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China in Asia (School): Canadian International School Kunshan (CISK) - International School - China

Canadian International School Kunshan (CISK) is an international school located in Kunshan, China.


Address: 1799 Zuchongzhi Road, Kunshan, Jiangsu Province, 215347, China.

Website: Canadian International School Kunshan (CISK)

1 customer review

4.0 out of 5 stars
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1 rating
Pretty d*m* Good Compared to All These Horror Stories
3 months ago.
Institute Review
I've been teaching here about a year now. It's a genuine international school, though with Chinese management up top. We run the IB curriculum, from "pre-Nursery" (which is from ages 2-3, I think), up to Grade 12.

There isn't a lot of supervision, so you can pretty much run your class as you like as long as you have proof that you're doing something and you're not generating student or parent complaints. You'll be expected to do all your own lesson planning.

You'll be expected to run a club (or "CCA") for the kids, with some flexibility in options and room for refusal if you're assigned something you really don't want to do. You'll also be expected to sign up for some event committees and help organize/run them.

Note that management's also been switched around once since I got here (due to COVID, mostly), and that the work culture could change a lot depending on who's leaving. I know of several really lovely, experienced, helpful teachers who are taking off after this year, which could change a lot. We'll see.

I do want to state that this is all based on my own personal experience, and that I don't interact a lot with other grade levels or even other teachers, so others at the school might have something different to say. But everything I've laid out here is accurate. The TL;DR is that this is a school that does put on a bit of a show for parents, but it's also a genuine *school,* one that cares about its students. If you really want to teach and not just cruise, you'll do well here.
The pros
* The staff are by and large friendly and helpful. There's a general sense, at least in my corner of the school, that everyone involved genuinely cares about the kids and wants them to have a good experience. That may vary depending on who you end up working most closely with.

* Communications with staff are largely polite and professional.

* It doesn't matter what you look like. The school's not into hiring "white monkeys," and they don't mind if you have an accent. There are Asian-American teachers and black teachers who are treated the same as everyone else, as far as I know. That includes salary and respect. The previous ESL coordinator was a black woman, even.

* Great access to supplies. We have a colour printer and a black and white printer, though in the past year they've added a (somewhat reasonable) limitation on how much you can use them. You can also apply to have your print quota raised. There's also a few laminators, and a warehouse with tons of basics like felt, playdough, construction paper, paper plates, folders, binders, pencils, pens, whiteboard won't go without if you need class supplies. Other than signing off on what you take, there's no limit.

* I told the person in charge of my grade that "I talked to the other teachers and we want to use this phonics curriculum with our kids next year, can you buy [huge list of expensive resources/books]," and got immediate confirmation that they would. We'll see if that pans out, but every other time I've asked them to get something for me they have, unless they wanted me to check if it was already available at school in e.g. the warehouse or another classroom.

* For my grade level, we meet once a week to discuss the plan for the next week, which includes the ability to ask for someone to buy supplies we'll need off Taobao for us. This also means we have the chance to share ideas and make things consistent across our grade.

* Younger grades have a Mandarin homeroom teacher to help translate for them. I'm not sure what the cut-off is, but I think it's around middle school where you have to start doing things entirely on your own. Very young grades, like nursery and kindergarten, also have an ayi assigned to help clean the classroom and look after the kids.

* The location's nice, at least to me. We're close to a lake and an area called Dayu Bay, which has some somewhat-overpriced shops, restaurants and a Starbucks. It's Kunshan, so it could be too far away from Suzhou proper if that's what you're looking for, and there's no nightlife to speak of. But it's only a daytrip away to Shanghai, and the area's way greener than you might expect from China. Lots of parks and trees.

* Lunch is provided, with three options each day, fruit, and a side soup. The food is much better than my experience of caf food in my home country, though still not necessarily "good."

* Extremely helpful HR. As in, I've contacted them with dumb questions like "do you know any good English-speaking health clinics?" and they've offered to actually book the appointment for me. There's also a form you can fill out to have a specified percentage of your salary be sent directly to the bank account of your choice overseas. They'll always let you know if they need something, and they'll renew your visa for you; I've barely thought about paperwork since I got here. They'll also handle communications with your landlord/property manager if anything's wrong with your apartment, and they'll do it promptly.

* Travel allowance!

