In Taibei there are quite a few schools of this type. There are also a few in Taoyuan; I don’t know of any in the south, though. Almost all of these schools are about the same. The first one was Mòdàwèi 莫大衛, started in the heart of Taibei, near Sogo, about 20 years ago by an Australian guy named David. He paid well, and was able to attract foreigners who could speak Chinese, could control a large class, would work hard, and would stay for a long time. As a result of having good teachers who stay from day one until graduation day 3 and a half years later, the students learned well. Studying at Mòdàwèi for one year was nearly as good as putting in three at a big chain school. Amazingly, with no marketing, Mòdàwèi grew into a large branch through word of mouth alone. However, David wasn’t interested in letting other teachers open franchises or other branches. One of the best and brightest of his teachers, a guy named Tom, eventually got tired of making a fortune for somebody else. So, Tom opened his own school, called Tomcat (湯姆貓), across the street. Nearly all of his students came with him. Naturally, being a bilingual foreigner with a great deal of teaching experience, and 200 loyal students, it wasn’t too hard to make a success of it. In fact, Tom later let his most experienced teacher, Rich, take over a branch. Around the same time, an American guy named James, a VERY good example of a black man who has made it as a teacher in Taiwan, was opening another Mòdàwèi clone called Cortland (科特蘭). As of now there are 8 Cortland branches and over a dozen Tomcat franchises. In addition, there have been at least 4 other schools started by former Mòdàwèi employees since Cortland that I know of. Mòdàwèi hasn’t grown much, but it’s still around. More importantly the HFRB (Hard-core Foreign Run ) style of teaching is here to stay.
Curriculum & Teaching Methods
These schools have a simple no non-sense curriculum structured around sentence patterns, core-vocabulary, and constant pronunciation coaching. The meat and potatoes of their classes is the Question Around the Room. In this exercise, first all of the students must stand up, then one student makes a question based on a certain grammar pattern. The student the asks another student who must answer and in turn make another question which will be answered by another student. It continues until all of the students have asked and answered a question based on whatever sentence pattern being practiced.
Unlike the big chains, these schools require correct pronunciation and have teachers who can tell the children how to correct their pronunciation. For example, if a kid is saying “How ahh you?”, the teacher will say, “Every time you see an ‘r’, you have to curl your tongue.” And he will say it in Chinese. Also unlike the big chains, KK isn’t taught at HFRBs. Instead phonics is taught the way we learned it back home: i.e. They learn about long and short vowels, basic phonics rules like “when two vowels go walking the first one does the talking”, and so forth.
One other major difference between HFRBs and other schools is that at HFRBs, the kids have to do their homework. If they don’t do it, they fail. Yes, kids actually can fail at these schools. Also, the teacher has to grade books and listen to tapes after class to ensure that the students are doing their work correctly. All of this work is unpaid.
If you are in Taiwan to make money and you are a teacher, there is NO other place to be than bŭxíbāns of this type. At the time of this writing, Modawei, Cortland, and most of the Tomcat schools (but not all franchises) pay new teachers $600/hour during training, and $900/hour for teaching. $50 raises are given every six months up to a maximum of $1100 or $1200. After 2 years at Cortland, or 3 at Modawei, profit sharing bonuses are awarded every 6 months. Tomcat has pretty inconsistent rules about this. Bonuses can range from about $100,000 to $300,000 depending on a variety of factors.
Be warned that unlike lesser schools, these schools usually entail a significant amount of training. In the most extreme case, at Modawei some teachers have spent a full 6 months in training before opening their own classes. While training you can expect to put in a significant amount of time, and only make $65,000 to 70,000 per month. Once you have a full schedule you’ll make $100,000 per month and once you’re receiving the bonus you’ll likely make over $150,000 per month. If you become a branch manager or, better yet, open a franchise, you’ll make even more.
It is only natural that a school that delivers superior education despite large class sizes and pays its staff well will also have high requirements. Unlike big chain schools who will basically hire any living & breathing young westerner they can get regardless of skills, HFRBs are quite a bit more selective. If you want to work at this kind of school you need some teaching experience, the confidence to control a class of up to 30 kids, and enough Chinese ability to teach them well and communicate with their parents. The most difficult requirement of all is that you must be willing to stay for at least 2 or 3 years. Not many foreigners in Taiwan want to do this, but having one stable teacher who can lead the students from ABCs to essay writing is perhaps the strongest point of all for HFRBs
A Word for the Wise
Naturally, businesses don’t tend to speak fondly of their competitors. However the level of animosity some HFRBs hold for each other is downright malevolent. Much of this is rooted in the fact that all of these schools were formed by rouge teachers who, feeling severely underpaid, left their original school and started their own schools nearby with their own kids. As a result, don’t be surprised if you see a non-compete agreement in the employment contract if you interview at one of these schools. I myself ran into a particularly egregious contract problem at a HFRB. My boss brought me into a room with 2 other managers, sat me down, and told me to sign a contract stipulating that ALL creations I make (at work AND on my own time) would belong to his school… OR ELSE! I have done a fair number of personal programming projects (Quake III mods, video editing, etc…) as well as essays, some of which relate to L2 acquisition. Signing this contract would have given them claim over any further works or, in other words, the whole creative output of my brain would have belonged to them. It would have also made it pretty much impossible to open my own school later on since they would claim that any curriculum I wrote was written during my employment there and was therefore theirs. Sometimes it doesn’t matter who is right if you don’t have money to defend a lawsuit. I didn’t sign the contract. About a week later I had an even better paying job at a school started by a former teacher of the school I’d just left.