.  This is a culture in which company loyalty is quite important.  Business typically comes before pleasure.  As visitors in this culture, expats often have more expectations put on them than they are used to.  To make things worse, our accomodations are provided by the school (see ížPros: BenefitsíĘ).  This means that the school has influence on our home lives as well.  This can seem controlling, and it takes much longer than it should for home-improvements, repairs, etc.  The thriftiness of the company often leads to problems in that regard also.  Most annoyingly, however, the school will give extra hours (i.e. special classes) with very little notice.  We are expected to work these without complaint, and will often impact our already depleted social lives. 

 

Little vactation time íV There is very little vacation time.  We work with the bare minimum of teachers, so even sick leave can be difficult to take.  In a typcial year one gets only two weeks vacation time, and these are at set times.  We get about one week around the Lunar New Year (though this time can vary a bit).  We also get one week at the beginning of the summer, between the regular semester and summer camp.  Occasional days off can be arranged, but they are the exception as opposed to the rule.

 

Okay, so there you are: the worst of the school.  A lot of these problems you will encounter at any other school, or so IíŽm told.  Many schools will cheat, lie and possibly even steal from you in sneaky ways.  This isníŽt personal, or even considered unethical.  ItíŽs kind of like the old saying: ížItíŽs immoral to let a sucker keep his money.íĘ  If something in the Cons of Carden School turns you off, I suggest you keep your eyes sharp with any other school you may consider.  With that bit of nastiness out of our way, letíŽs move on to the good points of Carden.

 

Pros

Benefits íV Though the hourly pay is lower than average, we receive a lot of other benefits.  We are given accomodations, free of charge.  We pay no rent, power bills, water bills or gas bills.  Likewise, we doníŽt pay for our cable.  Additionally, since there are two schools, teachers are largely free to make use of either the apartment in Sanxia, or the apartment in Neihu provided permission has been asked of the primary resident(s).  This is a huge benefit, especially for first-time expats or those inexperienced at adapting to foreign cultures.  The only downside (as I mention earlier) getting things improved or repaired can be a chore unto itself.  The living conditions in Sanxia are small, but comfortable.  One lives with two other teachers from the school.  The apartment in Neihu is in poor condition at the moment.  It is slowly being improved, but by the teachers, not the school.  This is a big benefit we get, and many people see it as well worth the dip in pay. 

            Other benefits include some of the fees.  Our Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) is largely paid for by the school.  Our airfare is completely refunded (minus applicable taxes, of course).  Several fees are our own.  We must pay for one of our visas (either entry or working) but that particular visa changes all the time.  We also pay for our own medical exams, a requirement for the working visa.  We are picked up at the airport by the director.  Lunches are provided all working days, and you can eat at the school regardless of whether you worked that morning or not. 

 

Honest management íV Though thrifty, the management is honest.  Miscommunications happen all the time, as it to be expected when doing business in a foreign language.  If youíŽre a good teacher who gets along well with the owners they woníŽt try even those little games.  There are never problems with the pay.  The worst that ever happens is an unexpected deduction, so let me mention this: everything you pay out is subject to a 10% tax.  Now, for those of you who have done your homework, Carden goes out on a limb for its teachers to make our lives more comfortable.  The tax rate starts at 10%, and stays there for the term of your contract. 

            For those of you who might not know the expat tax system, itíŽs as follows.  For the first 186 days of working in Taiwan, the tax rate for foreign nationals is 20% of your income.  That supposedly includes all bonuses such as housing subsidies and airfare refunds.  After that time, the tax rate falls to 6% for the remainder of the calendar year.  The change is also retroactive, so you are eligible to be refunded 14% of your total income.  Since itíŽs 10% across the board around here, we should be eligible for a 4% return come tax time. 

 

Dynamic curriculum íV Though there is more work involved, the dynamic curriculum makes things interesting.  If you enjoy teaching, or working with children, the looser curriculum is extremely rewarding.  A teacher can actually watch students improve over the course of a month, instead of a year.  And you are directly involved in that.  Also, we do not have set classes.  The teachers rotate which class they teach every month.  This may sound odd, and it is.  It can be kind of confusing sometimes too, but it means that no one gets stuck in a rut.  Teaching the lower levels of English proficiency can be taxing on even the best teachers, so itíŽs nice not to have that group at all times.  Likewise, the higher levels can be constant drain on oneíŽs faculties, so itíŽs good to take a rest with other students every once in a while. 

 

Students íV As a general rule, students in Taiwan are better behaved than in North America.  I cannot speak for Europe, but I suspect itíŽs a similar situation.  Teaching in Taiwan is a position to be respected, and the students and parents treat their teachers very well.  There are, of course, troublemakers.  These are the ones who tend to stand out.  Once one adjusts to the systems here, one sees different things as problematic.  Quietness is more problematic that talkativeness, for example.  As a special note, Carden is very good when it comes to discipline.  Corporal punishment is perfectly legal in Taiwan, and often insisted upon by parents.  Carden has strict policies against such forms of discipline.  Children are not struck (with the exception of a mild slap on the wrist) and are never struck with an object (such as a stick or ruler).  This is a new development, but it is a development in the right direction. 

Personally, I adore the students.  They treat teachers like respected elders, like aunts and uncles, and this a fairly unique phenomenon at Carden.  We are called by our first names (which shocks many parents) and we are encouraged to play with the kids, to get to know them.  The kids like learning by having fun, and that appreciation comes out in their treatment of us as more than just a teacher.  Many of my students could also be called friends. 

 

Open management íV Taiwan is a culture where pride is very important, so it is significant to note that the management is open to suggestions.  If a teacher has a legitimate problem  (I say legitimate because some teachers have tried to abuse this kindness) the school will do everything they can to remedy the problem.  The amount of time they take to do that can be diappointing, but thatíŽs where persistence becomes important.  However, anything involving the school will be considered.  Everyone (including the director) is very open to suggestions of new games to play, new teaching methods, or anything else that could improve the overall operation of the school.  We are also free to reject suggestions (which actually insulting in this culture).  However, keep in mind that all this must be done in a respectful manner.  Rudeness is not tolerated, as one can expect. 

 

Here we are, folks.  I hope that this helps.  I have tried to exclude personal experience because it is so subjective.  Should you be interested in some more personal accounts, I recommend applying and the director will give you my email address if it is pertinent.  As with other jobs, IíŽve had both good and bad experiences with this company.  Overall, however, I think this is an excellent place to work.  Most issues I have are not with the company, but the job.  Teaching (as some readers may know) is an exhausting job.  Especially the teaching of children.  It can also be one of the most satisfying experiences of your life.  This school comes highly recommended for teachers.  Expats looking for easy money and a party, this is not the place for you.  Thanks for reading, and I hope to hear from you sometime.