A (RANT-ish) Blog: Teaching in China

A (RANT-ish) Blog: Teaching in China
hadleyj09 Jun 12, 2014 02:29

If you’re here to teach, then TEACH (RANT)


People come to China as English teachers for a various number of reasons. Some come to escape from home, to make money, to travel throughout China and Asia, or they come here on a whim and hope for the best. All of these reasons, in my opinion, are legit for being here. However, if you are here as an English teacher, you need to realize that it is not a right for you to be here, nor do the Chinese owe you anything. Here’s what I mean….


As an English teacher, you are here to do what your job title says you're here for……to teach English. Most of us who come here to teach have never really looked into the English language in order to see why one word can or can’t be next to another word, or why grammar points are the way they are. Many of us learned the basics of English such as what nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs are, but we really didn’t know how to teach it in a way that people of other countries could understand. 


Teaching is not the easiest job in the world, if you want to be a good teacher you need to actually take the time to learn, observe and plan good lessons. As a teacher, you must be aware of the fact that by not taking the job seriously, you are doing a MAJOR disservice to the students and their parents. Yes, we all want to travel, and that is a BIG part of being here, but I have read blogs and talked to people in China about how some teachers don’t take teaching seriously and are here just for the money and a good life. We need to understand that we only get the benefit of being able to teach here because by luck of the draw, we were born into an English speaking country. 


I have also experienced some foreigners taking the job so lightly that they don’t seem to care too much about the job. Take this into consideration. The Chinese teachers at most schools make roughly half of what we make, if that. Then look at the fact that they can’t travel like us, nor, for the most part, can they enjoy life to the extent that we can. The thing I noticed most is that they take their jobs VERY seriously and they try their best to do well everyday. We are very lucky to be able to be in the position we are in. 


I do know that teaching, planning lessons, admin meetings and everything else that goes on with being a teacher can be, at times, tiring. However, most of us only work 16-30 hours a week, and of that, the max teaching hours usually don’t go above 25. So, let’s not complain too much, because you know that it’s hard to find a good job that you enjoy back in your country, with benefits that are as good as being a teacher in China.


Now, with this being said, I do understand that there are some foreigners who have gotten the short end of the stick at various schools. Taking of passports, not getting paid on time, and bossed just being cruel to you. I know that happens, and I feel for anyone who has ever had a bad experience like that, but for most of us, let’s not complain too much about the job. After all, if you really hated it, you’d be back in your home country. 


 So, if you come here to teach, then teach and teach well. Know that it’s not your right to be here. Realize that it’s only by luck of birth that you are able to teach, and respect the job and the people around you. Don’t take the job for granted and try to enjoy yourself. It can be hard, but life is too short to be miserable. 

Tags:Teaching & Learning Business & Jobs Expat Rants & Advice Expat Tales Lifestyle


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I agree that the "perception over substance" theme is something that I have noticed in my experiences in Chinese education. I have no problem with being expected to be entertaining (I love the sound of my own voice). I like to think of my classes as an oasis of fun and creativity in what seems to be the barren wasteland that is state education for most Chinese children. Make good connections with children and parents. Work hard and make yourself irreplacable - if you make theboss money then you become the goose that lays the golden egg. I also think being happy is important. No one wants to hire a miserable asshole.

Jul 07, 2014 12:59 Report Abuse



I agree with Sorrel. Even if you want to teach and do your best at it, the schools with Chinese principals only seem to want "entertainers" who keep the kids and mothers happy and enrolled at their school. This is why you see well-qualified older teachers with education degrees being passed over in favor of young good looking comedians who can't write a single paragraph in English without spelling or grammar errors. In China it is not about quality education. It is about cranking out profits by any means necessary. Foreign expat teachers are just mother bait in my opinion.

