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Teachers Needed in China

But Arrange Your Contract Before You Leave

Granpa with son in China.
A proud grandpa takes a break from his painting with his grandson.

In China English teachers are a hot commodity and schools from kindergarten through university want a foreign face to place in front of their pupils. Along the well-trod backpacker routes tourists are solicited to stop and teach for a week, a month, or a year; in large cities, like Shanghai or Shenzhen, foreigners are often approached about tutoring or full-time teaching jobs.

While it is perfectly possible to just head to China and settle in some town that strikes your fancy, I’m glad I suppressed the spontaneity and researched the options. Finding work is easy, finding a good job is not. It’s best to arrange the details of your contract before arriving.

At a bare minimum, schools provide free housing (with bathroom, kitchen, and air conditioning), RMB2,000 per month salary, two weeks holiday for Chinese New Year, no more than 16 classes a week, and the work visa. The advantage of bare minimum programs is that they expect the bare minimum. Most don’t care about university degrees or teaching experience. They want an English speaker. Period.

Better programs offer RMB3,500-RMB4,000 per month, free housing, extended New Year’s holiday. They pay airfare to and from China and often keep offices in both countries—which is handy when problems pop up.

Most of these programs prefer, and usually require, participants to have an undergraduate degree and TEFL certification. If you aren’t already TEFL certified, some programs will offer to help, but most will charge for it. I found significantly cheaper and more convenient TEFL certification courses at local universities. After several months of searching, the best program I found is through the Univ. of Memphis. The largest of its kind in China, it coordinates 50 teachers in middle and primaryschools in Shenzhen (across the border from Hong Kong) and 12 teachers at the Bell Economic School in Jiangying (half way between Nanjing and Shanghai). All teachers are paid a minimum of RMB3,500 per month and receive housing, a month-long New Year’s holiday, a RMB4,000 travel bonus on completion of the contract, roundtrip airfare, on-site stateside and local support, and Chinese language training and TEFL support. An undergraduate degree is preferred but not mandatory; TEFL certification is required but can be acquired in a 3-week intensive at Beijing Univ., along with classes in Chinese language and culture. This is a good introduction to life in China and the awe-inspiring power of Beijing Univ. on the Chinese psyche.

Thr arrangement is handy for university students and recent graduates because it defers student loan payments. It is not so good for folks who are not interested in class credits. I’m glad that I took the lessons because without the language training I could live in China for 10 years and remain as alienated from the culture and people as any tourist.

Teaching was a way to experience China. It paid my way here, it keeps money in my pocket, and it takes me deeper into the culture than I could have gone on my own.

For information on the Univ. of Memphis program contact:

Matt Lee is a Kenya-born, American-raised, China-based freelance writer who is currently teaching English to 16-year-olds at Shenzhen Middle School.

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