Know Before You Go: Teaching Abroad in China

by Marie Pilaud

China is a huge country, but its need for English teachers is even greater. With a population of over 1.3 billion and a renewed focus on English in schools, the demand for teachers is growing across the educational spectrum. 

The eligibility requirements to teach in China are fairly accessible compared to other Asian countries, with university degrees and teaching experience not always needed. Combined with an extensive array of locations and schools, teaching jobs in China can be great options for all types of teachers. Not to mention, the country itself also has much to offer in terms of culture, language, travel opportunities, and food!

With the right amount of planning and preparation, teaching abroad in China can really be a life-changing experience. So, here is what you need to know before you go!

Can YOU Teach in China?

Teaching opportunities in China are available for: 

  • Recent graduates looking for their first job
  • Non-degree holders looking to gain a qualification
  • Experienced teachers looking for a change of scenery
  • Professionals from other fields looking for a career change
  • Newly-qualified teachers or TEFL holders hoping to gain teaching experience
  • High-school graduates looking for a meaningful Gap Year experience
  • Non-native English speakers with good English skills looking for more language practice

Not all teaching jobs in China are suitable for all types of candidates, so it is important to research positions before you go. In general, depending on your qualifications, you will find two types of teaching job opportunities in China:

1. Full-Time Teaching Positions

These positions are suitable for experienced teachers and professionals, and are perhaps the most difficult type of teaching job to obtain in China, because you’ll need:

These guidelines vary slightly depending on where you are looking for a position. Popular cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, notably tend to have more stringent requirements.

Most full-time teaching positions require at least a one-year commitment and offer the following benefits:

  • 6,000 to 15,000 RMB per month (depending on location and experience)
  • Airfare reimbursement
  • Completion bonus
  • Accommodation or a housing allowance
  • Meals or a meal allowance on work days

If you are eligible for full time teaching jobs in China, but don’t know where to start looking, try online job boards or recruitment agencies. Be aware, however, that it may be difficult to assess the quality of positions and schools. Job scams do exist in China, so make sure you have researched a position thoroughly and signed some sort of contract before you fly halfway across the world.

Another option is to use an agency to help you find a teaching job in China, which will provide a (more) hassle-free experience. Teach abroad agencies usually charge a fee, but they will organize everything from your teaching position to accommodation, and provide 24/7 support once you arrive in China.

If you do not meet the full-time teacher criteria, or do not wish to commit to a full year of teaching in China, do not despair! There is another option...

2. Teaching Internships

Teaching internships are a great way to get a taste of whether teaching abroad in China is right for you. This type of teaching job is suitable for people from all different backgrounds! To intern at a school in China, you do not necessarily need to have a degree, teaching experience, or be a native English speaker; you will, however, need a TEFL certificate.

If you are not yet TEFL qualified, not to worry! Many teaching internship programs in China offer the option to either get TEFL qualified online before you go or get qualified once in China with a month training course.

Teaching internships typically require a six-month commitment and offer the following benefits:

  • Living allowance
  • Accommodation
  • 3 meals per day on work days
  • Completion bonus

Although teaching internships in China often cost an upfront fee, they also allow you to live at minimal cost in China whilst earning professional qualifications and gaining real teaching experience. Teaching internships are definitely a good option if you do not directly qualify for full-time teaching jobs in China.

WHERE should you teach in China?

Did I mention that China is massive? This is great news as it means that there are plenty of location options for city-dwellers and nature-lovers alike, as well as many different climate possibilities. Beijing or Shanghai are a great match for those looking for the big-city experience, while Guangdong is the perfect choice for those who like to enjoy warm weather all year round! Provinces such as Inner Mongolia, Sichuan, or Hunan also offer the opportunity for an entirely different cultural experience and beautiful scenery. Everywhere is different but here are a few popular provinces and municipalities to teach abroad in China:

What are Chinese schools like?

