Article by Patrick Kastle
Have you ever regretted taking a job teaching English? Have you worked in different schools or companies? If you’re going to teach English here in China, what type of job fits you the best? Do you even like teaching? These are some important questions I will address in this article.
After just over four years in China, I’ve worked several different types of teaching jobs. They were different in pay, different in intensity, in different cities, had different objectives, different working hours, and I had different levels of satisfaction overall. However, sometimes I get the impression that English teaching all gets lumped into the same category. To start, let’s take a look at some common options for teaching jobs in China.
This is probably the most common English teaching job around. Many people reading this probably have some kind of experience in these types of schools. So let’s just make a quick list of the aspects of training centers. They are essentially private, after-school centers (typically 1PM-9PM) which rely on new recruits and there are more companies that set them up than we can count, some which are chains and others that are independent operations. In addition to classes, which are typically about an hour, you may be responsible for recruiting new students through special classes called ‘demos’. There are also different types of English corner-style classes that you may be required to teach. In my experience (3 different centers), large, well-known companies are typically the best-paying and least flexible. They are standardized, there will be some training, objectives you are expected to meet, and you will probably do best to “stick with the program.” However, there are many smaller ones which may pay less but allow a higher degree of creativity, autonomy, or control regarding course content. If you are passionate, and know what you’re doing, the latter may ultimately be more rewarding.
This is a job I only considered (and heard about) after several years in China. Kindergartens are typically school for young learners that serve as a bridge to regular school. One of the main perks for those who crave stability and regularity is the schedule. Specific times will vary, but typically start around eight or nine in the morning and go until five or six in the afternoon. On top of that, you will usually have a nice break in the middle of the day after lunch. The kids have to sleep at this time, so you won’t be teaching them. Even the teachers are allowed to take a nap after lunch. You may have a high number of classes, but they will be much shorter, around 30 minutes or even less, and include breaks throughout the day (as the kids take several breaks). The cherry on top: few (if any) demos. There shouldn’t be any on your schedule. Of course, different centers will vary, so you will want to ask first. The class size will also be much larger than in training centers. My center is about 30 kids per class. Discipline will be important, but you will most likely have support from the Chinese teachers.
International Programs in Public Schools:
These schools are typically joint venture operations between a private company and a public school, typically a high school. The foreign teachers are often hired by the company to provide classes in English to prepare students for studying abroad. The main pressure here will be making sure kids are prepared for tests and anything else that will have a large impact on their grades. The students are typically involved with many extracurricular activities as well, so of which you may be asked to join as an English judge or participate during other school events. The benefits are comparably high though. Typically higher salaries, stable Monday to Friday work schedule, more vacation time (2-3 months on average), not to mention the “prestige” you acquire by teaching at a well-reputed school. The best part for me was getting to know the kids whose English is usually good enough to carry on an interesting conversation or discussion. Subject teachers (Chemistry, Math, Science, Physics, Business, for example) are especially sought after, and it provides teachers an opportunity to teach something other than pure English. There may be more requirements during the hiring process (degrees in education tend to be preferred, as well as degrees for particular subjects). Reda, who teaches micro- and macroeconomics in an international school, stresses the idea of “靠自己/kaoziji” or relying on yourself. He searched online to find his job and said that HR was impressed to see his initiative. Though many won’t land a job like his given their lack of a degree in the required field, he stresses having courage when you apply for a job. He says he has come a long way from some of the job postings he used to look at and was even the manager of the economics department at one point. Analyzing your own skills and finding something rare that you can offer is a way to “sell” yourself that is useful when job searching. If you do it well enough, you may end up making your own job as we’ve already heard about.
Public school teachers are often hired directly by the school, instead of being hired by third-party companies. Most of these types of teachers are hired for non-English language classes, such as French or German, where the pool of qualified local teachers might be smaller. Pay may be lower than in the private sector, but you will enjoy the benefits of work time: Monday-Friday, sumptuous afternoon break, limited (if any) office hours, and public holidays. However, if games are your thing though, this might not be for you. With forty plus kids in a class (sometimes more than 60) and strict discipline, the atmosphere is very different from a training center. Some advice for public school teachers is “Make a good PPT. You’re not a clown; maintain order. And no intentional contact with students, not even high fives! Make sure to treat students equally. Did I mention no demos?
Teaching jobs in universities differ depending on the subject being taught. ESL teachers in universities will be teaching a variety of students as an addendum to their regular courses in order to better prepare them for future jobs. Subject teachers, such as those in various sciences, engineering, etc. will be teaching and mentoring students in their chosen field. These jobs may be less common overall in China, but with so many universities in Xi’an, these jobs are slightly more prevalent. Among teaching jobs, these are typically the most autonomous types of jobs, with few classes per week and the longest holidays of any teaching position in China, at least 3 months a year. They also seem to be the lowest-paid, with salaries being maintained to be the same as that of the local staff. The main goal for English teachers is to get people talking and building their confidence. There are also are positions for qualified subject teachers. Students have at least studied English before but there is often a wide range of abilities in a given class which can make it quite tricky to involve everyone. Additionally, the level may be lower than what you expect from university kids. Often the students aren’t even majoring in English, so they will have had very little practice. Steven, a university teacher with loads of experience, was my source for that section. For anyone considering a university job, he recommends patience and getting used to speaking in simpler terms (with less idioms for example) so that everyone can understand. He also points out that the job gets much better when you’re living in a city you like. I was told that basically you need to make sure your paperwork and grades are submitted on time and the rest is very flexible.
How should you go about getting a job anyway?
As previously mentioned, you can find a job by applying directly to job postings on different teaching websites or through a recruiter. Year-round schools, such as training centers, will be hiring all the time, while universities, international programs, and public schools typically hire in the spring for the following semester. When it comes to using a recruiter, be aware that some might be more interested in making money off you than finding a school that is the right fit. Personally, I’ve gone through several agents to find work with mixed results. One of them probably represents the “dark side.” Her description of the school was “inaccurate” and she was “distant” after I signed the contract. However, the one I went through last time is the opposite. I trusted her immediately and she’s landed me a job that suits me well. She was helpful when I had questions about the first job she found for me (even after I signed) and has taken me and my girlfriend out to dinner. Shop around and never pay anyone for job opportunities, as they should be getting paid by the school.
Another common way to find a job is through a friend. Another person that I interviewed found a job he cherishes through a friend. Consider though that the relationship your friend has with their employer will most likely extend to you as well (and vice versa). Aside from the ease of access, friends are probably the best resource to get an idea of how it is to work at a particular school. Even if you don’t know anyone where you’re applying, you can always ask to talk to some of their foreign teachers.
So, whether you are looking for yourself or someone else; phone a friend, or let someone else do the work for you. There are lots of ways to job search. Even using a search engine and simply typing in a city and the kind of school you’re interested in should yield results.
But there is another issue that seems to me more important and less talked about. Do you actually like teaching? According to Reda, “If you don’t like it, you don’t belong teaching.” I agree with him. Nobody can satisfy someone who is doing something they don’t like doing. Think about what’s most important to you: salary, location (school and home), working hours, high autonomy-low resource, high resource-low autonomy, age-range, and find the right fit for you!
Patrick is a Chenglish enthusiast and considers himself a lucky dog. You can contact him via Wechat ID: CrainsDegun2