Ever so often I get questions from people who are interested in coming to China to teach and don’t know where to start.
I feel your pain. I was so clueless when I first started sticking my nose into the business of teaching English abroad. Its a vast world and there is a lot that seems so confusing. I am far from being an expert but this is what I learned in my process. I am still alive nearly 10 months later so apparently I didn’t mess up too bad
Originally I started by looking for a teaching job in Myanmar (still think that would have been cool), then in South Korea and actually found a job there when my dad happened to mention how South Korea has the most wifi coverage of any country in the world. That is absolutely not a bad thing, but when you’re dreaming of adventure the idea of going to a place known for wifi coverage and plastic surgery doesn’t beckon the way the wild west of China does. I would have made more money in South Korea, and I’m sure it would have been a grand adventure, but China is its own universe. You can wander here for a lifetime and not see it all.
Generally speaking, you need to be from 22-50, college educated, and a native English speaker. To be perfectly honest China likely tends to prefer white teachers, I find that incredibly shitty but I’ve witness my school dismiss candidates because they were Hispanic. I did tell them they’re going straight to hell for that but they were unconcerned. China is also talking about starting to require background checks, which I think is completely appropriate. You don’t have to have a TEFL certificate, but honestly I regret not getting one. I could have gotten higher pay…. as well as actually knowing more about doing my job. If you majored in English or education then you have more freedom in finding a job. I have my Masters and used that to help me find a better job even though its not related to teaching.
To teach in China you need a Z-Visa. Some schools will tell you that you can come here on a tourist visa but that is illegal and if you get caught the legal responsibility is on you, not the school – Personally I don’t like legal trouble and I wouldn’t risk coming here on the wrong one.
Types of Schools
There are several main options in terms of types of schools you can teach at
- Public Schools (probably high school)
- Private Kindergartens
- English Training centers
- International Schools (you actually need to be a real teacher)
English Training Centers
These options all have their pros and cons and I have friends teaching at all of these options with varying levels of satisfaction. I teach at a English training school and its definitely a good one. I’ve heard some horror stories about them but mine has treated me extremely well. At the same time, what I didn’t understand about them is that they are primarily businesses. These are for middle/upper class families who are trying to give their kids an edge on prepping them for the Gaokao (college entrance exam). So kids are taking these classes in addition to their regular school. Also, they’re likely taking MANY other classes as well. Weekends are not free time for them.
Benefits of working at a English training center is that its extremely easy to find a job, they can pay you pretty well and the work is pretty basic for someone who has no teaching background. The cons would probably include the hours, I teach in the evenings and have some weekend classes. I think its much more laid back then a regular school, and we’re encouraged to incorporate games. I do have office hours, time I’m required to be there even though the hours far exceed the time I actually need to plan. People are different and the hours don’t bother me so much, I started a blog and read excessively, but some people find it to be pure torture. Definitely ask your school about office hours and be realistic about if they are a deal breaker for you.
Finding a Job in China
You can use a program that places you in a school, like CIEE and Greenheart, I’ve never used either one but I’ve looked into them and talked to people from there, they both seem legit. They screen the schools and offer support, but they come with a cost. They charge fees and they didn’t seem to offer really high paying jobs. So ultimately it depends on your comfort level, I knew I would want to travel after my contract ended so I wanted to be able to save.
You can find your own job on a job board. There are millions. Dave’s ESL is the biggest one. I would suggest reading a lot of the offers out there. What really helped me is I decided where I wanted to go, Sichuan, and I decided how much I wanted to get paid. You could have other criteria, like hours, time off, age of students… but knowing what you want would help. Just post it under Jobs Wanted and be prepared for a wave of e-mail responses. Its ok to be picky, there are many many jobs and you can find the perfect one for you.
Places will want a Skype interview. If you’re not a frequent Skyper I would recommend testing it out first because a job interview is a bad time to have tech problems. I would make an effort to look professional. I did my interviews usually between 9-midnight due to the time difference so I’d wear pajama bottoms and a nice top much to the amusement of my roommate.
Questions I would suggest asking on a Interview
- Provide a Z visa
- Reimburse plane tickets (do they cap how much they reimburse?)
- Provide housing (where is the housing, what type, shared/single)
- how western is your housing (kitchen? western toilet? western bed?)
- How many other foreign teachers do they have, if any?
- Can you talk to current or past foreign teacher?
- Pay (you can negotiate, ask for more)
- Time off, sick days
- Number of office hours a week
- How many classes do they expect you to teach
- What are the class sizes (China can have huge classes)
- How long has the school been open (new schools might be hard)
- Will you teach alone or have a Chinese assistant
- Do they provide Chinese lessons
- Do you have to wear a uniform
I didn’t know to ask a lot of these things.. I would highly recommend talking to another foreign teacher from the school. I had one school refuse to let me do that and I just stopped talking to them. I also did not know you could bargain your paycheck. Even if you can’t get paid more, you may be able to get your school to pay for your utilities or include travel money. My school gives travel money during holidays, which I don’t really understand but I’m not refusing it either.
I also strongly suggest trusting your gut. If people dismiss all your questions and say “its fine, its fine, its fine” and your not 100% sure they even understand your questions…. I would pass. When my school interviewed me they asked me a lot about my social work background and how I thought that would translating working with children. It gave me faith that they were thinking of me as a person and just a foreigner they could rope in.
Once You Get the Job
After your school offers you the job they will want you to sign the contract and scan a copy to them. You’ll also need to have your doctor fill out a medical exam to prove you don’t have any chronic illnesses. They requested a LOT of tests be done and my doctor was pretty awesome about just answering based off my medical Hx and not making me pay for a million tests including for a ECG. Some people just pass on a lot of the tests and do it all here in China, but I knew I would not be happy getting a ton of medical tests done as soon as I got to China. I’m a fainter when it comes to needles.
They will then need to apply for your foreign expert certification and to get a document that proves they are allowed to hire foreigners. They will send these papers to you, which you will then bring to a Chinese consulate along with your passport. If you’re like me and live 7 hours away from the nearest one, you can use a visa currier agency that will walk your passport in. You CANNOT just mail it directly to the Chinese embassy.
It will Be Ok
Its stressful wading into the ocean of teaching abroad, but you only have to do one step at a time, and honestly, at any point of the process you can stop. Even if you get to China and you’re miserable and your school is horrible… you can always go home. Chances are though, once you take a gamble and get yourself on a plane, you’ll be happy.
So hopefully this is helpful to anyone looking to come to China. I always recommend Sichuan as being a great place to live in if you like mountains and spicy food. If you have more questions you’re certainly welcome to send me a email at mountainsandpassports(at)gmail.com.