Jul 01, 2014 12:50 Report Abuse



I agree with Hadlee in that you should always be grateful for what you have. I have always believed that if you are going to do a job, no matter how lowly or pointless, then you should do it well. Sure there are times when your passion for teaching ebbs, and if these moments occur with increased frequency then perhaps it's time for a change. I have only been teaching in China for 6 months so I suppose that my sunny outlook may yet be dulled by future interactions with scurrilous employers. My current employer treats me very well; great apartment, good salary and I get treated with respect. We have had disagreements and frequent miscommunications but my hard work and positive attitude have seemed to have paid off. I tend to keep my opinion to myself regarding cultural and professional differences between China and my home country. I think of myself as a guest and consider it rude for guests to tell their hosts how to do things. On the other hand I'm nobody's fool and I don't allow people to push me around or make me do things that I'm uncomfortable with. Some expats do seem to have some very racist views about Chinese people. They seem more than ready to make broad generalisations without too much thought as to whether their own racial group is guilty of the same kind of conduct.

Jun 30, 2014 23:25 Report Abuse



You may have achieved the rare thing in China is an employer that treats you with respect. However, I was employed by a University to prepare students for IELTS and foreign travel - by a foreign University partner. It was part of my brief to teach as a foreign teacher and teach about foreign customs/culture and the expectations the students would meet abroad, BUT the staff and Department in China did their utmost to undermine my position and the position of ALL the FT's.: "teach as a Chinese teacher". I was 3 WEEKS without running water in my on-campus accommodation when i arrived in summer, because International Department woman, whose job it was to ensure that all the FT's accommodation problems were taken care of, REFUSED to do her job. I was patient, courteous and accommodating and NEVER lost my cool. BUT the staff continued to treat me with disrespect, and by extension my home employers. FT's don't go in guns blazing in an anti-China manner, it is the continued disrespect on the part of the employers that changes our attitude. I worked for a multi-national company at home and ALL employees are subject to the same standard, not one standard for locals and another for foreign workers. My experience is not unique - MANY other FT's have had similar and worse. Many have had better. My latest employer was better, but i still kept an eye on them.

Jul 02, 2014 01:29 Report Abuse



As time goes by you may find it harder to put up with all the cultural differences. I think the cultural differences are too many for the majority of us to be happy here. Pressure(cultural differences) and time is all it takes for anyone to crack. In the beginning the differences seem almost interesting, but become a sore spot after time. Wait until you're forced to work Christmas year after year, they have no respect for your religion or culture. If you speak some of their local language, not mandarin, you will hear some of this. They switch to local language when they want to say something about you right in front of you, they get a huge laugh out of this, because they believe you are stupid. Their respect is just an illusion, your European face is just an advertisement for their school. The dinners they take you to are for business only, and they gain face for being seen in public with a foreigner. It is our initial analysis of their behavior that leads us to the romance some of us have with China when we first arrive here.

Jul 03, 2014 00:23 Report Abuse



there is a difference between cultural differences and being plain lazy and not doing your job. Another 2 FT's who shared a university apartment were 2 MONTHS without hot water IN WINTER because the same woman did **** all. My 3 weeks were uncomfortable, with these 2 guys, it was just plain sadistic. They relied on the generosity of the other nearby FT's accommodated nearby.

Jul 07, 2014 04:24 Report Abuse



I do take my job seriously. Recently a girl applied to be a teaching assistant at the school, and I chatted with her on QQ to give her tips. She came to the school for many weeks, and the other staff were increasingly impressed by her helpfulness, work attitude and skill. When it was time for the demo, she completely blew the competition away. It wasn't even the tips I gave her on QQ; it was mostly her own achievement. I was certain she'd get the job. There were 2 positions and 3 candidates. You can guess where this is going. When the boss offered his 'expert' opinion, there was some lame excuse about her not differentiating between 'glass' and 'window' in the lesson, and he said her pronunciation was poor. In fact it was her grammar that was poor; her pronunciation was excellent. The boss discussed salary with the 2 other candidates, one of which taught the mispronounced words "teapot", "hando"[handle] and "spot"[spout] in her demo. In fact, that "teapot" girl felt the salary was so low, so may not even come. Can you guess the reason why 2 entitled, less-competent, less dedicated girls got the job instead of her? I believe the only thing the boss was interested in, was their light skin colour. The unhired girl has darker skin, so he let her waste weeks of time predending she had a chance. He runs this place like a f*cking children's KTV, and wants his female staff to LOOK GOOD to farmers' mentality customers. Long story short: Don't blame foreigners for not taking education seriously when locals don't either. They care about first impressions and getting tuition paid; they don't give a rat's ass what the teaching staf can do. So many expat teachers who aren't too serious in their jobs, are also likely to be the most professional people in their schools, who try to do best by the kids' education.

