Are you thinking about working directly or indirectly for the public schools in Hanoi? Well, I’ve done it, so before you pack your bags read through my pros and cons and give some serious thought to whether public schools are right for you. Be prepared for a bit of a rant because I’m going to try to provide some truth about my experience, which wasn’t very positive. Although ultimately I know a lot of teachers in very good public schools who like their jobs, so this is just advice from my own personal experience.
About public schools in Hanoi
There are several language centers in Hanoi that have partnerships with the Vietnamese public school system, such as SET Vietnam, Schools Link (the biggest), and the Washington Language Center. These centers hire English teachers to travel to public schools and teach several classes a day. Occasionally private schools will hire teachers directly as well. Here are the pros and cons of working for one of these schools.
Pros – The hours
A lot of people love the regular schedule that working at a public school provides. Typically a public school worker will teach from 8 AM to 4 or 5 PM. This stability is great for some people and it ensures that you get two days (Saturday and Sunday) off in a row, which for a language teacher in Vietnam is unusual and highly sought after.
Cons – Long lunch break
I hated the public schools’ long lunch breaks. My lunch break was typically two hours, which didn’t leave me enough time to go home, but way too much time to stay at the school. It always felt like wasted space in the middle of my day.
Pros – Short lessons
Typically public school lessons are only forty-five minutes, double that if you are in the high school. Compared to the average two-hour lessons at a language center, forty-five minutes is a breeze. This also cuts down on planning time because forty-five minutes will barely leave enough time to get through the pages in the book, much less do extra activities. Quick lessons and easy planning are a big plus for some teachers.
Cons – Discipline
I don’t struggle much with discipline anymore. I’ve got a set of rules that I apply to all my classes, and I’m typically assured of my own ability to manage a classroom. Discipline no longer makes me queasy like it did when I first started out. Public schools in Vietnam were a different story.
One issue with discipline in public schools is class size. Despite being told that my classes would cap out at twenty students, most of my lessons had about thirty and I’ve heard of teachers with even more. I’ve taught lessons that large before, but there is a difference between teaching thirty students who have been told that these classes are important, and thirty wild, screaming, running children who basically see your class as an extra recess. My TAs were useless, mostly sitting in the back of the room on their phones or offering helpful comments like, “It’s because the students like their old teacher better.” My least favorite TA took to smacking kids in the face when they misbehaved, which only ever resulted in sobbing and more tantrums.
Not all Vietnamese schools are like this, and I have substituted at several very nice public schools. However there seems to be a myth that all Vietnamese schools are well-organized and all the students little angels. Be aware that kids will be kids no matter where you teach, and if it happens to be in an awful school system, with too many kids per class, horrible TAs, and no serious interest in English lessons, then your year is going to be a struggle.
Pros – The pay
Pay tends to be substantially more in these types of jobs because off-campus payment is typically added. If you’re trying to save money this can be a good way to do it. I made about 5-6 million dong more per month than I am making now at a language center. Also the regular hours means that your pay can add up quite a bit faster than at language centers where your hours may vary.
Cons – Organization is hit and miss
When I worked in the public schools it was always a struggle to find my classroom, which is a problem that a teacher just really shouldn’t have. Because English classes aren’t always taken seriously, they often get short shrift when it comes to class space. That means whenever a new math class opens up, your room will be moved, and sometimes no one knows where. Similarly don’t expect the schools to remember your name or much about you, or even how many English teachers are supposed to be working that day (I once arrived at a school with six other English teachers milling about only to find out that only three actual English classes were being held that day. Most of us had to go home. That’s public school organization at its finest.).
Also if you’re working with a language center which sends teachers out to the public schools, don’t expect a lot of support. These centers typically have too many schools and teachers to keep track of, so even simple things like getting a CD, textbook, or class registers can be a challenge, because unless your center has an organizational diva in charge, these things will tend to fall through the cracks, making your job that much harder.
Pros – Some public schools are actually awesome
I’ve subbed at a few awesome public schools. There was a high school I subbed at where all of the students spoke at least a pre-intermediate level of English and they all loved English class. They loved English music and they loved talking in English. I enjoyed my week of subbing at this school. You might really luck out and land one of these amazing gigs where you can’t wait to come to work every day and teacher your great students. I would have definitely stuck with teaching in the public school system if I had landed one of these gigs instead of just subbed occasionally for them.
Overall the ease of planning for short lessons, a significant increase in pay, and regular hours make public (and some private) schools appealing to many teachers in Hanoi. And if you get a job at one of the nicer schools, this can be a dream job. It can also be really awful. It depends on what school you wind up in, so give it some thought before you sign any contracts and maybe ask to speak to some former teachers. If you’re really looking for support and an organized classroom setting, then maybe search somewhere else where those two things are more of a guarantee.
Otherwise, whatever you choose to do, Hanoi will definitely be a teaching adventure.