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English Teaching in China

Choose Between a State-Run and a Private School

I have worked in China for a total of 18 months now—12 months in a state-run school in Beijing and six months in a private language school business in Shantou, in Guangdong province. I found huge differences in the ways the two different types of schools operate. If you have some interest in becoming a TEFL teacher in China, my experiences may be helpful to you.

When working for a day school (or even a university), you will often be provided with accommodation on campus. If you are on your own, an apartment on campus can provide security and close contact with other foreign teachers. However, it can mean less privacy (Students marched past my window every morning at 7 a.m. on their way to morning exercises.); your employer may also think you are at his or her beck and call for extra classes or overtime.

When working for a language school business, accommodation is rarely offered, so you will likely have to set up your own accommodations. Depending on where you live, you may have to travel farther. If you move to China on your own, you might feel isolated (or, if you move with a friend or partner, it might give you more privacy). It can also mean the possible disruption of moving if the landlord breaks his or her contract, as happened to me.

If you like order and organization, state day schools may suit you best as their timetables are normally fixed after the first week for at least the term. With a private language school, on the other hand, you should be prepared to be flexible and to work evenings and weekends. A language school business also requires more paperwork on a day-to-day basis; you need to complete class folders and keep to a strict budget. You may also have to travel to different sites to work on a daily basis, and the travel expenses may come out of your own pocket.

If you are thinking of working for a language school business, make sure you check out the company thoroughly. You will have less recourse if things go wrong or if you are not paid.

Make sure you know which age group you want to teach and why you want to be a TEFL teacher in China. A private language school business will provide you with a greater variety of students of all ages. A day school normally involves working with one age group—either primary school, middle school, or high school—for the whole year, and this can be problematic if you discover that you do not like teaching a particular age group.

A day school also often will provide you with a little more teaching autonomy than a private language school business, although you should still expect to work closely with Chinese teachers.

Other considerations when deciding whether to work for a language school business is that it often asks foreign teachers to review the material already taught by a Chinese teacher; you may not see the same classes from week to week; and they tend to focus on games and fun activities rather than on formal teaching. (They want to distinguish themselves from a regular day school when they advertise their classes.) This can be quite frustrating and limiting at times if you like to have a high level of creative freedom in your classes.

Last, but not least, there’s the question of money. Before leaving for China, check out all schools thoroughly, but perhaps check out language school businesses even more carefully to make sure they are legitimate.

If your aim in China is not only to pay your cost of living but to earn extra money too, there may be more scope for overtime at private language school businesses since they often have more classes signing up throughout the term. But, qualify first whether your language school business will give you extra classes.

The schedule in a day school may also allow you to find extra work outside the school since you are usually not required to work evenings, but keep in mind that this may be a violation of your contract.

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