|A snapshot from training days!|
There's a lot of negativity on the internet about working at American English Center (AEC). Before coming to Ukraine, I scoured the internet for clues about what it's like to work at AEC. Perhaps a similar search query is what brought you to this post. Now that I've spent 19 months teaching at this national chain, I'd like to balance all those venomous forum threads with my experience. After all, lasting 19 months at our local branch of AEC puts you squarely in the "old-timer" ranks, if not the ranks of "ancient elder".
My first encounter with AEC was back in 2007. At that moment I was living in a dorm in Yakutsk, Russia. I'm not sure if there was even wi-fi in the dorms yet so Jon the recruiter interviewed me via a scratchy phone connection on the communal dormitory phone. He put a job offer on the table but when I said that I only had a few months to spend in Ukraine, we hung up amicably. Before the interview I'd done my research. The bulk of the literature available at the time? A few glowing references and a slew of vitriol on Dave's ESL cafe.
Not much has changed since then.
But Ukraine? Ukraine is easy to enter. As a US citizen, you don't need a visa to enter and you're free to stay in the country for up to 90 days. After putting the Russia plans on ice, I started looking around for jobs in Ukraine. AEC is so heavily advertised online that it was hard not to apply again with them. By the way, my superhero power is reading really, really fast, so I reread all the old stuff and found a lot of new stuff written by ex-employees. You can find some of it here and here. There was even a guy who opened up a competing school and said he got ominous threats from AEC management, but his claim has since been removed from the internet. It's easy to see that the school's got a lot of haters.
|Typical Ukrainian elementary school, after hours|
It's really not that bad.
I'm not saying it's the perfect workplace. There have been a lot of times I wanted to throw my hands up with frustration and quit dramatically. A lot of those times have been documented on this blog :p But the school is more or less upfront about what it is. And seriously, if someone is going to offer a teaching job to you even if you have zero classroom experience and no certifications, what do you expect? Think about it.
Here's what will happen: you have an interview, probably over Skype, possibly in person if you're already here. It seems the school does most of their hiring online. I had an interview with an HR rep living on the East coast of the US. She was pleasant and very honest about the job. The scenarios she presented me with were things I later had to actually teach in the classroom, and while I had been sweating to prepare for questions like "How would you teach the present perfect continuous to beginners?", fortunately there weren't many questions of that caliber.
|This was a smart, fun class|
During training you'll stay temporarily in an apartment with other trainees. We lived 5 to a three-bedroom apartment. Apartments are luck of the draw. Some are decent, clean, and modern; others not so much. Some people will whine no matter what the apartment is like: "where's the maid?", "why won't the landlord come fix the burnt-out lightbulbs?". I'm not even joking about those comments! Anyways, training is unpaid although the housing is free.
|I love these guys, wish I could teach them forever!|
Once you arrive to your destination city (or perhaps you've elected to stay in Kiev), you'll meet your school director and immediately
The classes you'll teach are a mix of two-hour core classes (intermediate to advanced), one-hour conversation clubs, and possibly a wild card (business English or TOEFL class). You're not expected to plan anything from scratch. All classes are based around books the students have been given. The core classes even come with a teacher's guide. Working hours are 4 PM - 10 PM Mon-Thurs and some unique schedule of beginner classes between 10 AM - 7 PM on Sundays.
|More great students|
The next thing you should be aware of: how to get fired.
Here's how to get fired:
1. Be boring. This is the kiss of death. If students complain about you, you'll be gone or black-listed faster than you can say до свидан.... oh wait, it does actually take pretty long to say goodbye in Russian. Anyways, don't be boring. Being boring means teaching straight from the teacher's guide. I know, I know, they did give it to you, but you really have to go beyond it. You'd better get up there and sing and dance, damn it. Also boring- winging it. Students like to see preparation. Wouldn't you?
2. Activities such as: being late repeatedly, sleeping with students, or going on lengthy drinking binges. All these things will get you fired eventually, but not as fast as being boring will.
