Two years, three thousand or so classes, a promotion and friends made for life is the most succinct way to describe the two years I spent working at Monkey Tree English Learning Center, Hong Kong. It was one of the greatest experiences I have had in Asia so far and it is an experience I would relive again if it were possible but before delving into the specifics of my experience there, I feel it’s important to add a sidenote. When googling “Monkey Tree English Learning Center” or “Monkey Tree Hong Kong”, prospective employees will come across one or two posts that don’t quite offer the best picture of the company (and that’s putting it lightly). My response to these posts is one I hope everyone will follow; DO NOT let the reviews and opinions of a small handful of ex-employees affect the beginning of your adventure in Hong Kong. We live in an age where information is readily available but please bear in mind that not all of this information is accurate.
Getting the Job
I completed my TEFL in October 2014 and I was offered a position at Monkey Tree ELC in November 2014. I was nervous for the interview but something about interviewing over Skype makes the whole process so much easier. I was asked questions regarding my TEFL, my experience with different age groups and the age old EFL teacher question; why do you want to live in Hong Kong? For me, the answer was easy. I didn’t know if I did want to live in Hong Kong, I just desperately wanted to get to Asia. I chose the honest answer and it worked out well as they sent me a contract the very next day. Was I skeptical? Of course! It was a Skype interview and I had never heard of the company before but I chose to take the risk and fast forward to early-February 2015 I was on a plane.
Initially, Hong Kong
Monkey Tree Hong Kong hires teachers in groups and one of the best things about this is that the HR team will put you into a Facebook group with the other members of your starter group. It gives you an opportunity to familiarise yourself with the people you’ll end up spending the first few weeks with. One of my fellow starters was even on the my flight from London to Hong Kong. Landing in Hong Kong, I was directed to the Kowloon side of the SAR and met with the housing manager who took me to my company provided flat on Hong Kong island. I was placed in North Point and was housed with a current employee who proceeded to take me to a few bars and showed me how to get a train pass etc. The rest of the week was spent touring with my starter group before the training began!
Monkey Tree offers an eight day training period for new teachers and whether you have taught for ten years or not a single day, everyone receives the same training. Training is split between Head Office and an establishes centre where new employees spend half of their time learning about the inner workings of the company and the lessons offered and the other half of the time observing and teaching classes. The training period is intensive and offers a lot of new information for experienced and non-experienced teachers alike. New teachers will never be forced to teach a class that they are not ready for, however, the general rule followed in centres is that once you have observed two of the same class, you are ready to have a go at teaching. For the more nervous employees, allowances can be made. For example, I once had a teacher, who would teach sections of the class alongside with me until she felt comfortable enough to take a whole hour by herself. Training is an excellent opportunity to meet the various key figures in the Monkey Tree office and an excellent time to ask questions. Experienced Monkey Tree Teachers: When I trained people, I made sure to point out then as I will now that even if you have been teaching for years, you have not been teaching the Monkey Tree way. Please be patient when having things explained as it is not a reflection on your time as a teacher but rather an attempt to ensure you understand the structure of the lessons and the goals in mind for both the parents and the company.
Monkey Tree offers a broad range of classes to a broad range of ages and this helps to ensure that not only the students have fun, but that the teachers have a little diversity in their day. The classes offered act like a bridge, with each one leading into the next with options for expanding various aspects of the English language. NOTE: All class materials are prepared and provided by the Curriculum Team. Teachers are free to add as much of their own twist to classes as they want and are encouraged to do so at all times. Below is a comprehensive rundown of each class.
Chatroom is a basic beginners introduction to conversational English. The age range for this class is between 2 – 5 and the class lasts for one hour. Chatroom has a very specific structure that ensures students have a variety of activities to engage in and each center is provided with an electronic board that has the set vocabulary, games, interactive pictures and music. Combined with the whiteboard and flashcards, Chat Room is a great opportunity to have some fun and to show your prowess as a teacher. Students tend to have low level English in these classes, but this poses no problem if you can come to Chat Room with a high level of energy and the ability to make English vocabulary words into some sort of game. All students are provided with an easy to use booklet that includes a variety of activities.
