Reach to Teach Taiwan: Run, don’t walk

After a mess with my Reach to Teach Korea application, I was immediately contacted by Carrie Kellenberger, the other co-owner of Reach to Teach. She called me and we talked about options in all of their available countries (which is when I found out most of the jobs they advertise are not actually available). Taiwan seemed like the best fit, but in retrospect I can see that she was pushing me in that direction (the reason for that will become clear).

After we talked, I received an email with just two options. The pay for these jobs was lousy compared to Korea, which I expressed in an email to Carrie. I was called again and basically told that the pay in Taiwan was roughly the same when cost of living of Korea was factored in (not true). Then I got the hard sell, which was basically a very long series of statements about how all of the teachers at this school were happy with their jobs (complete lie), they had a great quality of life with that salary (another complete lie), and they had never had anything but glowing comments from their teachers (LIE).

To make a very long story short, I decided to take the job because it was starting as soon as I could arrive. It turns out this should have been a red flag! In a bit of irony, I arrived in Taiwan the same week applications had actually closed for EPIK in Korea. I was picked up from the airport by the school (they were late and I thought I was stranded, but they eventually showed). Then I was taken to a hotel (which I paid for) and asked to start looking for an apartment. Carrie told me the school would help me find an apartment, but that consisted of being given some apartment websites. Since I didn’t know Taipei at all, it took me hours to look at listings and try to figure out where they were in the city.

I expected to start working quite soon. That also didn’t happen. A week after I arrived, I was told it would take another 2 to 3 weeks for my work visa to be processed. This was the first time I had heard any of this. I was told I would have to wait for my visa to be processed, but was never told it would take a month (nice lie of omission). I was nearly broke and the amount of money Carrie told me to bring was not nearly enough. I was very unhappy with the “assistance” Reach to Teach had provided me.

I was very excited to start working, but it wasn’t long before that excitement turned to dread. It seemed that nothing about the job was communicated clearly. I was given a schedule, then it would change more often than stay as I was originally told, so I quickly gave up on taking Mandarin classes because I couldn’t schedule anything (Mandarin classes would be easy to schedule, I was told). I was often asked to teach an extra class on a day’s notice.

I began noticing that none (I mean NONE) of my coworkers seemed happy. No one smiled. People were helpful when I asked but I always got the sense that they would avoid talking if at all possible. Just a short time in to actually teaching, I had a conversation with a coworker that lead to the discovery that I had replaced a teacher who quit early. The teacher was very unhappy with the position and had complained that nothing was as promised to her-this all started to sound familiar. The teacher I had replaced had also come from Reach to Teach! She had quit just weeks into her contract. She had resigned the same week Carrie called me about going to Taiwan. Coincidence!? Definitely not.

It hit my all at once that I had been duped into taking a job that someone else hated, all while being told by Carrie Kellenberger that they had never had any complaints about this school. I was furious that I had been lied to and I felt stuck. I decided to try to make the best of a bad situation. I had a job and I was generally enjoying Taiwan.

Then my first paycheck came- remember, I was almost broke. The amount was about 60% of what I expected based on what I was told by Carrie at Reach to Teach. I tried to make sense of the pay stub I was given, but it just didn’t add up. I discovered that Taiwan withholds 20% of your wages for the first six months (this is actually very complicated, but I won’t go into it here). I had never been told to expect that kind of tax burden. All of my money had went into the apartment and surviving for the previous several weeks. In addition, the school had made a mistake and shorted me quite a bit of money. They fixed it, but I was frustrated.

In the meantime, I continued teaching my classes. I was getting dropped in on by the manager regularly to observe my classes. Great! I thought I could use the tips to make my classes go more smoothly and I was promised training in this form. Unfortunately, while she initially just observed (giving me no feedback or training at all), I started being constantly interrupted and critiqued. The manager would stop me in the middle of class and tell me I was doing things wrong in front of the kids. These were very small issues, mind you (which could have been pointed out to me after class). At one point, she actually took my marker out of my hand and took over. When she was done, she stormed out of the room. As soon as class was over, she berated me in front of the students and even some parents. “I’m so done” is all I could think.

At the same time, I felt trapped. I was still broke, I had a lot of my money wrapped up in my apartment, and I had no idea what I was going to do if I quit this job. I decided to contact Carrie and let her know what was going on- they did say they offered support services if I was having trouble. I had no reason to trust anyone at Reach to Teach at this point because both John and Carrie Kellenberger had lied so many times, but I was desperate. Carrie spent a lot of time with me on the phone, but I could tell she was trying to get me to stay in the position. She told me she could move me after 3 months if I still wasn’t happy. Strange, I thought- why the 3 month deadline? I later discovered that Reach to Teach guaranteed their teachers to the schools for three months! Carrie was not in my corner, but she was protecting the commission her company made from me.

It was at a Reach to Teach event where I overheard someone talking about the three month guarantee. Read more about Reach to Teach Events

When I received my second month’s paycheck, they had made another mistake and didn’t pay me the balance until a week after my pay was due-and the manager treated me as if the mistake was my fault. She had been rude on a daily basis and I had discovered this wasn’t just me- she was rude to all of the staff members. I don’t need to be catered to, but clear and polite communication is preferred to evil glances, snarky comments, and avoidance of all eye contact when they owed me money. When I asked my coworkers why they stayed, they simply said there are not many options in Taiwan. They also told me that Reach to Teach had been contacted numerous times about this school and but nothing changed. I WAS DONE.

Realizing that I had fallen into one of the scams out there, I was devastated. I probably could have stuck it out if not for the fact that I couldn’t financially survive. I gave my notice and within 24 hours, Carrie contacted me. If you have read this far, I bet you can guess why she called- she was trying to get me to stay past the deadline for her to still get paid. Of course, she did not say this explicitly- but with a calendar in front of me and the ability to count to 90 days, the intention of her call to “discuss the notice period” was obvious. I didn’t call her on it, but I did make sure the date I gave the manager for my last day occurred before the 90 days was up.

I decided to move on to China, where the wages are higher and many of the schools have a better reputation. I had contacted another agency (this time, I did my research and was not going to be so trusting), but Reach to Teach still tried to inject themselves into the process. Read about my experience with Reach to Teach China (spoiler: I was not dumb enough to take a second job with them).