Teaching English in China: Everything You Need to Know


Teaching in China has been great – not only is the job rewarding but my schedule has allowed me to work on other projects and see a good bit of the country.

Kristine

Primay School Teacher

About Teaching in China

Teaching English in China is always an adventure.

With the country being as big and diverse as it is, there are limitless opportunities for teachers and jobs available in almost any city you can think of.  However, with this immense size, China can prove to be overwhelming for some as different cities and provinces seem to play by different rules.

Not to worry though – we’ve done our best to break it all down in the sections listed above in the menu!

The Basics

Answers to the most common questions about working in China:

What It’s Really Like to Teach in China

The following was written by Kristine, a primary school teacher in China.  Check out the interview we did with her here.

Miss Ice Cream! Miss Ice Cream!

I walk into a classroom with 50 tiny students sitting at their tiny little second desks chanting my name. Or, rather, what they think sounds like my name. If I’m not Miss Ice Cream, I’m Miss Crazy or, simply, Wai Jao (which means foreigner in Chinese).

My name’s not really Miss Ice Cream, of course, it’s Kristine (I know, I know. Can’t this girl at least teach her students how to rhyme?) Anyways, I’ve been an ESL teacher in 3 different public primary schools in China for 3 years.

Why did I start teaching English in China? Similar to probably 90% of the 20-somethings who move abroad to teach English, I had a yearning for travel and doing some work that didn’t involve sitting in a cubicle for 40 hours a week. When I first had the idea to teach English abroad, I was working a job in a cubicle for 40 hours a week and was craving something more. In 2012, I was finishing up my first year at my first “adult” job after graduating university and one day found myself googling “teaching in Thailand” while I was at work. And that’s when the seed was planted.

Not long after my initial research of teaching in Thailand, I had a friend refer me to a guy he knew that had recently come home after teaching in China. I called him one day and we talked on the phone for over an hour. When I hung up the phone, I was convinced.

I’m going to teach in China.

Here was a brief summary of what I had learned over this phone call that made up my mind in under 60 minutes to teach in China (over other countries):

  1. Teaching in China is very lucrative: You will make more in China than most other countries you want to teach in. Thailand is cool, but you won’t have the same amount of disposable income to travel outside of the country. And side tutoring gigs can pay more than $40USD an hour.
  2. Teaching in China offers about 1.5 months of paid vacation: A glorious time in China is the Chinese New Year, where teachers can get paid vacation anywhere between 4-6 weeks (as well as a week off in October.)
  3. Teaching in China offers lots of down time: The program I was about to enter required maximum 12 hours of actual teaching per week. Office hours varied from school to school.

 

What’s The Work Like?

Teaching primary school students is not a walk in the park. There are 50 kids in a classroom and half of them are flying out of their seats they are so excited to see you and the other half are picking their noses, completely oblivious to your existence. The problem with teaching ESL is that the students have less motivation to listen in your class, because there is no grade given in this class nor is there homework. The classes can be complete chaos, even when the required teaching assistant is in there helping. The teaching assistant sometimes is awesome and keeps the kids in line. The other times they are usually on their phones or grading homework. I’ve had super helpful teaching assistants who will sometimes translate what I say for further comprehension as well as keep constant control of the classroom. I’ve also had poor assistants who will not even sit in the classroom because it’s too noisy.

I’ve taught grade 2 all the way up to grade 6. The lessons are 40 minutes long (sometimes it feels like 40 minutes, sometimes it feels like hours.) I’d never taught before moving to China, and was extremely nervous for my first class.  The good news is, the students tend to be quite receptive to your lessons and many are genuinely excited to play English games or try speaking. I’ve created all of my lessons from scratch and learned quickly through trial and error what kinds of lessons students like and what kinds they don’t. The good news to not having a grade or homework in this class, however, is that you have the freedom to create lessons that the students truly enjoy. Want to play a throwing game? Dance to a song? Listen to rap? Any of these ideas will generally fly in the classroom and allow you to enjoy your time more.

Each school I have lived at set me up with what they call a “contact teacher.” This teacher is the designated go-between for all things related to paperwork, getting your bank accounts set up, and informing you of any events at the school. I have always had very helpful contact teachers who will go with me when I have a problem. I’ve gotten sick a couple of times and my contact teacher found another teacher to take over her class so that she could take me to the doctor. And in case you don’t speak fluent Chinese, having someone who can help translate for you at the hospital is A-W-E-S-O-M-E.