Phonics Phonics classes run on three levels; Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Beginner classes follow the basic learnings of the ABC’s and teachers spend the hour long classes introducing the names and sounds of the letters using games, phonic springboards and worksheets. Intermediate phonics introduces a very specific set of blending, starting with ba, be, bi, bo, bu and working through the vowel blends until students are able to read basic stories with assistance. Advanced students learn a range of increasingly difficult blends including L, R and S blends, R-controlled vowels, digraphs and long vowels. The phonics course runs for at least a year and gives teachers the opportunity to develop a real rapport with their students during their tenure at Monkey Tree. All phonics courses come with a textbook for the students to use during their classes and Monkey Tree provides a varied set of reading materials for the students to practice with.
Reading & Speaking is one of the two main classes students take following their completion of the Advanced Phonics examination. Reading & Speaking has four levels, with each one getting progressively more difficult as students grow in their English abilities. Similarly to the phonics course, Monkey Tree provides materials for the class in the form of a booklet that students use for the entirety of their month. Each booklet is themed, for example January’s booklet might be “Pets”. During one full lesson cycle, students will take part in a variety of activities but, as the name suggests, this lesson focuses on developing students’ reading abilities and their ability to comprehend, process and discuss reading materials. Teachers are expected to encourage and lead discussion groups using methods of their own or those provided by Head Office.
Grammar & Writing is the second of the two main classes students generally take following their Advanced Phonics class. This class has a similar structure to Reading & Speaking, however, the focus of this lesson is the comprehension and use of grammar topics within a piece of writing. Students will be taught grammar points and methods of writing over the course of three weeks which will culminate in week four, when students are expected to produce a piece of writing themselves that incorporates the chosen grammar topic.
Cambridge classes focus on a combination of reading, speaking and writing skills. Monkey Tree itself is a certified Cambridge examination body and has created a wealth of materials to supplement the existing Cambridge curriculum. Cambridge works through various levels with students required to do a fair amount of listening and comprehension work, sentence structure work and reading comprehension. Students are encouraged to work through the books at a pace that suits them, however centers will alert teachers to upcoming examination periods in order to ensure students are provided with review time. For more information on Cambridge, check out www.cambridgeenglish.org
Trinity is the official Graded Examination in Spoken English and focuses exclusively on the ability of students to hold a conversation on a variety of topics. The course is split into several modules not unlike the ones we’re used to from our High School modern languages courses. Students learn vocabulary such as clothing, pets, home, family and supplement this with conversation requirements such as asking questions, furthering answers, giving directions etc. Monkey Tree provides a course book for students and more information on the examinations can be found at www.trinitycollege.com
Saturday Monkeys was quite possibly my favourite part of being a teacher at Monkey Tree. Along with one or two regular classes, teachers will be given a range of Monkey classes. The levels range from Toddler to Advanced and the curriculum follows a theme and a weekly activity. For example, where week one is reading comprehension, week four will be project/craft where students have a chance to paint and draw and get creative. Monkeys classes come with a set of booklets and lesson plans and the craft materials and instructions. Unlike regular classes, Saturday Monkeys runs for 90 minutes with a 5 – 7 minute snack break in the middle.
Monkey Tree is arguably the largest EFL provider in Hong Kong with 46 centers and over 250 teachers and as such, the company has a highly regulated internal structure. There are no surprises with a Monkey Tree contract as all teachers are offered the same salary, a salary that increases with each six month stint at the company, and all teachers are offered housing. Once in and settled, teachers will be introduced to the Head Office team which includes a HR department and a dedicated team of Teacher Development Managers. The development team is in place to ensure teaching levels remain consistently high and each centre is assigned a center liaison who will visit the center throughout the year to perform observations and to ensure centers are running smoothly. Each center has a Center Manager and a Head Teacher, both of whom will be experienced Monkey Tree employees and are there to assist in any way they can.
Would I Recommend?
Absolutely! I loved my time at Monkey Tree and I find it highly unlikely that you will find a better private company to work for in Hong Kong. If you have any further questions or would like advice on living and working in Hong Kong, comment on this post or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.