Jun 28, 2014 11:40 Report Abuse



Apparently hadleyj09 wants to change China, good luck with it. I don't know what is worse, if to write that article or to read it, but either are a waste of time. Sinobear you sound pretty pissed of at this country, is useless to argue about these things, is gonna keep happening everywhere, THIS IS LIFE. You people still don't get it.

Jun 27, 2014 18:59 Report Abuse



I feel I've been through the whole gambit of teaching life in China. Before I started, I prepared, did research, learned about the TEFL industry, etc. I thought about which locations I may want to try and why. Yet, one of my last teaching jobs, I guess we could say I let my guard down. I failed to complete my checklist and suffered the nightmare of the many blogs I had previously read about. On average, I initially believed I was treated okay - I could have checked into some areas,or negotiated better, avoided some unnecessary hassles or misunderstandings, etc. In my mind, my best teaching experience was with a boss/school that provided me with all the basics, especially fixed hours (2-4 pm, and 6 to 8 pm - adjusted after some time; but I was always consulted as to which hours I left were most suitable, for the students and myself, in order to provide the best learning and attendance - I was respectfully asked, not told), and consulted when needed for either extra work or changes, like holiday schedules; included was a reasonable full-time salary with bonuses - and, if I happened to forget it was payday,no worries. They would provide an envelop and statement to indicate the hours and amount expected already calculated. I didn't have to beg or wait to get paid promptly. They even wanted me to advance into a managerial capacity or assistant principal, but I saw that then I would never have any more personal time having to help run everything! I just like 20+ hours, in which I do darn well by most standards (student, establishment and even parent satisfaction). Only at one point I simply chose to change locations (to see more of China), and that choice led to more complications. I spent 3 1/2 years in the one location I liked despite to intense cold; and after a gap (venturing south), I started a family and resorted to returning for another 3 1/2 years there again under the same kind boss. Originally, I was in a place that was or seemed quite caring, and appreciative of the foreign teachers they had - I had pretty stable schedules, reasonable pay, and fair treatment...to me dream-like, although nothing is perfect - they absolutely did not try to take advantage of me. The rest of my teaching jobs were just like the (negative) posts before me. I often dream of the days when I enjoyed and not feared showing up for work; or I knew I had someone to direct a housing or personal problem to. In other jobs, it was always fear of the unknown - what surprises would they have for me next. Anyhow, once I got out of my worst situation, I found happiness in teaching again. Why? I have an enjoyable range of students: I love adult teaching, being more goal oriented; young learners can be fun and bring out some vital energy in me, plus they can be pleasant to watch when they are happily learning something (especially if they are not just there by force); and if so, I still try to make it meaningful. I constantly remind the schools that I am not a Chinese teacher, so they cannot expect me to comply to Chinese teaching ways - I insist on representing authentic and natural English, although I once found myself often converting to Chinese-English; then I decided no more, and politely insist "that's not who I am" and suggest they appreciate what I have to offer! The result is that I have managed to luck out and get pretty good, motivated students - not all, but a good majority of them, which makes me look forward to working with them each session we meet. Currently, I/we have no meetings, no office hours - just a weekly schedule that changes or rotates somewhat - another downfall, since I need to arrange for a baby-sitter for my kid. Another setback with that sporadic scheduling is there is no consistency with the students' progress and familiarity, as with the teacher-student relationship. Why? We often ask, and it appears so the students do not get too attached to one teacher (especially if there are drastic changes and teachers suddenly leave). Secondly, it seems to spread the teachers around, as in to provide a variety of teaching and speaking styles and/or accents. So, the result for me now is that I feel there is a very sterile yet impersonal realm I am experiencing now, but with a decent range of students, from business classes, study-abroad prospects, standard oral English communication lessons, and some occasional young learner programs. We have to learn to take the bad with the good. But, more-so, it's a choice, and it would be wise to shop and compare (at least on-line) and discern which teaching option is most suitable. And, don't let a school or employer talk you into something they cannot fulfill, then leave you hanging or in a desperate situation, and then have to bend to their will or else...!

Jun 19, 2014 00:40 Report Abuse



Paragraphs, please.