* Lots of vacation time, with no expectation of making the time up by working on Sat*r*ays, which is common practice in China. We get all the national holidays (so around one long weekend a month), two weeks' Christmas vacation, and two weeks off for the Lunar New Year. We also have summer vacation, from around the end of June to mid-August. These holidays are all fully paid.

* Healthcare is provided, though not dental or ocular coverage. The insurance plan is fairly generous otherwise, and includes a pool for chiropractic care, acupuncture and traditional medicine.

* If you're lucky enough to have a Mandarin homeroom teacher, they're generally expected to handle most parent communications for you.

* My apartment is fantastic. I was shown a few options by video before I moved and got to pick one, then had plenty of help getting it outfitted the first few days by HR (including taking me to a mall to buy anything I needed to outfit it, along with providing an envelope of cash so I'd be able to do so, and then having the school driver drive it all there and unload it directly in front of my apartment door.)

* By and large, if you push management about something you're not happy with, they'll find a compromise. That includes this year, where they tried to lower the amount of vacation time in the new contracts and the expat teachers refused to re-sign unless they changed it. Once the condition was changed, even people who already signed were brought in to sign the new version, which shows they take it seriously.
The cons
* While things aren't unreasonably unprofessional/uncaring toward the kids, there's occasionally a sense that things are for show rather substance. (For instance, younger kids have horseback riding lessons once a week, mostly for the photo op.) In particular, a lot of the IB stuff doesn't feel like it's being fully or properly implemented because of constraints on the teachers, even though everyone tries.

* Pay varies. There's supposedly a payscale using things like certifications and experience to make it fair, but I've heard that rarely lasts through contract negotiations. We're technically forbidden from discussing our salary, which is always a bad sign. That being said, I find it more than sufficient for my own modest needs.

* Communication isn't always great between different levels of the school. A lot of info gets sent over WeChat rather than by email.

* How well you get along with your Mandarin homeroom teacher can make or break you. That said, I've rarely met someone who didn't warm to theirs over time or who had serious issues with them.

* The onboarding process is a mixed bag. When I first arrived, which was under different management, I spent a few days wandering around, being told to go to this or that person to get something done. (Have you had a photo of your face taken yet? Did you get your work laptop? Have you spoken to...? Has anyone showed you the...?) Teachers who come partway through the year and aren't already familiar with the IB program will likely find themselves totally lost unless they do a lot of research themselves. There generally isn't a lot of guidance or support outside of your network of other teachers at your grade level. That said, there are weekly PD training meetings to get everyone on the same page regarding the program/class management/etc., and the orientation that happens in August is pretty reasonably thorough when it comes to introducing IB.

* Even with another teacher helping, which isn't a guarantee depending on what you teach, the workload can feel overwhelming, especially if you're a newbie. You can get pulled into doing extra work if you aren't careful and firm. Being politely firm *will* actually make people leave you alone, though; you're rarely forced to do anything extra as an expat teacher. Relatedly, the school is frequently understaffed, though that's at least partly because of COVID-19 currently.

* There are tons of events, activities, classes and so on, and your prep time can be excruciatingly limited. I know lots of people who make it work and go home on time every day, though, so again, this depends on you.

* There have been some instances where a conflict wasn't handled well/resolved by upper management.

* Admin will be sympathetic about conflicts with parents, but they'll generally go for placation over anything.

* Under previous management I heard about some nastiness happening, including firing people without much warning/explanation and a Mandarin homeroom teacher who was threatened by a parent who called them when their child got injured on the playground. (And by threatened, I mean told that he was going to kill her, which isn't really a joke when some of the parents are mob bosses.) She brushed it off, but as far as I know, nothing was done to remove that child from the school or protect the teacher. This was under the previous management, mind you.

* Management can be somewhat disorganized and last-minute when it comes to e.g. cancelling something or setting an event up. This led to weird things like having a "Halloween Book Week" this year.
Advice to Management
Hire experienced teachers and promising newcomers with the right qualifications. We need more people, just in general to reduce the burden on existing teachers, but we specifically need to make sure we have reputable staff who know what they're doing and can provide guidance for other teachers, not just well-meaning newbies like me. Improve the onboarding process, including giving teachers at least a few weeks to observe other classes if they're coming in partway through the year.
Institution Location
555 Chuanshi Road, Kunshan, Jiangsu Province, 215347, China
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