Teaching English in China
Choose the Right Place and 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.
1. 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 RMB 150 (about $18) 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.
2. Boarding Schools: Unlike their Western counterparts, boarding schools are fairly common and spread throughout the countryside surrounding large cities. Paying anywhere from RMB 4,000 to 9,000 (about $480
to $1,090) 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.
3. 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 RMB 5,000 (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.
4. 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 web sites or through personal connections you make while
teaching. Students are readily available.
5. 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.
6. 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 RMB 8,000 (about $970) a
7. 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.
8. 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 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
• www.daveseslcafe.com is the mother of all teaching English abroad web sites, providing job openings and training schools around the world, often with airfares
• The following web sites 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 cities:
• www.teach-in-asia.net/jobs (provides some job notices).
• www.chinatefl.com (mostly university job links, but also has some other schools).
• www.teach-in-asia.net/jobs (Tons of links, both for job and information seekers. Whether you are looking for a job or just thinking about making a
life change, this web site is chock full of links.)
Questions to ask:
Not only do you want to talk to foreign teachers at schools you are thinking about, you also want to find out what it is like in the region. Ask about public transportation, working on weekends, what happens if you
are sick (i.e., if you have to make up a workday on a Saturday?), what the food situation is like (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 taxis cost,
what nearby attractions there are, class size, payment schedule (always on time?), organization of the administration, and 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.