Jun 21, 2014 09:58 Report Abuse



To be fair to the above poster, adding line breaks doesn't always work, as my reply up yonder shows. I went back and added extra line-breaks but the text insisted on staying together.

Jun 21, 2014 13:34 Report Abuse



A nice read.

Jun 28, 2014 13:02 Report Abuse



The 120 or 140 Hours online TEFL and TESOL certificates in native English speaking countries explain the story. Sometimes chinese employers add more to that; no degree and experience required(here is what one should know what his/her job is going to be). But what I have seen so far, the FTs nearby me are doing great jusitice with what they get paid for. Majority of them are well qulified to teach English as a foreign language.

Jun 18, 2014 13:26 Report Abuse



I agree and disagree... for points mentioned in Sorrel's posting but also because you are still naive. We went over this and I know EXACTLY how you feel. Yes, more foreigners should take their job more seriously but MANY schools don't want those said foreigners to take their job seriously. They just want to use the foreigner's face to uphold a reputation and then get rid of them when they start demanding too much. Not all but a very considerable number. Also, Chinese teachers are respected much more than foreign teachers. Students will stand up and say "lao shi hao" but when a foreign teacher walks in, they just stare at you. Being a teacher is a respectable job in China, being a "foreign teacher" is not so much (besides possibly the income). And on that point, you fail to mention that many Chinese teachers DO make quite a bit, some the same or more than their foreign counterparts. They receive yearly bonuses that foreigners do not and if their students go to respectable universities or get high gao kao score then they are rewarded amazingly. I know some Chinese teachers in smaller cities that own multiple houses, make 12-15k RMB per month and they have the respect of the school, their students, their peers and.. most importantly, their self-respect. I have taught in MANY schools before opening my business in different places all over China and one thing was consistent. Chinese teachers are given respect, with a foreign teacher... it is a popularity contest. You aren't really a teacher... you are a marketing ploy and the sooner you realize that...

Jun 17, 2014 18:33 Report Abuse



Well said!

Jun 17, 2014 17:40 Report Abuse



Have you taken the time to figure out WHY foreigners are paid more than Chinese, or did that simple thought escape your mind ? Ill give you a big, fat hint: SUPPLY AND DEMAND. In closing, dont hand me a "You should be thankful for..." BS line. I live in the real world, meaning that it is the way it is because that is how it is supposed to be.

Jun 17, 2014 14:01 Report Abuse



Condescending, deluded and naïve newbies (a rant): Once again, our very own Marco Polo, Hadleyj, has honored all expats with his exhortations of what should and should not be! Praise be to Him! There’s so much inherently wrong with his missive, yet I understand his motivation – suck ass as hard as possible in hopes that someone of import will reads his posts and elevate his status to ‘MF Awesome Foreigner Level 5000.’ Chinese teachers make a lot less than foreign teachers? How many foreigners do you see driving BMWs, Land Rovers, Range Rovers, Mercedes, Audis, etc.? How many foreign teachers own their own apartments? Two apartments? Three? How many foreign teachers have all of their students averaging over 80% in all of their courses, all of the time? How many foreign teachers get hongbaos? How many foreign teachers could get away with charging parents a certain sum in order for their little dumpling to pass? Have you seen the ads for most teaching positions? Teach 0-12 year-olds. 40 hours per week (while the Chinese counterparts teach less than 10 hours – the rest of the time is spent on QQ, playing computer games, sleeping, or in non-productive meetings). Speaking of advertisements: have you noticed how many ads mention travel and enjoying Chinese culture? Hard to deliver with said 40 hour work-week plus all of the activities that schools expect you to participate in. Why do some foreigners treat their position as a joke? Change shoes please. Why does the administration ask for proof of professionalism from foreigners but cannot prove their “professionalism?” Scheduling nightmares. Communication nightmares. Pay irregularities. Skirting the law. Threats. Constant demands for more without any compensation. Draconian contracts. Expectation of complete loyalty but no loyalty given. Let’s teach! Oh wait. Little dumplings are supposed to go abroad yet they cannot read, write or utter a single sentence devoid of the pre-programmed sentences that their “expert” Chinese teachers plugged into them. High test scores trump all even though everybody and their grandmother knows that acceptance standards have changed and are changing for western institutions. Let’s teach! Oh wait. The administration doesn’t even know the difference between ESL and EFL (and if you don’t, you shouldn’t be teaching in China). Teachers being forced to use outdated, inappropriate materials to conduct classes. Other resources? Go ahead – Google what you want. Let’s teach! Oh wait. The administration doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you, the students, standards or anything else. Pass all of the students (80% or higher) and shut your mouth about having no heat/electricity/water in your hovel, at least you have a free supply of roaches, rats, mosquitoes and an assortment of other exotic wildlife. Survived all of this? Great! You’re a great teacher and we love you! We want you to stay with us for a long time. Hey buddy! There’s been some complaints from three years ago! You’re gone…replaced by someone who will work for half your salary. What a coincidence! Now, Hadley, I want you to go out, get married, and procreate. Once you have a wife and child, please do come back and tell us how wonderful everything is and how we should all feel guilty for not doing more to make our masters rich. TLDNR:? We foreigners are not the parasites

