Teaching English in China
Choose the Right School
Deciding where to teach is the most important decision you make after deciding to move abroad, but the options for teaching English can seem overwhelming. Here is some guidance.
First of all, keep in mind that the cost of living is about a half of that in the U.S., so you do not need to make as much to live decently and can often even save money. In addition, many full-time teachers are given free housing or a stipend to cover costs, some receive free health care, as well as paid vacation.
- Kindergartens: These can be mind-numbingly boring, and if you hate singing don’t apply. However, working with children is extremely rewarding. The kids have almost no inhibitions and are very affectionate.
Pay, in a large city such as Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou, is a minimum of about $20 per hour and usually more, with little preparation or outside work. This can be the highest paying teaching job available, but generally does not
include rent or a plane ticket, and may require more than 20 teaching hours a week.
- Boarding Schools: Unlike their Western counterparts, boarding schools are fairly common and spread throughout the countryside surrounding large cities. Paying anywhere from about $1000
to $2,000 per month, including apartment and reimbursement for an international flight upon completion of the contract, these are the best deal. Not only does the salary more than cover living expenses, it allows travel, with one month vacation
for spring festival, two months for summer, and two weeks’ paid vacation. The younger the kids, the less marking but the more discipline necessary. It is very important to go over your contract carefully, as it is in any teaching situation in
China, and talk to several former foreign teachers at the school. Perks can include free food and free Chinese lessons.
- Summer and Winter Camps: These are the best way to make some extra money while traveling. Lasting from one week to one month, you can make about $600 for two weeks. Although these are intense
work environments, it is well worth it. Not only is it a great experience to interact with kids, but you also get the chance to spend time with Chinese teachers and college students (like camp counselors). You can also consider working at a camp
during a holiday from your regular job.
- Part-Time Teaching and Tutoring: This is something you can generally do only after living in China for a while. Find students by posting ads on websites or through personal connections you make while
teaching. Students are readily available.
- Teaching for a Recruiter: Being approached on the street by recruiters is a daily occurrence for a foreigner living in China. They will take around 50 percent of the total salary, but working for a recruiter
does have benefits: you are going to be working for public schools that can’t afford a full-time foreign teacher.
- Business English Teaching: Teaching business English usually requires a TEFL certification (which can be acquired in China or Thailand) and a heavy workload—more than the usual 15-20 hours a week with
evening and weekend hours. However, the students in this setting are very eager to learn and work hard. The company may provide lesson plans and should give a housing allowance in addition to the base salary of around $1000 and going up to over $2000 month.
- Advanced Degree Programs: If you have a master’s degree, particularly an MBA, you can make a good salary working as a professor for a master’s degree program at a university. The teaching load is light,
but you will have to do lots of preparation for lectures, paper assignments, exams, and hold office hours.
- Career Teaching: If you are a career teacher you can make a good salary, paid in foreign currency. You can save money and live like a king. The salary is up to $40,000 a year. Competition for these jobs
is a lot fiercer than for the other foreign teacher jobs.
For professional teachers, there are really two options:
- Private pre-college preparatory programs for Chinese students.
- American and international schools, where students are children of expatriates.
Working for universities is not lucrative and often does not pay for airfare, but usually includes room and board and gives you the chance to work with students who often already have a fairly high level of English.
Be Tentative and Flexible
With a flexible approach to life and work and understanding that all plans are potentially tentative, I was able to fully enjoy my time teaching in China.
Foreigners often go to China and expect it to be like the West. It isn’t. Teachers (and workers in general) often do not have the same working hours we have here and there is lots of bureaucratic red tape. But despite the
difficulties, it is an unforgettable experience, exposing you to a completely different life and giving you the chance to make lifelong friends and to challenge yourself.
Teaching Resources for Non-Teachers
EslCafe.com is the mother of all teaching English abroad websites, providing job openings and training schools around the world, often with airfares
The following websites provide job notices, business English teaching, tutoring, and especially summer camps; they also have advertisements for other jobs, both part and full-time. Invaluable for their classifieds,
these are also monthly magazines that provide tons of info on these two major cities:
Top Jobs Teaching English in China (provides a daily updated and selected job feed).
China TEFL Network (mostly university job links, but the site also has some other schools).
First of all, talk to foreign teachers at schools where you are thinking about working, and get as much information as possible, including:
- What is the region like where you will be living and teaching?
- What types of public transportation are available?
- Is working on weekends required?
- What happens if you
are sick (i.e., do you have to make up a workday on a Saturday)?
- What is the food situation—both on and off campus?
- What is within walking distance?
- How far the school is from the city center—by bus, not taxi?
- How much do taxis cost?
- What are the nearby attractions?
- What are typical class sizes?
- What is the payment schedule, and is payment on time?
- How is the administration of the organization?
- What is the foreign teacher turnover rate?
EVE BERGAZYN taught for two years in China for a variety of schools and programs. Recently repatriated to the U.S., she is now writing freelance and dreaming of her next trip to China.