A lot of TEFL jobs throughout the world, but in particular Asia, revolve around teaching in a cram school. This is effectively a dedicated language school, as opposed to a traditional government or international school.
Don't let the name fool you, a "cram" school isn't purely about cramming for exams, at least not in the English teaching world. The name is used widely throughout countries like Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and more to describe any kind of school where you go for extra learning. The students could be adults, but in most cases are elementary or high school students.
Many Asian countries put a lot of emphasis on education and it's not uncommon for students to study until 8 or 9pm in the evenings. When their regular school day finishes at 4, they'll be off to a cram school to polish their English, or Maths, or any other subject that needs work.
The Role Of Cram Schools
Cram schools are not just there to help struggling students though. For many, the desire to get ahead leads them to a cram school as well. The classrooms will be filled with the smartest and the weakest students alike.
There are also practical purposes to sending your kids to study in a cram school; in cultures where both parents work, a cram school can take on the role of a babysitter. Rather than sending their kids to a nursery school or after-school club, they'll instead pay for them to improve their education. It makes sense when you think about it from that angle.
So whether a student is struggling in their normal school, looking to get ahead of the curve, or simply needs something to do until their parents get home, in many countries 90% of children will attend one cram school or another.
What It's Like Teaching In One
The cram school experience for a teacher will be completely different from school to school. Some of them are very large, with hundreds of students, while others might only have 1 or 2 classes running at the same time.
Generally though, you can expect the teaching experience to be slightly different from in a traditional school. There will be a bit more emphasis on keeping the students engaged, performing a mixture of high and low energy activities, and sometimes more emphasis on passing exams as well (though this depends on a particular school's curriculum).
Cram schools still expect their students to behave. There's still discipline and a serious attitude toward learning, but when students spend 8-10 hours a day in their regular school, it can be hard for them to focus in a cram school.
If working in one then, your role would be a mixture of teacher and entertainer!
Obviously this would depend on the age of your students (which could be anywhere from 5 to 50).
Do They Pay As Well As International Schools?
Again this depends on the individual school, city, even country. Traditionally an international school would have a higher salary available, but it would also require a better qualification.
To work in government run or private schools, you usually need to have a teaching license in your home country (such as a PGCE or major in teaching). Cram schools on the other hand might only require a TEFL certificate and university degree. The TEFL certificate (or equivalent) is not always mandatory, though it certainly pays to have one. Again, this depends on specific countries and their work permit rules.
To learn more about Taiwan for example, click here.
So while they might not pay AS WELL as international schools, cram schools can still pay very well. In many countries, even working in a cram school will put you earning anywhere from 50% to 100% above the country's average salary. You usually only have to work 20-30 hours a week as well.
Not bad at all.
Should You Work In One?
In many cases it's your only choice, but don't let that feel like it's a bad thing. Cram schools offer a great opportunity and make an easy introduction to a country and culture. Students will be used to seeing foreigners, co-workers will likely be from the same country as you, and a lot of the larger schools will make your life a lot easier.
We've written an article before about the advantages of choosing a school with western management.
In fact, some of the best jobs we've placed teachers in have been cram schools.