Teach English Abroad in China

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A Guide to Teaching English in China

China is such a popular international destination for teaching English abroad that the quantity of teaching jobs in China nearly equals all other countries combined. Take a fifth of the Earth’s population, mix in a high demand for English as a second language, and you have China, a great place to teach English abroad. From rural kindergartens to prestigious universities to business English night classes, almost every sector of Chinese society is studying English. By teaching in China, teachers are provided with an incredible opportunity to explore ancient history and traditions while expanding their future careers.

Where to Teach English in China

Shanghai is the largest city in China and arguably the most cosmopolitan capital of the country. It is also one of the leading destinations for TEFL teachers. Teaching jobs in Shanghai are plenty, with all types of pupils, particularly university and adult learners.

Beijing is the historical center of China and today stands as the political, business, and educational center of the country. There are plenty of teaching jobs in Beijing, from elementary school positions to University foreign exert teaching jobs.

Hangzhou with over 9 million inhabitants has played a central role in Chinese history. As the capital under the Song Dynasty, Hangzhou had a vibrant foreign community of Arab sea traders. Today this city is one of the many larger urban destinations for TEFL teachers.

Xi’an is another common teach abroad city in China, with over 8 million residents and located inland and more central. Xi’an is where the Lantian Man was found dating back nearly 500,000 years. The first emperor of unified China was Qin Shi Huang, the man who built the Terracotta army just east of the city. Today Xi’an is a vibrant, rich city with plenty of teach abroad opportunities.

How to Teach in China

Deciding what type of students you would like to teach in China may be the biggest factor in determining where to teach. Regardless of where you teach in China, remember that all schools must have a license to hire foreign teachers in order for you to become employed legally.

Kindergartens. Teaching jobs in kindergartens can be the most lucrative teaching jobs in China, and in the larger cities with pay of up to RMB 150 per hour. These particular teach abroad contracts do not typically include airfare or housing. Calculating in accommodations and contract extras, like completion bonus, can make a teaching English to kindergartners slightly less attractive.

Business English Teaching. Some TEFL programs in China provide specific Business English Training diplomas, because business English language teaching is in such high demand. The hours for these English teaching jobs in China are often varied, including weekends, and private lessons in business English specifically can be more demanding as your students are adults who may be more eager to learn the language quickly.

Private Language Institutes. Every type of student studies at language schools throughout China, and students are at every level of English. Student turnover rates are high and as a result individuals who teach in private language schools will find their hours are varied. Many language schools in China enjoy good reputations and have been around for years.

International Schools. Like most countries, China has international schools which cater mostly to children of expats and affluent Chinese families. This type of teaching job in China is harder to come by and is typically reserved for qualified teachers with education degrees and teaching experience. Individuals who teach at international schools in China will typically prepare their own lesson plans within the guidelines of the school’s mission and objectives.

University Teaching Jobs. Teachers with advanced degrees, typically a master’s degree will qualify you as a foreign expert. While many teachers in China are initially employed by the English Department or the Department of Foreign Languages at Chinese universities, they often find themselves teaching other courses in English, including Social Sciences, Business, or Economics.

Tutoring. Most teaching contracts, particularly with private language schools, forbid tutoring.  Schools in China obviously don’t want to lose attending students to their international teachers. If you think you want to tutor English in China, and are employed by a language institute, you must get written permission from your employer to do so. However, individuals who teach in China will be able to easily find clients outside their school who they can informally offer to provider English tutoring or language exchange lessons.

Placement Services. Placement services and recruiting agents are often the most visible resource for finding a teaching position in China. While placement organizations can be a great service, providing orientation, vetting jobs, and translating requirements, prospective teachers should demand contracts directly from the Chinese school. This is both a legal requirement for obtaining a Z visa and it helps avoid the risk of agents receiving a commission from the teacher’s salary. Most teaching placement companies don’t want to deal with complaints and will choose to work with employers who take care of their teachers, however they are also representing the school so teachers should research the school as well as the agent.

