People come from all over the world to teach in China, and while many arrive with the expectation that they won’t stay more than a year or two, others come here, love it, and decide to build a career. If you’re thinking you might fit into the latter camp, here are six ways to advance in your career as a teacher in China.
Source: Saulo Mohana
The first key to advancing your teaching career in China is finding the right school. If you’re new to China or looking to jump ship, do some research and ask around. Is this a school that cultivates talent or casts it off? Is this a school that cares about its teachers, encourages professional development, and even offers to pay for teachers to reach the next level of qualification (yes, there are some that will)? Does the school see itself as a part of the community? Does it work to create a positive reputation or does it simply want to squeeze as much money out of its students as possible?
If you’re considering taking a job at a new school or language center, ask other foreign teachers about the opportunities for career advancement. Are there foreign coordinators, managers, liaisons, and department heads, etc.? What kind of raise structure, if any, is in place? In order to move ahead with your career in China, you’ll first need to be in a school that values professional development. If you’re looking to get ahead, you’re probably wasting your time at a school that has no system in which to do so.
A lot has changed in China in recent years. When I first came in 2009, obtaining a work visa and residency permit was relatively easy. Prospective foreign teachers didn’t need any teaching credentials or even a college degree, as China was hungry for foreign teachers to meet the exploding demand for English language instruction.
I was told by a recruiter at that time to come to China on a tourist visa, which my school would subsequently change into a work visa. Such a move would be foolish today, as a glut of foreign teachers in China has led the government to be more choosy about who they allow in. As a result, schools and language centers have also become more picky, making a teaching career in China both more desirable and harder to obtain.
A critical key to advancing your teaching career in China is, therefore, the ever important topic of certification and credentials. The need for these precious pieces of paper has changed considerably over the years, and while it may block entry to many talented but unqualified teachers, overall it’s a positive development.
As more reputable and established schools have pushed education standards forward, certified and experienced teachers are now the industry standard. There will likely always be shady, fly-by-night schools whose permits are paid for in cigarettes and baijiu and that will take anyone they can pass off as a qualified teacher, but this is increasingly uncommon.
In most cases, a TEFL or CELTA certification is not only required by employers but necessary when applying for work and residency permits. While you can get such qualifications in China, I’ve found that some schools — especially the best schools of China’s first-tier cities — are looking for teachers with certification from their native country.
For those wanting to obtain or boost their teaching credentials within China, there are several options available. You can take a local course, which will provide group teaching, private study and practical experience. Alternately there are numerous online teaching certification programs based in the US and the UK that cater to both recent college graduates and teachers living abroad.
One of the advantages of these remote programs is that you can use your current teaching job for the practical classroom components of the program. The other advantage is, of course, the ease and convenience of completing a certification program online and the added bonus of being certified in your home country should you ever decide to move back.
If you’re looking to teach in a more prestigious school and increase your income, on-the-ground or online teaching certification is a solid investment.
While English language instruction is a vital and important field, it may not be for everyone. You may need to agree to teach English at first to get your foot in the door of a Chinese school, but once you’ve proved yourself to be a talented and conscientious teacher, moving to another subject is usually very do-able.
The high school I currently teach at has subjects such as history and social studies which I hope to move into once I’ve established myself as an English teacher. I am perfectly happy teaching English, but like many foreigners in China, I want to expand my skills and experience.
Moving to a new subject is a good way to advance your teaching career in China while strengthening your CV for future employers. If your school is intent on ignoring your skills, qualifications, and professional goals, it may be time to look for a better employer (see number 1!).
Perhaps you’ve taught English for a while, moved into another subject, and you’re still not happy with your lot. If you want to advance your career in a different direction entirely, a lateral move into another department could be just the ticket.
There are many international schools in China that employ foreign librarians, department heads, and other senior administrative staff. At training centers, alternative roles for expats will most likely be that of a foreign teacher manager or recruitment coordinator. At traditional Chinese schools and universities there is often more opportunity for lateral moves into curriculum development.
If you’re teaching in China and looking for a change, it’s possible to remain in education while getting out of the classroom entirely.
Another thing to keep in mind is where you’re living. There will always be more opportunities for advancement in China’s larger cities, but you will, of course, have to balance opportunity with your salary and the cost of living. You don’t necessarily need to live in Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou to advance your teaching career in China, but if you find yourself sitting stagnant in some remote town, a move to somewhere more happening certainly won’t hurt.
There are plenty of second and third-tier cities that offer administrative, recruitment, and subject teaching positions to foreign teachers. I, for one, live in the second tier city of Xuzhou and find there are plenty of opportunities to broaden my teaching experience here.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to engage in a bit of shameless self promotion. If you have TEFL or CELTA certification, it doesn’t hurt to advertise this on your social media accounts and email sign off. If you’ve been teaching English for several years, make sure your CV and professional profiles are up to date.
While you may not have a degree in education, you likely have a degree in something. If you’re looking to expand into another subject area, therefore, be sure to emphasize your expertise when applying for jobs or speaking to recruiters and prospective employers. If you have a business degree, for example, you may find schools or even corporate companies that will hire you to teach business-related courses without a teaching degree.
Whatever your teaching career goals are, China is a great place to pursue them. The opportunities for professional and financial advancement are here for the taking. There is obviously a huge number of schools and more foreign teachers in China than ever before, but there will always be a strong and steady demand for truly reliable and competent foreign professionals. If you’re at the right school, clear about your goals and expectations, and willing to put in the work to strengthen your options, you’ll soon be able to separate yourself from the pack.
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It is amazing to see how China has developed in the last 10 year while the younger generations are becoming more and more educated. Hence it is not surprising that the job requirement has become more competitive too. Without a bachelor degree, it is impossible to work in China legally nowadays.
Oct 20, 2020 10:07 Report Abuse
strange time to post this kind of advice when as it stands it is not even possible to go to China and work! That said, the only surefire way these days to get an adequate teaching job (once its possible to go to China again) is to actually have a University degree in teaching. ESL (TEFL) certificates are becoming a thing of the past unless the person is willing to work in a place that is questionable. Looking further afield, these kinds of positions - the standard ESL gig will either become more of an online thing or undertaken by young generation Chinese teachers who have been educated in a Western country.
Jul 11, 2020 21:50 Report Abuse
I wouldn't go that far. In my personal experience, the vast majority of English teaching gigs - not just the shady ones - are still perfectly happy to accept anyone with an undergraduate degree in any subject along with a TEFL. It's true though that if you're looking to become a subject teacher in an international school, say, they do now typically ask for a degree level qualification in teaching or previous experience. But as far as English language teaching goes, I think native speakers will always have the edge over a Chinese person who's spent time abroad. Chinese people are starting to wise up to the fact that having studied abroad doesn't necessarily mean the individual has good English skills, and here in Hangzhou at least, simply having a 'foreign face' still seems to carry a lot of weight. It seems that for now, the most decisive factor in securing a non-shady teaching job is whether or not you hold a passport from one of the accepted countries.
Aug 06, 2020 16:08 Report Abuse
my experience of that was, the support was usually based on beong part of a clique. In other words if they like you not if you are any good at teaching! the support was in abundance for the Canadians but everyone else was treated with contempt.
Jul 11, 2020 21:54 Report Abuse