 

What’s The Living Like For A Foreign Teacher In China?

Teaching ESL in China can offer an amazing lifestyle. As mentioned, there are boatloads of paid holidays, the work-life-balance is fantastic, and there is an entire continent filled with new places that you can visit during your time off. During my time living in China, I have visited 10 other countries in Asia, several more than once!

That being said, every time I’d get back to China, I question why I am living here and not Taiwan or Vietnam (two of my favorite places). Everyone is so friendly and polite. I don’t have to question the food I’m eating. People don’t cut in lines! Well, the answer almost always boils down to the benefits of being a native English speaker in China – good paying work (and side gigs) are everywhere if you are willing to teach.  

 

Would I Go Back And Do It Again?

Yes. Without a hesitation.

Looking back on teaching as a whole, I’ve really enjoyed the experience and gained a lot more patience as well as flexibility. In China, things won’t always go your way, and you have to learn how to deal with that. And trust me, this is a skill of mine that continues to get sharpened to this day.

Are You Thinking About Moving To China?

If you are thinking about teaching in China, check out this email I had received from my friend answering all of my preliminary questions about living in China. It’s fun looking back to see what kinds of questions I had and how helpful they were at the time:

 

Q: Immunizations – which ones did you get?  The only recommendations from the program director was perhaps Japanese Encephalitis if I plan to visit tropical areas (should I get them for countries I plan to visit or could I get that in China as well?)

A: You don’t need the Japanese vaccine. I do recommend Typhoid. You will most likely be traveling to south east Asian countries on Chinese new year.  Also, it can’t hurt but check the last time you had a tetanus shot.

 

Q: Do I need additional medical insurance if I am getting insurance through my teaching program?

A: The one provided for the program is just fine. However, if you are still on your parents insurance it might extend abroad. That’s what I did and they refunded me 200 dollars. However, I would just go with the insurance that the program provides you. You will still be covered under your parents policy abroad in addition to the one the program provides.

 

Q: Daily attire for teachers – Should I really plan on dressing business casual (black pants and long sleeves) as mentioned in the guide for the program?

A: Do not wear long sleeves.  You can wear blouses, polos. Shenzhen is hot. Really, really, really hot. I would look into pants that can be worn with flats, khakis are ok. Dresses are great too. Just make the business casual.

Q: Will my clothes actually rot as you mentioned?  Would you recommend just packing bare essentials and buy most things there? (Is that going to be cheaper?)

A: Your clothes will not rot if you take care of them. They tell you this because they want you to be prepared.  I would pack a significant amount of clothes and actually pack the bare essentials of the other stuff. If you have a favorite skin care product or something like that then pack it. But pack travel stuff of the other stuff. You eventually will have to buy the stuff anyways. I used the Dove and Pantene lines in Shenzhen.

 

Other Tips:

You spend a lot of time commuting and meeting up friends for dinner.  You can only work up to 18 hours per week so that gives you a lot of free time. You may be asked to hold office hours, which means you dick around on the internet for a few hours.  

 

Welcome to one of the least stressful jobs you will have.  The stressful part is China sometimes. We all have moments of China rage. You also start to miss familiar things.

Things I learned:

  • Bring Febreeze – it gets rid of that musty smell.
  • Bring a clothesline yourself. You can get a nylon rope and use that as a makeshift clothesline when you need to hang stuff up. I never hung stuff up outside. I always hung it up in my apt and it dried much nicer.
  • Bring OTC medications that you use frequently. Excedrin, Midol, ect.  
  • Bring a mix of business casual and casual clothes.  You won’t be teaching all the time.
  • Clothes are expensive in China. Yes they are expensive. I don’t recommend buying the cheap clothes. I recommend buying Uniqlo or H&M.
  • Bring one big suitcase, one carry on and one personal item  – for the personal item I don’t recommend a purse but a backpack. You can always stuff a purse in a suitcase.  But maximize your luggage.
  • Get an E reader.  You will be so glad. Even if you don’t read that much you will be so glad.  
  • Also, make sure your computer or laptop has a CD drive. you will watch a lot of television.
  • A  VPN is a good investment. You can watch netflix in China.

Popular Cities

Shenzhen

Located on the border of Hong Kong and only an hour away from Guangzhou, Shenzhen is a huge metropolis filled with all the perks and amenities of a world-class city.

Beijing

As the capital of China, Beijing is as rich in cultural heritage as it is in modern amenities – read a teacher’s account of working in one of the most lively cities in China.

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