The key to successful employment as an English language instructor in China is to be employed by a reputable school or company and negotiate a well-written contract before leaving your countries. We advise anyone considering accepting an English teaching job in China to carefully review the terms of the contract regarding working and living conditions.
TYPES OF ESL POSTIONS AVAILABLE IN CHINA
English teachers in China are employed in a wide variety of institutions. A brief description of the different options available follows. Please keep in mind that regardless of the type of institution in which you teach, the institution must have a license to hire foreign teachers in order for you to teach legally. You will need to verify the credentials of the school, university or institute that you are considering before entering into any type of agreement.
Boarding schools are fairly common in China, and spread throughout the countryside surrounding large cities. These jobs pay 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. They often also allow for travel, with one month vacation for spring festival, two months for summer, and two weeks’ paid vacation. The age range of the children varies.
Summer and Winter Camps
Lasting from one week to one month, one can make RMB 5,000 (about $600) for two weeks. Although these are intense work environments, they often provide the opportunity to interact with Chinese teachers and college students in addition to the children. Also, this can be a good option for those interested in teaching in China, but unwilling to make a long-term commitment.
Private Language Institutions
Private language institutes abound in China; some are well-established, while others can be small and short-lived. Instructors in these institutes typically teach conversation oriented classes, and occasionally teach writing as well. Pupils range from kindergarten students to adult, consequently student skill levels vary widely. Pay rates are dependent upon the individual institution and the number of hours worked (typically 20-30 hours per week, often including early mornings, evenings, and weekends, to accommodate pupils’ schedules).
Many universities in China have a foreign language or English department. Requirements for teachers vary depending on the university and the level of classes taught; however, a master’s degree or a doctorate may qualify you to work as a ‘Foreign Expert’ in a university and to teach more advanced courses for much more pay than a ‘Foreign Teacher’ receives. Undergraduate classes will be larger, while graduate classes tend to be smaller and offer more personal contact with students. Salaries also vary from university to university, though most include housing on or near the university campus.
Many types of people teach English in China, with a variety of different aims. Some come to China with ESL degrees specifically to teach English. Others see teaching English as a means to experience a new culture. There are those who teach to support themselves while looking for other jobs in China, or while doing research in other fields. As a result, English teachers in China arrive with a wide range of expectations. Each brings their own unique perspective to their job and their own reaction to new circumstances. While China is developing rapidly and is increasingly open to global markets, it is still very different from their countries. Do not expect to encounter the same standards of living as you may be used to at home, particularly if you plan on working outside of the major cities. Having realistic expectations and a flexible attitude will help prepare one for the stress that can accompany living and working in a different culture.
Foreigners in China
China’s major cities all host large populations of foreigners, however if you choose to work in a smaller city or in the provinces, foreigners may still be regarded as a curiosity. Chinese people are generally friendly and interested to learn about Western culture. Wherever you are, you will likely find yourself in a highly visible position given your foreign status, with many watching you with interest. Remember that in some ways, Chinese society is more conservative than American society, and it is best to abide by local norms.
ADAPTING TO CHINA
When first arriving in a country, one is usually excited and eager for new experiences. After a while, the newness wears off and homesickness begins. Do not judge yourself too severely at this point, as it happens to everyone. Culture shock usually dissipates in a relatively short time. As you continue to cope with the realities of living here, you begin to take things for granted which used to annoy you. Perhaps most importantly, make the effort to get to know your students and colleagues. Chinese friends will provide you with valuable insight into the country and culture you will not receive if you interact only with other foreigners.
China is a very large country, featuring several different climate zones and a sharp urban/rural divide. Consequently, your teaching experience will differ greatly depending upon where you end up. By researching different locales ahead of time via the internet and guide books, you can find a job in an area that best suits your preferences.
China’s major cities, Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, offer a more cosmopolitan experience. While they can be crowded, and pollution is a problem, western food and amenities tend to be easily accessible, there are a number of establishments which cater to foreign clientele, and the health care available in these cities is the best in China. If you are interested in teaching English in a business environment or plan to look for a substantial number of private pupils, these cities are your best option. Many find that the transition for foreigners living abroad is easiest in these cities.
Teaching outside of the major cities, either in a provincial city or in a small town in the provinces, provides a very different experience. In China, a city of one million people can be quite provincial and might not have a modern infrastructure, western food and amenities, or adequate healthcare. Also, the farther you are removed from urban centers, the fewer people speak English. Therefore if you do not speak Chinese, you may want to check that there is someone at your school who speaks both Chinese and English and can assist you. Nevertheless, teaching in these areas provides the teacher with a view of the “real China” that may escape those who remain in the major cities. For those who enjoy challenges and adventure, teaching in these areas is a great option.