Jun 17, 2014 13:41 Report Abuse



I enjoyed that.

Jun 18, 2014 10:34 Report Abuse



There is a very good university in Changsha that towards the end of the 3rd year of employment, always give the FT's a poor performance review so they have reason not to renew the contract. They also seldom employ anyone who has been in China for a year or more. A friend who worked there told me that he was expected to work extra time on the academic papers or publications of the staff - no if's or but's. They told him he would receive a poor performance review if he refused to comply. No sugar coating on that one

Jun 20, 2014 10:15 Report Abuse



@sorrel: that's part of the paradox - wanting qualified and experienced teachers but not so experienced that they're "in the know" about how things work. I know of two teachers who, when offered positions elsewhere, were granted raises and/or promotions, so they agreed to stay. As soon as their employers got the chance, they replaced them with cheaper staff. Vindictiveness at its best.

Jun 20, 2014 10:24 Report Abuse



Genius. I should remember this post.

Jun 28, 2014 12:00 Report Abuse



absolutely true. I agree with you.

Jun 16, 2014 22:55 Report Abuse



When you are in China a bit longer you will realise that many schools don't want FT's who teach. They want a 'preforming foreign monkey' for the benefit of the parents. In my last university ALL the FT's worked hard on meaningful lesson plans, well thought out lessons etc. However, we were barred from taking part in meetings, discussing things like student curriculum in conjunction with the Chinese teachers, another-words anything MEANINGFUL to do with actual teaching. I hold a CELTA. I was told 'not to teach like a foreigner', but to teach like a Chinese teacher, or make the students recite words rather than speak. If you have ever learnt a second language you will know the importance of PRACTICE, yet many schools just want the FT to rubber-stamp the score at the end of the semester to give them legitimacy. I agree, many FT's will play along with this and not try, but please DON'T tar all of us with the same brush. As regarding the complaints - MOST places will try to scam us to some degree and I for one don't intend to be a door-mat and accept this. If i am to do my job well, i expect to be treated with a certain respect and under certain conditions.

Jun 16, 2014 12:57 Report Abuse



I agree, most schools couldn't care less how well you teach and many students consider the English "class" as a class that should be fun and entertaining. But when you try to make it fun, a school will criticize you and say... "they should be learning, not playing games." And tell you to teach like a Chinese teacher (as Sorrel says). Not all of them are like that, but to be honest... about 70-85% are within this zone in one way or another.

Jun 17, 2014 18:25 Report Abuse



This is the kind of reply I was about to make. If you teach in a typical Chinese-run school, you most likely will be expected to impress parents/admins who know nothing about effective language teaching, to be honest. It will be all "more games" "less games" "more smiles" "more homework" "a kid said it's too easy, make it harder" "a parent said their kid can't understand you" and you will be expected to change what you do on the basis of every little comment like this, obviously not an effective way to improve your teaching or plan effective EFL lessons. You have to have, basically, a foreign academic manager, or you should know that your job will be to dance and cater to the whim and worry of concerns that really have no common basis with teaching results, so what will happen is, if you want to teach well, that becomes an extra job you must do while blending it with/disguising it within your real job, to give the expected appearance of having a foreign teacher.

Jun 30, 2014 09:35 Report Abuse