7 Things to Know Before Your First English Teaching Job in China

7 Things to Know Before Your First English Teaching Job in China
Sep 01, 2020 By Randall Cox , eChinacities.com

So you’ve landed an English teaching job in China. Now what? There is, of course, a lot of information out there. Some of it is frightening, some of it enticing, and some of it just plain weird. What follows is a guide that will hopefully help prospective teachers sort through the noise and get the real story on what to expect in their first English teaching job in China. Having once been in this position myself, I’m confident I can shed some light on what can be a very daunting prospect. Here are seven things to know before your first teaching job in China.

Source: Kimberly Farmer 

1. Where You Want to Live

First, decide where you’d like to live. China is a vast country with a wide variety of cities, towns, and rural areas. Your experience will naturally be worlds apart depending on whether you choose downtown Shanghai or a secluded mountain village.

If you’re coming from a highly developed country and want the basic comforts of the life you’ve become accustom to, you may be better off in a big first-tier city, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen or Guangzhou, where there is better infrastructure and more recognizable Western culture. If you’re one of those hardy souls that wants a “real” Chinese experience, however, there are hundreds of small towns and villages that are always looking for foreign teachers. In a big city you’ll be largely ignored. In a rural village, you’ll be the Beatles. Forewarned is forearmed!

2. Which Type of School Suits You

China’s educational landscape is as varied as its geography. There are public schools, private schools, and the ever-present language/training centers. Public schools, as the name implies, are backed by the state, so teachers here are technically employed by the Chinese government. Private and international schools are often run by large corporations that have an education subsidiary. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but something to keep in mind. The more reputable private schools may be part of a larger network of schools and colleges. The less reputable may be run by a shadowy mining conglomerate.

Language centers and training centers seem to spring up out of the earth in cities all over China. They are extremely profitable and cheap to run — just about anyone with a little startup capital can open one — and therefore omnipresent and the most likely landing place for your first teaching job in China. Many of them are perfectly fine places to work. Some, however, are as crooked as the Yangtze River.

3. The Importance of Due Diligence

This leads us to the importance of due diligence. Do your research before accepting a position at any school or training center. While there are many wonderful places to teach in China, unfortunately there are also more than a few unscrupulous fly-by-night schools. It’s up to you to perform due diligence on a prospective employer. It’s a little extra work up front that could save you from a major headache down the road.

Go online, read reviews, and talk to former employees. English teachers are a rather forthcoming lot, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to get the skinny on a school. And, of course, the absence of an online presence is its own kind of warning. When interviewing, ask to speak to current teachers. Any school that puts you in touch with their current staff is most likely a decent, or at least an honest, company.

4. The Importance of the Contract

Read, reread, and reread again the contract before signing. If it’s your first English teaching job in China, you may be eager to sign the contract and get started, but don’t forget to read the small print! Be sure to get your salary and any benefits, such as free accommodation, health insurance, and flights home, written into your contract. Don’t be seduced by potentially high bonuses, as these may never materialize. Instead, get a concrete answer on your base salary and housing allowance.

You may find, however, that even at a good school you will need to repeatedly ask for things that are detailed in the contract. This, unfortunately, is normal, so speak up for yourself. Also be aware that only the Chinese version of the contract is legally binding, so make sure the translation is accurate before you sign.

5. Be Mindful of Cultural Differences

Although there are likely to be other foreign teachers at your school, you will most likely be working with a predominantly Chinese staff. While the challenges that come along with this may seem obvious, those starting their first English teaching jobs in China should read around the subject. You will be the outsider, the newcomer, the foreigner -- and Chinese people, while often very friendly, will not be shy about labeling you as such. Work culture here will also likely be very different to what you’re used to.

You’re likely to feel sidelined and frustrated at times, but remember that you’re on their turf. If conflict should arise, make sure you deal with it in a culturally sensitive way. Minimize face-to-face confrontation and always pursue the proper resolution channels. This could be a foreign manager, a local manager, or in some cases the head of the school. In my experience, conflicts at work are almost always the result of a lack of cultural awareness and nothing more. Being open-minded, accepting, and calm will go a long way in helping you avoid any fall-out.

6. Prepare Yourself for the Parents

Ready yourself to interact with a lot of kids and a lot of kids’ parents. While the pushy Asian parents stereotype is a bit overused, Chinese parents do take a very active interest in the academic progress of their children. You’re likely to meet with and report back to parents regularly at schools, while some language centers will allow parents into the classroom with younger learners.

