China's first private union, the China Foreign Teachers Union may have the toughest job in the most populated nation on Earth - preventing some 40,000 foreign teachers from being abused, exploited, and scammed. In their annual report just released, the union refers to their recent teacher survey of 500 FTs in Beijing and Shanghai and the news is disheartening as follows:
1) 79% of those polled said they would never have come to China if they knew what was waiting for them - unpaid overtime, unpaid wages, and an assortment of scams orchetsrated by shady agents and even their own employers.
2) Only 39% of those polled claim they are able to stay afloat on the wages paid but only if they have a roomate or two to share living expenses.
3) 52% admit being cheated at least once by their own schools, over a hundred of which have been blacklisted by teachers at: http://www.chinaforeignteachersunion.org/
4) 74% of those polled said they would have already left China to return home if they had not already bonded with their students who make them feel obligated to stay until the end of the school year.
5) 85% polled feel unappreciated by their employers and "very frustrsated with daily life in China."
6) 37% report being regularly depressed due to unprofessional work environments which they claim focus more on making money than providing an effective and meaningful education.
A quick visit to www.ChinaForeignTeachersUnion.org quickly makes one understand why less and less foreigners want to teach in China. The website contains the names and photos of a dozen fake agents over a 100 dishonest schools who defraud and exploit foreign teachers with a variety of clever scams reently exposed in this local magazine article:
C.J. Porter a PR spokesman of the CFTU reported that there are 28% less foreign teachers in China today than in 2007 and he predicts that figure will jump to 50% by 2015 if working terms and conditions for the foreign teachers do not improve. To that end, the union is agressively hunting down and exposing the many scammers by publishing their photos online, and lobbying for a minimum wage of 250 yuan per hour for native-english speaking teachers with bachelor degrees.
The CFTU vows they will overcome the local harrassment they endure from school owners who bribe government officials to keep teacher complaints out of the courts and news media. "All we want is the fair deal that was promised to these teachers before they boarded their planes for China." says Porter. Others worry about the mental health of the teachers like "Louis" from Rochester who admits he is fighting bouts of job-related depression by drinking more and more cheap Chinese beer. Luckily he attended a CFTU meeting and a counselor befriended him. In 2010 two foreign teachers committed suicide. In 2011, that number grew to 5. Were the deaths job-related? In China police reports are not public information and it would be wrong to guess.
In the interim, Porter suggests that teachers around the globe discard any ideas that they can atually earn a decent living in China and return home anything other than broke and disillusioned. "For young people wanting an international experience, China is not on my top ten list at present." he remarked. Indeed some quick research indicates that pay scales and teacher satisfaction rates are far higher in Japan, Germany, Italy, Korea, and Dubai.
"Janet" from Milwaukee who has been teaching in Shanghai for 3 years summed it up this way... "Things are not getting much better and we never get raises. Frankly I am tired of eating street vendor food. This is my last year for sure. For teachers, China is a f*cking minefield - by the time you realize you have a problem - its already too late."
But the allure of the "China mystique" is one that still beckons the naive and gullible young university graduates to the delight of all the fake and shady recruiters who designed hundreds of deceptive, misleading, and false ads that prolificaly decorate the internet. Little do the the young and ambitious grads realize that these agents will earn five times more money every month that the teachers they allegedly "help".
Apparently, some lessons in life need to be learned the hard way, and its both ironic and sad that teachers have to be schooled about scams in this deplorable fashion.