There are teaching jobs available at many different types of schools located around China, with opportunities to teach age groups ranging from kindergarten to university. Chinese schools tend to be one of four types:

1. Public Schools - These government-run schools are often fairly well organized with class sizes of between 30 to 50 students. Students’ enthusiasm for English will vary, as this does not tend to be the main focus of the educational curriculum. However, teachers are treated with respect and given a lot of control over what is taught in the classroom.

2. Private Schools - These widely differ depending on how well funded they are. The most impressive private schools have insane facilities, which include things like cinemas, climbing walls, and even ponies! Class sizes are smaller to that of public schools, though compensation may be slightly higher. With high tuition fees comes high expectations; parents who send their kids to private school often have hopes of sending their children to university abroad, which means that if they feel their child is not improving fast enough, they will not hesitate to speak to the school about your teaching performance!

3. Training Centers - These centers offer English lessons for students of all ages outside of school. Therefore, depending on the center, you may be catering to: 

  • Very young children who have not yet started formal schooling whose parents want them to get a head-start on learning English
  • Students who wish to take English lessons after school or on weekends 
  • Adults who are seeking to improve their English for personal or professional reasons

The main advantages of teaching in China at this type of center are small class sizes (often no more than 15 students) and access to good quality resources and facilities. However, these type of schools tend to be profit-driven, and you may find yourself having to teach a lot of “demonstration lessons” to attract new customers. Often your compensation will include commission for students that sign up for your classes. 

4. International Schools - These tend to cater to non-Chinese students living in China and often have high hiring requirements. However, benefits are good, often with longer holidays, and higher compensation packages, to reflect American or UK standards.

What should you expect from TEACHING in China?

It is difficult to provide a straight answer to this question, as your experience will vary greatly depending on the type of school you work for and the area in which the school is located. In terms of actual students, there seems to be a prevailing rumor that Chinese children are better behaved than their Western counterparts. In my experience, this is not entirely accurate.

You will have very eager and interested students just as you will have students falling asleep at the back of your class. One of your main challenges will be how to engage students with widely different levels of English and enthusiasm. The Chinese system does not tend to promote creativity, so this is something that you can bring to your lessons, but don’t be surprised if your students do not know how to 'let loose' at first!

With regards to resources, some schools may provide you with a teaching assistant while others will not. Similarly, technological capabilities will differ, so don’t always count on being able to show PowerPoint presentations or videos. In general, it’s a good idea to be prepared for pretty much anything and be ready to think on your feet. 

This may all seem a bit scary at first, but once you get the hang of it, you can really have fun with your classes.

What should you expect from LIFE in China?

Although holidays in China tend to be fewer and shorter than in the West, China does have many public holidays throughout the year. Before you teach in China, you should check when these holidays are and whether you will be allowed time off. This is important not only for travel purposes, but because it is common in China for businesses to work on weekends (meaning a seven day work week) to make up for the days lost to the holidays.

When traveling during the two main week long holidays, Spring Festival and Golden Week, be warned that hotels and train/air tickets are more expensive and major attractions are also very busy! It is best to pre-plan your travel to get the best prices. China is a giant country, so if you wish to travel, be aware that distances may be much greater than what you are used to. It is not uncommon for people to travel on trains or buses for over 24 hours. Depending on your destination, trains and buses may be great options to travel affordably. However, if your time is limited, flights are still the best way to go.

Being a foreigner in China can be a crazy experience, particularly if you live in a more remote area where you really stand out from the locals. Don’t be surprised if you frequently get stopped on the street for a photo or an autograph!

Your time teaching in China will no doubt be filled with wonderful times and unexpected adventures, such as exploring hidden mountaintop temples, discovering delicious backstreet restaurants, and making lifelong friends. However, like any country, China is not perfect. Standards may differ from what you’re used to, so it’s best to be prepared for cockroaches, mosquitoes, strange smells, spitting, squat toilets, and long journeys…it’s all part of the experience!

Now that you know everything you need to…what are you waiting for?
Find a teaching job in China now!

This article was contributed by ImmerQi, an international education program provider based in China. The goal of each ImmerQi program is to provide an enriching cultural experience which will have a lasting impact on participants' lives.