Moving to China to teach English has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. Not only did it allow me to save enough money to pay off my student loans, but I also met my wife, have learned about a new culture, and have had the opportunity to study Chinese.
Like many teachers in China, my teaching experience prior to coming here was quite minimal. I had done some volunteer ESL teaching with refugees in my college town, but this didn’t prepare me for teaching a class full of elementary students.
While I have improved as a teacher over the years, there’s always a lot to learn. One thing that helped, besides, of course, getting more experience, was becoming a certified teacher while still teaching in China.
But, honestly, I did it more for the chance to increase my salary and have the option to teach at better schools.
Professional teachers can earn more and work at better schools.
Teachers’ salaries in China vary significantly depending on the city, the school, and experience. I found this to be especially true when it comes to international schools.
International schools in Shanghai and Beijing (where I live) are the most expensive in the world. Surprisingly though, some of these schools which charge as much as $30,000+ per year in tuition, don’t require anything beyond the government requirements for teachers.
But every school is different. While some may hire anyone they can get, others have extremely rigorous standards. This obviously makes sense. With Chinese people valuing education so highly, a huge population, and China’s increasing prosperity, wealthy parents are willing to pay huge sums to ensure their children have the best possible education.
If you want to have any chance of teaching at the best international schools, you’ll need to be a professional teacher with a teaching license, at a minimum. Without these, you won’t even be considered. Having the teaching license leads to higher salaries, along with opening up non-teaching career opportunities in the educational sector.
Even at international schools that have fewer requirements for teachers, having a teacher’s certification can help you earn a much higher salary. There’s often a pretty large range of salaries for teachers and the certification can give you a nice bump. Every teacher I know that earns over $4000 per month at an international school has a teacher’s license, while most teachers without a license fall closer to the $3000 per month range, if not lower.
However, this isn’t always the case. One of the best and hardest working teachers I’ve known, with years of teaching experience, and an American teaching certification, earned less than many first or second-year teachers.
A frustrating fact is that many schools will pay teachers as little as they can. So, it’s important to know your value and be willing to negotiate for the salary you deserve.
You can become a certified teacher while living abroad.
Not many people realize that it’s possible to get your teacher’s certification while living and teaching abroad. That’s what I did while teaching in Beijing and it wasn’t especially difficult.
I went through a program called Teacher Ready which is partnered with the University of West Florida. Unfortunately for teacher’s not from America, you have to be a US citizen to be eligible.
When you complete the program, you’ll receive a teaching certificate from the state of Florida. The classes are online but also have a field experience component. The nice thing about the field experience is that since I was already teaching in China, I was able to use my regular work hours to meet the requirements.
You’ll also have to find a mentor teacher which is basically someone who’s a certified teacher that has been teaching for 3+ years, and they have to do a quick online training for that. For me, since I was already teaching at an international school with lots of certified teachers teaching there, I was able to ask a friend of mine to be my mentor. It was a really simple process.
The whole course takes about nine months of studying 8-10 hours per week. It wasn’t difficult at all. However, upon completing the course, you’ll need to fly back to America to take a few exams. I was able to find a test center a short drive from where my family lives, so I took them during the Spring Festival while visiting home.
The tests weren’t easy and covered a lot of material. So, I’d strongly suggest putting in the hours to study for them. Otherwise, if you fail one part, you’ll have to fly back to America again to retake the test. That’s not something I wanted to do, so I over-prepared.
Then, after the tests, there are a few other little things to do. Unfortunately, these take some time as you have to wait for everything to be approved, send fingerprints, and a couple of other little, but time-consuming things. So, you’ll need some patience.
The whole program is reasonably priced, with a total cost of $5735. Not bad when you consider the potential salary increase you may receive.
Should you get your teacher’s certification?
Now that you know that it’s possible and not insanely expensive or time-consuming, it’s worth taking some time to self-reflect and figure out if it’s worthwhile to become a certified teacher.
If you’re only planning on teaching abroad for a few years, then it’s probably not worth the effort to do so.
For those who are interested in living and teaching abroad for the long-term, then it’d definitely be something to consider. But even then, it may not be the right option.
If you’d prefer to teach at training centers or public schools, there’s a chance your salary might not increase enough to justify the time and cost of becoming certified. It would be worth talking to your employer about what having a certification might mean for your salary.
However, those who plan on teaching at international schools and living in China (or elsewhere) for the long-term, would almost certainly see a huge return on investment for becoming certified. It’s also pretty easy to do while still teaching full-time.
Additionally, there’s the added benefit that you’ll learn a few things and improve your teaching skills. Plus, if you do decide to move back to America and want to teach there, it’ll be much easier. However, each state does have different requirements, so you’d need to look more into that.
Most people don’t even realize that getting certified is an option. And while it’s not going to be the right choice for everybody, it will be hugely valuable for some people.
If it sounds like something you might be interested in doing, I’d highly recommend checking out Teacher Ready. Do some research and see what other people have said about the program and their experiences after completing it.
It’s not especially difficult, time-consuming, or expensive, so if you’re planning on teaching abroad for the long-term, I’d definitely recommend considering it.
Nick Dahlhoff moved to Beijing to teach English in 2016. He enjoys trying new restaurants with his wife, playing games with friends, and working on his website – All Language Resources.