Teach English in Shanghai

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A Guide to Teaching Abroad in Shanghai

Shanghai is like no other place you’ll ever go. It’s one of the most Westernized cities in China, which means you’ll have great exposure to a rich history of Chinese culture blended with a very modern cityscape while teaching abroad in Shanghai. Increased trade with English-speaking countries and the ease of travel and diplomacy across international borders has boosted demand for ESL teachers in Asia as a whole; China is definitely no exception, therefore teachers can find numerous teaching jobs in Shanghai at schools that welcome driven native English speakers.

Teaching Jobs in Shanghai

There is very high demand to do exactly what you’re looking to do, teach abroad in Shanghai, so there are plenty of options to choose from. Keep in mind that Chinese culture places a high value on students maintaining a driven, disciplined mindset. Although China’s approach to education is changing, this has been happening for decades, so be ready to assign a lot of work and give difficult tests because Chinese education is rigorous.

Teaching English is certainly one of the more popular types of teaching jobs in Shanghai, especially suited for native English speakers. In fact the majority of contracted teaching job in Shanghai are for positions that require teachers to teach English as a second language, which may or may not require some basic Mandarin language skills. Depending on the school, ESL teaching could entail instructing three students, or 40.

Private schools in Shanghai are always looking to hire foreign teachers to expand the educational opportunities they can provide for students. If you would like to teach in Shanghai, but prefer smaller class sizes (and more money), then your best bet is to look into teaching jobs at private institutions. The drawback, however, is that schools like this are often specialized, and you likely won’t have as many choices when it comes to subject matter. Many private schools in Shanghai are focused on English language immersion. Some will only teach English, while others will specialize in English instruction of other subjects, like science or math. The most important thing is to choose a subject that you feel confident teaching and are knowledgeable about.

Public schools tend to offer teaching jobs in Shanghai less frequently. Public schools will have much larger class sizes, sometimes up to 60 students per class. You are likely to see a wider range of subjects taught in public institutions, but these schools will often require that teachers have a degree in the field they wish to teach or a teaching license. However, one of the advantages of landing a teaching job at a public school in Shanghai is a greater number of paid vacation days.

It is also possible to become a tutor in Shanghai. Tutors are typically paired with a local host family, whom they provide child care for and help family members expand their English language skills, in exchange for room and board. This also provides tutors with the chance to expand their Mandarin language skills along the way, or sometimes enroll in proper language courses for an additional cost.

Chinese schools typically run from early to mid-September to July. School days are typically longer, and get longer as students progress through the education system; older students may have school from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., for example, which would include a few two hour breaks throughout the day. Coursework is usually completed alongside supplemental activities. Parents do not necessarily encourage their children to “get enough rest” and therefore sleep is not always a priority for students, so teachers should be prepared to work with somewhat sleep-deprived students (especially in higher grades).

Life in Shanghai

Roughly 14.5 million people live in Shanghai, which means you’ll hardly ever be alone. One thing you should be more than prepared for before teaching in Shanghai are the crowds. Don’t expect to have a lot of room and be prepared for a great deal of smog and noise on a day to day basis. 

On the other hand, one of the great advantages of living and teaching abroad in Shanghai is the high level of safety. Violent crime in Shanghai is relatively low, for such a large city; petty crime, like pickpocketing, credit card fraud, and financial scams, are most common. 

Given the population, driving or navigating the streets of Shanghai by foot can be rather overwhelming. However, the city has a fairly reliable public transportation system. It can be confusing at first, but with time, you’ll get accustomed to the routes and times, and how to cross the street. 

Shanghai offers ample entertainment for teachers on their time off. When you’re not in the classroom, you can enjoy various shopping outlets, eateries, and the Huangpu River, which plays host to plenty of river-front entertainment. If you’re a fashion virtuoso, you’ll be happy to learn that Shanghai’s tailors are known as some of Asia’s finest.

Shanghai may look westernized and even capitalist, but you’ll quickly be reminded that China is a communist country when you turn on the news. Information in Shanghai, and media outlets, are restricted. It is not likely that you’ll hear any sort of government criticism in the media.

Salary & Costs

The Chinese Yuan is the currency in Shanghai. Teachers are commonly paid $800 to $1,300 a month for teaching jobs in Shanghai. This compensation is usually enough to live on, but certainly not a fortune in such a large city. English teaching jobs in Shanghai may pay teachers an increased salary of up to 12,000 Yuan per month, or about $2,000.

Expect cab fares in Shanghai to cost about $2.25 initially and increase by about $0.15 per mile. Some forms of transportation, like the public bus, can cost a little more, but generally public transportation is the best option for getting to and from teaching jobs in Shanghai. 

Rent fluctuates from about $450 outside of the city center to about $1,100 inside the city center. Most schools or employers will give teachers a thorough breakdown of how much they can expect to spend on housing, or even better they may provide housing. If housing is not provided, many schools or employers will provide teachers with a monthly housing allowance, which is often enough for a modest apartment. Teaching jobs in Shanghai that do not include housing arrangements will entail higher monthly salaries to compensate.

Last but not least, it’s always a good idea to have a couple thousand dollars as backup money before you head off to China to teach abroad in Shanghai.

Accommodation & Visas

China has a population of about 1.3 billion, the most in the world. That means Chinese urban centers like Shanghai are very crowded and a lot of people fit in a very small space. Therefore, accommodation will likely be smaller than you are used to. Teachers will often live in modest apartments, sometimes with fellow teachers. Most apartments provide teachers with a bedroom (sometimes shared), a bathroom (often shared), and a small kitchen. While Shanghai offers plenty of eateries, having your own kitchen will make saving money a little easier.

You will need a visa to live and teach in Shanghai. For U.S. residents, most teaching jobs in Shanghai will fall under the visa category “Z”, which gives certain nationalities the right to live and work in China. The visa process can take several weeks, requires multiple legal documents, and must be done at a Chinese consulate. You should plan plenty of time before your teaching job in Shanghai begins to get your visa in order.

Benefits & Challenges

Learning. You are certain to learn a critical amount about China’s government and economy while teaching abroad in Shanghai. This knowledge and understanding of a country that is becoming a world superpower will no doubt shape your perspective on the global marketplace and be useful in many different future career paths.

Language. As China continues to expand its international diplomatic and economic ties, Mandarin is becoming a more and more useful language, so teachers should take advantage of any immersion opportunities they have during their teaching job in Shanghai. In general, employers in any field will see Mandarin proficiency as a great asse

Smog. Pollution is a very real problem in China and you will probably be taken aback by how bad the smog in Shanghai really is. But, if you learn to deal with it, you’re sure to find a fascinating culture, history, and people behind the hazy skies.

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A Guide To
Teaching Abroad in Shanghai


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