Teaching English in China

The Ultimate Guide to Teaching English in China

We’ve turned over The Working Traveller once again to Cez and Agness of eTramping, asking them to share their first hand expertise on teaching English in China:

China: the country with the largest population in the world. It stands to reason that this also means it has the largest number of students in the world. Those students want to learn English. In fact, 300 million people are either learning or have learned English in China.

There are so many teaching English in China jobs right now that, if you want to teach, it’s incredibly easy to find one. Don’t know exactly where to start? There are companies that will help place you at reputable schools and insure that you have a visa, transportation, and a great apartment – making for an easy transition to teaching ESL in China. You don’t have to be a native speaker, and it is possible to teach English in China without a degree, so what are you waiting for?

Below you’ll find everything you need to know about teaching English in China. From what type of positions are open to the type of school culture you can expect, to a few tips for first-time teachers.

Teaching English in China

Working Conditions and Benefits

In China, working conditions and benefits for teaching English are largely dissimilar. It really all depends on what you’re looking for from your time there. Consequently, we’ve split this up into the four different types of places you will likely come into contact with.

Training School – For Those Looking to Make Money

The most widely available type of job. If it’s your first time in China, then you have probably opted for a training school position. They’re easy to find and the pay is usually very good. In recent years, you can earn in excess of 20k RMB in tier 2 cities and along the east coast.

You’re also usually given class sizes of less than 10 students. It can’t be said how great this is. Especially for new teachers. Small classes can make all the difference when you’re starting out (and when you’re more experienced). They’re easier to manage, get to know, and become a solid unit.

The only downside with these types of positions is that you’ll have to work long hours. That also means working evenings and weekends. Your holiday time will probably be just the national holidays. Some training centers give a few extra days to help teachers adjust (especially around Christmas), but don’t expect more than a week.

Public School – For Those Looking to Travel

Public school is for those who are looking to travel. You’re given a lot of holiday time and only 16 – 20 hours per week of actual teaching. Don’t expect office hours.

Public school will also provide you with an apartment, and pay for your airfare from your home country (they will at least reimburse it). One of the best things about Public Schools is that the visa they offer is reliable. Because these are government organizations, there’s no way that they’re going to try and ‘bypass’ the law. You’ll be guaranteed to be coming in on a Z ‘working’ visa.

Unfortunately, Public School positions aren’t perfect. The class sizes are generally much larger than those in Training Schools. You can have classes of over 50 students sometimes. Moreover, as is the state of funding almost everywhere, state-funded schools tend to end up with less money than their private counterparts. This means that you probably won’t have access to particularly good resources (until you’ve made them).

University – For Those Looking to Further Their Career

Despite still being an English teaching job, University positions have great potential. You might start out teaching English, but there are more than a few examples of foreign teachers spreading their wings and being able to teach additional subjects. This might include something like journalism, or it might even go as far as psychology.

If you’re going to work for a university, ask them about any opportunities which are available. You don’t ask, you don’t get.

University positions also have large classes, and they don’t offer as much money by way of salary. However, they still offer lots of spare time to pursue other projects (which is easy in China if you say you work at a University).

Teaching English in China

International Schools – For the Professionals

International schools are in a league of their own. These schools recruit only teachers with either vast amounts of experience or real teaching credentials from their country back home. They teach everything, from math to science, to – of course – English.

If you’re looking for the best teach English in China salary, this is the place for you. Most international schools start at 30k. Add experience, some more credentials, and you’ll be taking home 40 a month, easy.

School Culture

China’s culture can be very different. It’s not just the way in which you should teach, it’s the whole environment you’re confronted with. When we started teaching, we were more than a little intimidated by everything. However, over time you do adjust. Just makes sure to stay open to new experiences.

Try picking up some local advice before you go. This will help you to learn more about the local culture and make adjustment easier.

One thing to keep in mind is the concept of face. Face, in Chinese culture, is incredibly important. Basically, do not embarrass your superiors. If you have a problem, don’t complain about it in public. Instead, as your superior if you can have a talk in private and tell them with no one else there. You’re a lot more likely to get things done quicker and your boss will like you for the way you handled it.

Different Teaching Methods

Some would have you believe that teaching is an art form. We don’t know about that, but we do know that teaching does take a bit of getting used to. The more experience you get, the better you’ll become. However, there are a few things you can probably learn before you arrive.

Teaching English in China

China’s Education System Is Different

First-time teachers can sometimes fall into the trap of trying to become a ‘dead poet’s society’ Robin Williams. Sometimes it works, but based on a lot of teaching English in China experiences we’ve heard, students don’t want or like this. The Chinese education system doesn’t support this kind of teaching and students can find it weird.

Check out the BBC documentary about Chinese teachers trying to use the Chinese education system in the UK. The same happens the other way around. Instead, try working on developing their confidence in channels which they feel comfortable. For instance…

Games Are Good

Especially with younger students, games are the way to go. Dancing is also good. They help make the students happy and interested in what you’re doing. When they’re interested, they learn. Don’t keep doing drilling exercises when you should be switching things up a bit. Drilling has its place, but games do too.

Final Tips

Teaching English in China is a great experience. It’s one of the things you’ll do in your life which you’ll take with you everywhere and cherish. That’s not to say that it’s always easy. Sometimes things can be hard (like when all the train tickets run out).

Keep an open mind and try not to resent anything. Also, make sure to listen to those around you. They have been there longer, they know more than you do… probably. Try to learn from them and you’ll be teaching and living like a pro in no time.

More Teaching in China Resources On Our Sites

China & Taiwan and Teaching & TEFL pages of the Jobs Abroad Bulletin
We are also currently promoting three of ESLstarter‘s teaching in China programmes in the Overseas Job Centre

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