A bunch of questions here about things I’m not as well-versed on as I would like to be. I’ve done a lot of work in High Schools and adult buxibans, but know very little about the sort of places that most foreign teachers work in - the ones with young kids. I’m intrigued to know more about the logistics and finances of the most common types of buxiban as they seem to be a completely different kind of animal to what I’m familiar with.
For instance, if someone says “I have 100 students,” does that mean 100 students in one room 25 hours a week? Or 20 classes of 5 students each coming in once a week for an hour? (OK, stupid extremes, but I don’t know what the normal deal is.)
First, I only have vague ideas about what is actually taught in these classes and when. What time of day do the kids attend these places, for how long, how many times a week? Are the kids of any particular age-group likely to be at a particular level, or do they come into these schools at any age?
And how does Anqinban work?
Do students typically go into more than one program?
How does the enrolment work? Monthly? By semester? Annually? By the number of hours of classes they will take in a given time period? What happens with regard to typhoons, unexpected government decisions about holidays and make-up days, etc.?
How much is the tuition? And what do they get for that? Does it vary a great deal by location? How many hours in class, what other goodies? What other expectations do the customers have?
How many admin staff (per X students) are required for an operation that is ticking over smoothly?
How frequently do students change schools? Conversely, how hard is it to lure students away from another school?
FWIW, adults can be a nightmare.
The worst are what I call ‘buffet English’ schools, which operate much like California Fitness. The students pay a fee for a period of months, up to a couple of years, and can go to an agreed number of classes per week (up to unlimited). The students may be signed up at any time and are free to change classes so they wander in and out, making it impossible to teach any kind of structured course. The period, number of classes, and the fee are down to the skill of the sales person, who account for a big %age of the schools’ costs. Basically these places are sales/marketing organisations and English is just a product. The sales staff may outnumber the teachers and promote the teacher, rather than the syllabus. (Any bog-standard text book which the teacher may not even use)
Students often have a very passive attitude to learning. As the fees may work out at less than NT$100/hr, invariably paid by the parents, and the students are generally taking the classes because they didn’t do well at English in high school, commitment levels are often low and teachers have to work hard to motivate them. Drop-out rates are high, which is fortunate as there wouldn’t be room for all the students in the classes if everyone was to turn up and the schools would go bankrupt.
Then there are ‘focused’ classes, usually pitched at improving a specific skill or preparing for a test, which run for a fixed period and students should start at the beginning. General classes cost in the NT$2-250/hr range the last time I checked, while more specialised stuff (IELTS/TOEFL) is often charged at NT$3-350/hr or more. These numbers are for smallish classes, 10-15 students, but some schools offer much larger lecture-style products which are often taught at least partly in Chinese. I don’t know how much students pay for these, but the teachers are often given the ‘star’ treatment and teach from their own books which the students have to buy. I know people who lecture to groups of up to 100 students at a time, and have heard stories of ‘famous’ teachers holding weekend seminars with many times that number of students and a host of assistant teachers.
Approximately 30,000 Taiwanese go to study overseas annually, mostly at post-grad level. (1/3 UK, 1/3 USA, 1/3 others) Typically they need to pass IELTS or TOEFL first. The ‘season’ for these classes largely corresponds to the university application cycle although there’s a surge during the summer. Interestingly, a lot of students (especially on Nan Yang Jie) seem to believe that repeatedly taking mock tests, and ‘learning the answers’ is the best way to proceed and some schools do very well by catering to this. Others try to actually teach useful skills and improve their students’ English, which often means telling students things they don’t want to hear. (eg Your English isn’t good enough yet. Try our basic course, which we have renamed “advanced vocabulary refresher for really smart students who have almost mastered the past simple tense after only ten years of study!”) Schools can make additional money by assisting students with university applications.
Some schools offer combination deals, such as enrolment in a specific test-prep class for X hrs/wk plus access to other more general classes over the same time period. (If someone is doing twelve hours a week of IELTS prep and working full-time at a job you can give them unlimited access to conversation classes secure in the knowledge that they won’t be showing up very often.)
Adult ed takes place mostly in the evenings and schools typically schedule classes to start at 6:30 or 7pm and finish at 9:30 or 10pm. Daytime classes are possible, but rare, so three hours a day is all the use you can expect to get out of your classrooms. Saturday classes might run from 10am (students are unlikely to get up earlier) until as late as 6, and some students do literally spend 6-8 hrs in classes in the belief that it does some good, especially for exam prep. Sundays are sparsely attended, and the majority of students will be there for exam prep. Some schools keep Sunday as their mock-testing day, partly to minimise the need for teachers!
May-June and the period before CNY are the quietest times, and it picks up again after CNY and in the summer. These schools run a lot of extra daytime classes for university students during the summer and winter breaks. Some students do go to classes all day every day during the summer and it’s an important time for the schools, especially as they hope to sell students longer-time packages.
And finally, I have asked this before but nobody ever answered:
When confronted with a Taiwanese person who knows what he/she wants, how do you reason with him/her to sell them the course that will actually help them? (Please bear in mind that they apparently know much more about how English should be taught, and are far better qualified to judge what their level is and what they should be aiming for, than any mere teacher with years of experience.)
My guess is that you don’t sell them anything. You pitch your marketing to attract the people who are already predisposed to buy something from you instead, but I’d love to hear differently.