They will approach you, ask you questions, and often give you gifts whenever they get the opportunity. You don’t need to be fluent in Chinese, but you do need to be fluent in abashed gestures and smiles. After all, the customer is always right, and in China’s schooling system, the parents are the customer.

7. Enjoy the Ride

Don’t forget to enjoy yourself! You’ll be in a far-off land, exploring one of the most historic, hectic, strange, and beautiful countries in the world. You’ll be hearing a new language, meeting new people, and eating exotic foods, sometimes whether you mean to or not. Stop and smell the chlorofluorocarbons! 

China can be a magical place. Come with an open mind and you may start to understand why so many teachers arriving to their first English teaching jobs in China end up staying for years.

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Keywords: first English teaching job in China


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Thank you for this informative article.

Jun 26, 2021 10:20 Report Abuse



University jobs are the best by far. A light teaching load and they treat you well. Enough extra time to moonlight at a training center on the weekends. I had 12 teaching hours per week. Also you live on a quiet campus even in the middle of a big city.

Oct 28, 2020 06:10 Report Abuse



Much less stressful than a training center. Salaries aren't as high but they give you extra classes. Lots of holidays.

Nov 08, 2020 10:59 Report Abuse



7 things are this: suss the school. suss the job requirements. suss who works there in it (e.g. bums from Canada) suss the Principal - is he a fat expat bum? suss the living conditions. suss the area. suss the reputation.

Sep 08, 2020 20:41 Report Abuse



nice article

Sep 03, 2020 13:38 Report Abuse



2021 you will find out when you are a "foreigner" setting foot outside. Something you have failed to realise.

Sep 08, 2020 20:34 Report Abuse



As a teacher in China for eight years, I have a few suggestions for the beginner teacher. 1. Be aware of the symptoms of Culture Shock. There are various stages and extremes. One of which is anger and frustration. 2. You best bet for a first school would be either a public school, or a well-known private international school. Personally, I would never work at a training school. If you value your days off, holidays, and free time, they tend to get lost in those types of schools. With public schools, you are guaranteed the holidays and usually work Monday through Friday. Basically, training schools work when public schools are not in service, such as holidays, weekends and evenings. 3. Despite what you may have heard or seen in job postings, all foreign teachers are paid the same, just like Chinese people. The difference is how the schools divide the money through bonuses, benefits, and actual salary. As for raises, the standard is 1000 rmb increase per month each year. There are exceptions to this. If you are really outgoing, willing to do anything, add to the overall educational experience, you might be able to ask for more. When I began a theatrical production annually for the school, I asked for 3000 rmb increase that year, and I was rewarded. 4. I do agree with this article about culture. The sooner you learn and understand the culture of China and the people, the better you will be. After all, all of the ESL programs and schools are a business, even in the public school system. More than that, understanding why Chinese people do the things they do will help you ride the tides of the stormy seas when they advance upon you. Why do they crowd instead of forming lines? Why do they let children do their business on the sidewalks? Why to the elderly look you up and down with suspicion? How to accept a toast of wine from collegues and bosses? 5. Unless you absolutely feel that you need to be in a western style city with all the amenities you left at home, think about starting off in a rural town or smaller city that is near trains and bus stations that can get you into those large cities when you desire. My experience is that when teachers live in the bog cities, they find it difficult to get out and travel. It becomes too much of a hassle just getting out of a large city, making the metro connections, taxis, traffic, crowding, etc. By living outside of the large cities, you are getting more of the Chinese experience, while still finding the freedom to travel throughout the country, even into those large cities for a weekend getaway.

Sep 01, 2020 19:05 Report Abuse



word ov adive pal. do not use the numbers game. In China it is not cool. Who cares how long you been in China? If your expereince is such that you feel that you have to write an incoherent reply then who is really gonna take that as sound advice? Your post is a load of waffle.

Sep 08, 2020 20:38 Report Abuse



Thank you for your comment. I will just take it with a grain of salt. I am not sure what issue you have with my comment, other than you are probably one of the many jaded foreigners living in China, and are unhappy in life. Thankfully, at least 6 people disagreed with you. I was not playing the "numbers game" to boost myself up. It was used to show that I have experience with such things discussed in the article, versus someone who has just arrived a year or two ago. Regardless of what reply I give to you, it is obvious that you will spew your hatred. Therefore, go FK yourself...with all due respect deserved to you.

Sep 10, 2020 16:24 Report Abuse