Teaching English in China
- November 8, 2015
- Posted by: TESOL Direct
- Category: Teaching Abroad,
These notes provide basic information about what to expect when seeking work teaching English in China. Note that there will be considerable variation between schools, employers’ preferences, and government regulations, and requirements will change from time to time. Before entering into any commitment, you are advised to check with an appropriate authoritative source such as the embassy in your country.
While a number of countries around the world are more difficult to work in these days, China is the opposite, and over the last ten years teaching opportunities have expanded rapidly and the number of English language teachers working in China has risen significantly. Today, China welcomes English teachers and there are opportunities in a very wide range of institutions throughout China: language schools, private primary and secondary schools, state primary schools and secondary schools, training colleges, universities, publishers, private companies and so on. Students are generally polite and hard working and China is a safe and extremely interesting country to work in.
In the past it was possible, as a native speaker, to get a teaching job without a degree and without a TESOL or TEFL qualification but those days are gone. Today a degree is desirable (though not necessarily with older teachers who have experience) and a TESOL or TEFL qualification is required. Some people try to get jobs with just a weekend TEFL certificate but such a qualification has no value and what is required is at least a one-month full-time training course (such as CELTA) or a 150-hour teaching qualification by distance learning accredited by a professional body such as the College of Teachers. Apart from anything else, it would be most unreasonable and unfair to go to China untrained and ill prepared so all teachers owe it to their students to be qualified.
Jobs are available throughout China, although conditions can vary considerably. Conditions in Shanghai are likely to be very different from those in a small town and the rate of pay is also likely to be reflected to some degree by the area where you are working. However, do not be too swayed too much by the pay rate because living expenses will be higher in cities, while travel costs could eat significantly into your free time and your earnings. In addition, the quality of the air is poor in many large cities so be prepared to learn to cope with coughs and perhaps a chest infection every now and then.
Applications for jobs in China can be made from outside the country as well as when living inside China. Visiting schools and colleges with copies of your CV, reference letters and certificates will help a lot if you are already in China. However, many people will apply from outside the country. Today there are many companies recruiting teachers online and they will help with visas. Always investigate carefully before you commit yourself to see if there is feedback on the company that you would like to use because there are certainly variations. (See the useful websites below.) Be cautious about companies which ask for a registration fee. There are job fairs which are held in major cities in China and these provide an ideal opportunity for teachers already living in China to explore what is available. These generally take place in April and are held in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. In some cases jobs are linked to teacher training but it would be wise to be a little cautious about some of these because in some cases they are short and insubstantial courses which may not be valued if you seek jobs in other countries in the future.
Find out as much as you can about any institution that offers you a job. Clearly this is far easier if you are already living in China but it is also possible to do some investigative work from outside. Collect as much information about any institution as you can and, ideally, make contact with overseas staff already working there. Teaching approaches in class tend to be very traditional and sometimes the textbooks are dull and uninspiring. How much freedom you have to use your own initiative will depend a lot on the institution. Classes in state primary schools tend to be large while classes in private language schools tend to be much smaller.
Many jobs will expect you to pay for the flight but they will refund this once you have worked for a year. In some cases there will be a probationary period of some sort, although this generally only relates to people recruited in-country. Housing is generally either provided or a housing allowance is given. Health cover is also provided by many organisations. Salaries will vary, of course, depending on the institution and the area but will generally be anywhere between £400 and £900 per month, possible more in Beijing and Shanghai. Although the salaries do not look large, teachers can often save quite a lot.
Some teachers find jobs in state schools through the British Council’s Language Assistants Programme (www.britishcouncil.org/languageassistants-china.htm). This scheme is designed in the main for people who have recently completed their degree, ideally (though not exclusively) in a language, though not necessarily Chinese. Teacher training is provided for those who don’t have it but this is only a two-week programme and the certificate may not be very valuable outside China. Accommodation is provided at the school and the salary is about £400 per month, which may not sound very much, but with free flights, accommodation and often food, much of this can be saved.
How much people can save will depend very much on their life style, and where they live. Even a relatively good salary in Shanghai can quickly get eaten up if a teacher wants to live a western-style of life with all the coffees, clubs and classy shops that this entails. However, where someone is more interested in making links with local people, the local culture and local restaurants, life can be relatively cheap. Many good restaurants are cheap and the quality is good so people often eat out several times each week.
Many people spend time learning Chinese and a modest level of proficiency can significantly improve the overall experience of living in China. Chinese has a reputation for being difficult, and the tones and characters certainly are; however, the grammar is quite simple (much easier than English!) and so a lot can be learned in a short time.