Teaching English in China
Choose the Right School
|The options to teach English
are many and varied in China.
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. on average, 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 a percent of your 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
- 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
- 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 while working at an international school. 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:
1) Private pre-college preparatory
programs for Chinese students.
2) 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.
Do Not Be Shy About Asking Questions!
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
- 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
- What is the foreign teacher turnover
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.
EVE BERGAZYN taught
for two years in China for a variety of schools and programs.