Tips for First-Time English Teachers in China

Tips for First-Time English Teachers in China
Dec 29, 2017 By Bryant Scot ,

Most people teaching English in China will find the schools are very pleasant, with great staff, great hours and great kids. But, stay in China long enough and you'll hear plenty of English teacher horror stories. If it's your first time teaching English in China it can be hard. This article aims to give newer teachers some practical advice about what to expect, what to get over, and what not to tolerate when it comes to English teaching jobs in China.

Photo: Carrie Kellenberger

Teaching in China for the first time is always a bit of a gamble, and, if you're not one of the lucky ones, it can be ruthless. There are so ways to ensure you're as prepared as possible, however. The first step is reading this article!

How to Prepare

1) Don't Rush In

1. Don't rush into it. Take it slowly and carefully. There are more than enough teaching jobs in China to go around. With a college degree and a TESOL (a cheap and easy online course), you should have plenty of offers. Pick five or so employers that have expressed an interest in you and have them send you the contracts so you can compare all the details meticulously.

2. Research, weigh your options and carefully consider which city you want to live in if you've not decided that already. I've found that the some schools are anxious for you to start right away and will put pressure on you to make a quick decision —don't succumb!

3. Typically, public schools offer the best positions, with minimal hours, at least one paid month off and enthusiastic staff. Private schools are good for those those looking to move up the ranks over a longer period of time.

2) Relax

Once you're in a job, you'll find classes will be cancelled and they will forget to tell you, students will be pulled out of class frequently for reasons you can't obtain, printers and copy machines will be broken, students will forget everything you've taught them in a week, and no-one else will even seem to notice. There's nothing you can do about it. Don't sweat the small stuff.

Things to Get Over

1) Saving Face

In the workplace, the uglier side of the “face” concept can contribute to gossip, anger, and the creation of enemies among your Chinese colleagues. However, the main way it will affect you as a foreign teacher in China is via the means of very elusive answers. No-one will admit to anything. Accept this as “just one of those things” and your mental health will improve.

2) Schedule Changing

This can be one of the most frustrating elements of teaching in China, especially if you work for a private school. Public schools tend to have set classes and set weekly schedules, and when the schedule does change it's typically because a class has been cancelled, not added. In the private schools I've worked for, however, schedules are changed almost daily in a bid to squeeze an extra class or marketing activity into an already packed schedule. There's really no point fighting it.

3) Chaos

Chinese schools have a long way to go in terms of admin. Many schools look great on paper, but behind the scenes lays a disorganized jumble of administration, teachers and various other staff, many of whom don't know how or can't be bothered to assist you even when it's their job to do so. Be independent; learn to deal with languor and its side-effects and expect things to go wrong. Be like MacGyver and improvise! 

What Not to Tolerate

1) Unpaid Overtime and Late Wages

Don't think that you have to do your school any favors, at least when it comes to pay checks and unpaid overtime. Many Chinese schools pray on the passivity of beginners. Get paid on time and don't agree to overtime without compensation. They may ask you nicely and promise that if you do it this one time you won't have to do it much in the future. But if you agree to it once you can expect it to happen again.

2) Shabby Living Conditions

There are more than enough teaching jobs in China for you to get somewhere decent to live. If your school is providing accommodation as part of your package, don't settle for a tiny, crumbling dorm. If you're going to live off campus, don't agree to the first place you look at if it's not up to scratch, even if they pressure you to. And don't feel like it is standard for you to be bunked in with other teachers. You have a right to your own space.

3) Threats

I've worked for a couple Chinese schools where I've seen teachers threatened for numerous ‘offenses', like complaining about the hours, demanding what they were promised in the contract and, eventually, for wanting to leave. One private school, which conveniently had a stash of police officers posing as students, tried to force an employee who wanted out to sign a new contract, and, after he still wanted to leave, forced him to pay more RMB 20,000 to do so. Your school may try to bully you based on your ignorance of Chinese laws regarding foreign teachers. There is plenty on the web about them though, so research thoroughly.  

In conclusion, when teaching in China, be strong, cool, collected, know your environment and try to acquaint yourself with the laws, customs and values of the country. Don't let anyone take advantage of you and try not to lose your mind.

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Keywords: teaching English in China English teaching jobs in China


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New teachers, new employees need to be more aware of the changing schedules. A number of fresh from school grads get really taken aback when something changes.

Jan 11, 2018 15:01 Report Abuse



Thanks for sharing

Jan 01, 2018 01:22 Report Abuse



Int'l schools are usually better, but they rarely hire teachers without experience.

Dec 30, 2017 01:28 Report Abuse