Working at English First: A Postmortem

I finally decided to grow my balls and resign from working at Education First. Education First, also known as English First, EF, or Yingfu (英孚) as it is known in Mandarin, is a global corporation and one of the starting points for many ESL teachers in China and all over the globe. By the time I had put in my resignation, I was referring to it as MF.

Education First logo

Like most English training institutions in China, different branches of English First have different de facto policies. While my time working there was not what I came to China for, others may enjoy the setting a lot more. I will go over some of my observations to help you decide whether or not you want to use EF as a vehicle to get to China (or elsewhere on the globe).

The Good

Learning to Teach ESL

Starting on a positive note, Education First believes in training its teachers to become adequate, if not top-notch ESL teachers. Right from the start, there is a vigorous training regimen, and training sessions continue throughout one’s career. This is perfect for those without much teaching experience, and makes it easy to develop one’s confidence in the classroom.

As a side note, learning to teach in general can help a person to develop people skills as well. After spending so many hours in the classroom, I have found making conversation to be much easier than before. This is not particular to English First, but one will notice that it becomes easier to socialize with others after doing it as a job for hours on end.

Lounge Chats

Lounge Chats and Life Clubs were bittersweet. They were fun to do on most days, especially when I was talking about different books that I read or got to hear input on different ideas from students. Learning the perspectives of Chinese people was quite interesting, and helping them learn more about the West (at least from my perspective) was also fun.

EF Pays on Time

One thing that is great about English First compared is that the always paid on time. Common gripes that many ESL teachers in China have is shady business practice, late payments, or short payments. EF does everything legally. Payment is always on time, and is generally enough to keep someone afloat.

They Take Care of Workers

Aside from prompt payment, Education First has other benefits that appeal to teachers in China. One major perk is that they assist foreign teachers in getting a legal work visa. Other perks include medical insurance and educational incentives. EF workers are taken care of quite well. I guess that it is the argument of freedom versus security.

Working at One Center

Not having to travel all over the city to work at different schools was a major plus. I always knew where I would be working on any given day, and did not have to find places hidden away. Most teachers that I worked with worked at the same center for a full year, and many for their entire tenure at the company. This makes getting to work more convenient, and has potential application in building relationships with coworkers and students as well.

Guangzhou subway map. English First has schools all over the city.
For better or for worse, I wasn’t traveling all over the city working at EF.

The Bad

The Grueling Schedule

My experience at English First is why I do not advise working at a training center in China. While the work day starts at noon during the week, you will find yourself coming home around nine or ten at night. Teachers are also required to give up Saturdays and Sundays. This schedule makes it more difficult to live a healthy lifestyle (especially with gyms opening late in the morning), and even harder to promote a side hustle. Getting out into the Game or going on dates is made more difficult by this schedule too.

They Work Teachers Like Mules

On top of the inconvenient schedule, downtime was not a thing at my center. Gone were the days of typing up blog posts or reading personal development literature. Once I entered the office, I was essentially property of English First until I clocked out. I was given verbal warnings on a few occasions that I needed to get out and talk to students whenever I had a zero-booked class or finished my feedback within a feedback hour. This is a major detriment to people that have other plans with their time in the Middle Kingdom.

It’s All About Sales

Being the most popular teacher in a center might be something of an ego boost, but at EF, it can be a double-edges sword. No, my Black ass certainly wasn’t the most popular foreign teacher. The gentleman that was ended up working a lot more than anyone else, having to plan two Life Clubs weekly. On top of this, he was expected to bring in the sales, with the sales team pestering him on his break to do demo classes. Needless to say, he was not paid an additional commission for his troubles.

Teachers are contracted to teach five core classes a day. With the additional sales and “English environment” duties, it ends up being six or seven classes on most days. Maybe this varies from center to center.

Hours in Lieu

Competing language institutions, such as Wall Street and Web, pay overtime for extra classes. EF merely allows teachers to take hours off in the future for any additional classes that they take. Time is money, I guess, but when working additional hours, I’d prefer to actually get cash in hand, but that’s just me.

Racial Note

I have heard stories about Black teachers being treated poorly at EF. Knowing that racism and racial preferences do exist in China (and all over the world for that matter), I don’t doubt it. However, in my experience, English First treats its Black teachers the same as any other. I was paid the same salary as the colleagues that signed on with me, was given the same opportunities, and got along well with my students. Maybe I didn’t bang any of the course consultants, but I didn’t sense any overt racism, and worked alongside other Black teachers. This might vary from city to city or center to center.

English First billboard in Guangzhou, China
EF may use White faces in ads, but they hire teachers from various ethnic backgrounds.

Certain elements of the Black community might also be happy to know that Black people appear in the course material, although one thing that almost made me burst out laughing while teaching a class was when a PowerPoint slide featured two Black friends but had clearly White voice actors performing the audio script.

In Conclusion

Working for EF had its ups and downs. The schedule and all of the little rules made working there conflict with my designs of life in China. The company may offer a new lease on life for some, but for me, it became too restrictive.

There are many more opportunities here in China, but it takes time to find them. If you are going to maximize what you get out of your time here, then I advise finding a job that offers more flexibility. Keep your goals in mind when making your decision; “one man’s fun is another’s Hell,” as the saying goes.

Until next time, I’ll be chasing financial freedom or at least flexibility while living here in China.