Michael Frost completed the Trinity Dip. TESOL with Oxford TEFL in 2012 and is currently working in China. Here he explains what it is like to teach in China and his top tips for those thinking about taking up a teaching position there.
China can be a fascinating location for a post-Cert TESOL teacher embarking on an ESL adventure, but it is also not uncommon for teachers to discover that their ‘dream job’ doesn’t quite match up to their expectations. Before responding to a job advert, it is worth taking a few minutes to consider whether the position you are applying for is really the best one for you.
What types of opportunities are available, and what is the typical starting salary?
- Private Language Training Centers and Kindergartens 6000-15000 RMB per month depending on experience and location. 20-30 teaching hours per week + admin (which can be a lot, especially in Young Learner centers).
- Chinese State Schools (Primary / Secondary age groups) 6000-12000 RMB per month. Typically 20-25 x 40 minute periods per week + some office admin.
- International Schools (Primary / Secondary age groups) 10000-30000 RMB per month, depending on experience and qualifications. ESL positions will be at the lower end of this scale. 15-25 hours per week + admin.
- Universities 3000-10000 RMB per month. Workload is typically 15-20 hours per week with about 5 hours admin. Long holidays are a plus!
- Freelance and tutoring (negotiable hourly rate, typically 100-300 RMB per hour to supplement basic salary – but better not be too open about it at work!)
Things to consider when seeking a teaching position in China:
- Whereabouts in China do I want to live? China is a vast country, but most of the opportunities are located along the east coast. Do you want to live in a modern metropolis like Beijing or Shanghai, experience a fast-developing interior city such as Xi’an or Changsha, or find a more rural location? It is also worth mentioning that pollution is generally more of an issue in the north of China, especially in the area around Beijing and in the North-East (formerly Manchuria).
- Do I prefer the security of working for a Western organization? In this case a foreign-owned language training organization (such as EF, Wall Street or Disney) or international school will be a better bet. Be careful to check whether the language school you are applying for is owned and run directly by the main organization or whether it is a franchise school. The latter are generally operated more like a standard Chinese business operation, though will be audited annually to ensure compliance with the franchise arrangements. As a rule of thumb, the better the reputation of the institution outside China the more security you will have. Check out the online profile of the organization – are there a lot of disgruntled ex-teachers on ESL forums? Usually a bad sign.
- Do I want to focus on teaching young learners, teenagers or adults? In the Private Language Centers market, certain schools (Wall Street English, Web English) cater solely to adults, while others (Disney English) focus only on young learners. EF Education First has both Kids and Teens schools (some centrally-run, most franchise) and Adult centers (all centrally-run). Feeling comfortable with the age and maturity level of the learners you are teaching will make a huge difference to your enjoyment of teaching.
- How many teaching hours per week am I comfortable with? Working in a university allows a lot of time for other pursuits. Working in a language training center will be much busier, which is good if you want to focus on your professional development as a teacher but may mean you have less free time than you anticipated.
- Am I comfortable with working evenings and weekends? Language centers are busiest when their clientele are available, therefore evenings and weekends are the peak times. The other options above offer a more regular Monday to Friday schedule.
- How much annual holiday is acceptable for me? Language centers usually offer 10 days plus Chinese public holidays. In addition, certain schools (such as EF Kids and Teens) have intensive Winter and Summer periods where six-day weeks are required. Discretionary holiday is still a relatively new innovation in China and you will find that your Chinese colleagues have little or no time off outside of the main public holidays. Other options offer considerably longer holidays.
- How much training and support do I need? Most big language training organizations do a reasonable job of supporting teachers, with paid induction, regular teaching workshops, observation feedback and ongoing appraisals. A large amount of teaching resources will also be provided. This provides a helpful professional framework for new teachers. Other options such as universities will give you a lot of freedom to develop your own materials and even whole courses.
- Would I prefer a position with potential for career advancement, or a position with more time for travel / language learning opportunities etc.? If you are career-focused, a big plus with certain language training centers (EF, Wall Street, Disney) is the chance to be promoted to a more senior teaching or middle-management position. This usually requires a certain amount of time with the company, but strong candidates are often fast-tracked. Teacher turnover is generally high in China, so opportunities come along fairly regularly.
- How important is it for me to learn Chinese? Most training schools and some universities and state schools will offer Chinese lessons. It’s good to get guarantees and check with current teaching staff if this is important to you. You will find that even a rudimentary level of Chinese will make everyday life much easier.
For teachers wishing to focus on further developing teaching skills and honing their craft, my advice would be to choose either a reputable language training center or an international school with a decent professional development program. After a full year in one of these programs, and with a year spent adapting to the Chinese way of life, making contacts and seeing first-hand how things work, you will have the knowledge, skills and confidence to plan your next step.
Always ask for email addresses of current and former teachers before accepting a position. Good schools will also be happy to provide these details and happy teachers will be pleased to promote their employer.
Wherever you are in China, you will find that Chinese students of all ages are friendly, curious and eager to learn. Teachers in China are afforded a great deal of respect, and you will find that even the most modest salary will enable you to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle and still have a little on the side to save. To sum up, with the right preparation you can make sure that your time in China is a memorable one for all the right reasons.
If you are not sure if the Trinity Dip. TESOL course is for you, take our quiz.