3. Be boring. Did I mention this yet?
So as long as you're not boring, you've got a decent shot at making it through your first semester. If you make it through the first, you should be good to go for the rest of the contract. By the way, the halfway stage to being fired is being switched to conversation clubs only. If this happens to you, better shape up soon.
|Kharkov's branch of American English Center (it's actually an elementary school during the daytime)|
|Decorations in the elementary school for International Women's Day|
- The students, the students, the students. This is what they tell you during training and it's true. The students who choose to study at AEC are, as a whole, pretty amazing.
- The pay is okay and IT'S ALWAYS ON TIME. To actually get paid when you're supposed to get paid? Priceless. The base pay isn't bad- it's currently around $10/hour and there are several bonus schemes in place. Yes, schemes, because you won't always manage to get them. Also, if you make it to one year with the school, they'll add an 800 uah bonus to your paycheck once a semester. Another great plus is that you have the option of having your salary deposited into your paypal account. The only thing about the paychecks?- be sure to calculate them yourself independently, because it's not uncommon for mistakes to happen.
- Limited ageism. Look at any local newspaper and you'll see that Ukraine is very upfront about ages: you should be 18-22 for this job, 25-45 for that one. There's often a cap for English teachers at age 30. AEC, though, isn't afraid to hire people of all ages and backgrounds. If you want to be a teacher, you're over 45, and you want to get a job before coming- this may be your best shot.
|Arrr, decrepit blackboard and old sponge. I hate you both!|
- You get your teaching schedule about 24 hours before classes start. This can be really scary at first, especially if you're a perfectionist like me, but it gets easier over time. Again, the material is rather repetitive so it takes significantly less prep after teaching it the first time.
- Midterms means that you'll need to hand-write progress reports for all of your students. If you're teaching full-time and have over 60 students in core classes, hello writer's cramp. (On the other hand [get it? haha :p] progress reports are a chance to interact more personally with students and give needed feedback.)
- Supplies. It's not a big deal, but always have your own tape and your own chalk. Also, since you teach in an elementary school classroom rented out for the evening, be prepared to battle with ancient Soviet blackboards of evil. If you wear black, you will lose. And always bring wet wipes to clean your hands of all that chalk dust.
| Although, on a global scale, this is easily a 5-star facility!|
For a less pleasant experience, read The Perfect Ukrainian Toilet
- Another thing about working in an elementary school? The bathrooms are squat pits. Doors, toilet paper, and soap are as rare as unicorns, but during 4-6 PM you may encounter small children running amouk though the restrooms : )
- All printing is done in a central office so along with the scheduling chaos at the beginning of the semester, there's a lot of supply chaos. Books may come just in time or "it'll be here sometime next semester."
|Whiteboard alert! Whiteboard alert! Whiteboards have become a rare and beautiful experience in my life.|
One last note about Ukraine, a topic that doesn't only apply to AEC: work visas.
A work visa from the school is about as likely as a nice fluffy roll of lavender-scented toilet paper in a bathroom stall at Barabashova market.
I am in no way advocating breaking the laws of any country (did you really dream of growing up to be an illegal immigrant in Eastern Europe as a child?), so just do the best you can to get things straightened out before you come or immediately after you arrive. It's pretty much all on your shoulders.
|No cell phones during school hours|
More tales from former AEC teachers, these ones with a positive (or at least neutral) slant-
Teaching English in Ukraine by Steven
Teaching English in Ukraine – How I Got My Teaching Gig in Kiev by Brooke
The basics from a 2012 AEC teacher in Kiev
The basics from a 2012 AEC teacher in Kiev
My Life as a Teacher by BrookeQuestions About Pay for Teaching English in Ukraine with AEC by Brooke
Embarrassing English (Saved by the Grunt) by Brendan
Interview with a 2013 Odessa Teacher
And for whoever stumbles across this entry in the distant future, the best place to check for updates from current teachers is probably glassdoor.com.
Good luck! : )