Classroom Structure. Be aware of different teaching methods. Historically education in China has been very structured, therefore, the teacher is expected to lecture most of the class and students only learn what the teacher says is required. This can make it seem like students are lazy or not interested in the topic of instruction, but in fact it is just the way they are used to learning. In the same regard, don't expect students to raise their hand with questions or be eager to participate. Most foreigners who teach in China will find that asking for written questions on small slips of paper is more effective.

Salaries for Teaching Jobs in China

Teaching in China will not make you rich, however it will provide you with funds to experience China first hand, travel some during your holidays, and maintain a nice standard of living while in China. Typical pay ranges from US $1,000 to US $2,500 per month depending on the employer, the required hours, and whether or not housing is included. When housing is included salaries tend towards the lower range. Teachers should bring sufficient cash to cover a month’s expenses at least.

A full time job typically consists of 15 to 20 classroom hours with additional hours for conversation classes, office hours, or other teaching activities. Teaching in elementary schools usually involves more hours in the classroom. Individuals who teach in China at the university level will have scheduled lecture and lesson planning commitments as well.

Medical insurance is often included and will cover the majority of expenses. Hospitals may ask for cash payment in advance of services. International teachers are strongly recommended to get travel insurance, including coverage for any medical evacuation (god forbid). Individuals who teach in China are quite often provided with accommodation, which is set up for them prior to their arrival. Otherwise typical perks, on top of a monthly salary, include a return flight ticket home and a contract completion bonus. Teachers should read their contract carefully and be clear on what is included and what isn’t before accepting a teaching job in China.

Where & How to Live in China

Many teaching jobs in China include housing, some actually require that teachers reside in pre-arranged housing. Housing typically is in a dormitory or flat on or near campus and is basic. If housing is included be sure to ask lots of questions to understand what will be provided and what will not. Typically accommodations will be much smaller than most Westerns are used to, such as a one burner hot plate instead of a full range stove and a smaller than average refrigerator. It is not uncommon for individuals teaching in China to find that there is no hot water available in any of their faucets periodically or permanently, so don’t forget to ask. Additional amenities, like heating, air conditioning, and drinking water, may or may not be included too.

There is only one way to legally teach in China, teachers are required to get a “Z” visa.  Schools or employers must sponsor the teachers in order for them to begin teaching abroad in China.  Working as a teacher in China on a tourist visa can result in arrest, fines, and deportation.

Required documents for the Z visa include a passport with six months left before expiration, a visa notification from your employer, a “Work Permit for Aliens” from the Chinese Labor Ministry, a ”Foreign Expert’s License” from the Chinese Foreign Expert Bureau, Q1 Visa Form with passport photos, health check for TB, HIV, and drug usage clearance, as well as a visa fee (you are going to need some help collecting your visa documents). In addition to the Z visa, all teachers must get a Residency permit within 30 days of arrival in China. Foreign experts, such as those teachers who are going to be teaching at universities in China, must share their “Expert Certificate” issued by the Bureau of Foreign Affairs in order to get a residency permit.

Changing employers while teaching English abroad can be a tricky and time consuming process. Because your legal status in China is tied to your employer your papers have to be transferred to your new employer, which of course requires that the old employer is supportive of the move.

Why Teach English in China

Find students (if you are teaching high school or university age students), co workers, or parents of your students whom you can build both professional and personal relationships with. On a one-on-one basis Chinese people are typically very friendly and willing to help. Don't count on the school representatives to do everything for you, though it is there job to help you, often workers in China attempt to do the minimum requirements of their job and nothing more.

Most individuals who teach abroad in China have the experience of a lifetime. Full of challenges and occasional frustrations, but more often moments of exhilaration, experiencing the joys of teaching abroad in China, new friendships, and building new skills. Occasionally teachers have a bad experience and this typically is related to the employer, bad contracts, or unmet expectations. While reviews can be useful, providers and schools often encourage the happiest alumni to leave reviews, teachers should consider requesting past teacher’s contact details so that they can speak to a past teacher directly.

For first time teachers China is a forgiving place to get your feet wet, for experts the possibilities especially at the university level can be challenging and rewarding. Teaching jobs in China are plentiful and the culture is unforgettable.

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