How to Win at China-ing

How to Win at China-ing
Mar 22, 2016 By Tofadriver ,

Despite the rhetoric, teaching English in China can be an arduous journey. Confucian values notwithstanding, foreigners who arrive in China on a Z or 'foreign expert' Visa to teach a subject they know by default and often without the technical skills required to mentor language students effectively are quick to draw the ire of those who eek out a much less privilaged existence, despite their higher educational achievements and/or developed skillsets.

Nearing the bottom of the pile are the thousands of English 'professors' earning a very tidy middle class salary teaching unstructured and often unplanned ESL conversation classes to hoards of 'Freshman' university or vocational college students around the country who are required, by order of the PCP, to spend a few hours a week building confidence and 'fluency' in the lingua franca of global commerce.

These 'Oral English' instructors are supposed to have completed an undergraduate degree, experienced working life in some way, and completed a short program of teaching practice designed to introduce the basic principles of linguistics and pedagogy. The truth is, this basic criteria often overstates the qualifications of those who do this job in China - and everybody knows it. The 'university' departments who oversee these classes (and the hiring and firing of foreigners) are also often understaffed or lack motivation to nurture the consistency or the general quality of these 'courses' and the delivery of specific content is almost always left to the whim of individual teachers within the same institution, who may be more or less motivated to ensure the integrity of their work.

But does this justify all the bad vibes? Oral English instructors experience resentment from students, local co-workers and many other 'types' of expats, who needed actual skills to procure their own slice of Middle Kingdom dream-living. Indeed, and perhaps more critically, time spent living in China often carries very little weight in the global labour market for these reasons, making the prospect of repatriation a daunting (nigh, impossible) ask. 

So, how do you win at this kind of China-ing? Here are some strategies for pulling your foray into expatriation out of the proverbial squatter:

1) Qual-Up
So you've got that '120 hours TEFL Certificate' under your belt. Cool, man. How would you describe your own pedagogical philosophy? What was the focus of your final year dissertation?

If you've enjoyed your time in the classroom, the good news is that careers in English language teaching no longer come with a glass ceiling. When the PRC recently approved the latest Sino-UK joint educational venture - in Wuhan (with the Birmingham Institute for Fashion and Creative Arts, Birmingham City University), there were over 30 outstanding applications for similar ventures from British institutions alone. As the buying power of the Chinese continues to surge, demand for QUALIFIED ESL, ESP and EAP instructors will too. And they'll be looking for leaders who come with a contextualized understanding of Chinese undergraduate students. This will also stand you in good stead in the more competitive East Asian language teaching markets and that regional ATM machine, the Middle East. The more astute will also have noted increasing opportunities for EAP tutoring of Chinese and Middle Eastern students in-country, particularly in the UK.

'If you're gonna do it, do it properly'. You don't even have to leave the country to get this one in the bag. There are world class MA programs on offer at University of Nottingham Ningbo China (Ningbo) and Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University (Suzhou) that can be taken part-time and get you a diploma identical to that received by your co-students at the Universities of Nottingham and Liverpool. You will also have the opportunity to write a dissertation: a chance to focus your pedagogy in a strategic way, depending on your own unique job and career preferences. Ningbo and Suzhou are also educational hubs in the Yangtze River Delta, meaning university teaching positions like the one you're currently doing are easy to come by, and you get to spend weekends in Shanghai. You can also take the CELTA qualification through organizations in Shanghai and Beijing (through blended learning, if you need to) or pursue its more academically-oriented big brother, the DELTA. Put down TanTan for a few nights a week and get qual-ed.

2) File It
If you are doing your job with integrity then you should be producing a steady stream of learning materials, including PowerPoint slides, handouts, worksheets and lesson plans. Keep them. They are evidence that you are professional and organized. They are also part of the criteria if you intend to move up in the ESL teaching world with a gig at a Foundation Year or a similar college-level preparatory program.

Since, just for cultural reasons, teaching assessment mechanisms are either entirely absent or not shared with the teachers at all, you should also be making an effort to get and apply feedback from your students and colleagues. This is something that would be mandatory at any reputable institution, so demonstrate some pride in your work and chase this up yourself. You're getting the world's most succinct reference letter when you leave, so build a professional portfolio that will leave little doubt in potential employers' minds (in any industry!) of your professional character and reflexive adaptability. Your teaching activities in China will only be taken as seriously by others as you take them yourself. Knock up a survey or use an online survey website - 'e-learning' is a key word anyways - and empower your students to build your career for you.

3) Guangxi
This is a good thing to think about if you're pretty sure that teaching is not a career for you - long-term. You've probably met someone who started out doing what your doing and is now a bonified expat, pulling pints in their own bar or jetting around in support of their 'import-export' activities (whatever the hell that means). Everything is possible in China. Nothing is possible without good relationships. The most successful expats are those who can whip out their Wechat QR code like a holstered pistola (sorry, we don't have guns in Australia); whose fridge is so covered in magnets and business cards it looks a bit like a Optimus Prime on the confetti float at Mardi Gras. I'll give you the hot tip: the old adage, 'It's not what you know, it's who you know' has never been more accurate. Seriously. There's books about it. It's called 'social capital', which is probably most interesting to you because it's widely theorized to be easily convertible into 'economic capital' - AKA 'dat paper'.   

4) Learn Chinese
This is pretty obvious but something often overlooked or dismissed as too difficult by foreign teachers (especially in the more educated, cosmopolitan centers on the east coast). It will also, obviously, help immensely with 'san hao'. I've seen the most unlikeliest of drunkards achieve moderate levels of fluency just by having the discipline to sit down and learn to write two new characters a day. So find 15 minutes on either side of your 3.5 classroom hours on a Tuesday. Netflix doesn't want your money anyway.

Alright. If you're in China teaching half-arsed ESL classes, exploiting the near-total lack of accountability attached to your position, then get off your arse and get organised. If the stereotypes don't apply to you then get off your arse and make the most of your commendable disposition. There are plenty of reasons why taking one of the world's least-respected jobs can pay off big-time in the long haul.

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Keywords: success China taking advantage China


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How to win at China-ing? By leaving.

Apr 15, 2016 09:14 Report Abuse



It's all about's not about's about showing off.this is cultural thing in china if someone bought a car i have to buy.end of the day many mothers ask me is my child better than her's ?it's all about show off.for chinese you are always as a can be never part of them this is how i experienced here. PS: if you want to live in the hell come to north china such as Tianjin, hebei with f**ing villagers.

Apr 03, 2016 10:59 Report Abuse



@Tofadriver since when has teaching english been one of the least respected jobs...? I GET PLENTY OF RESPECT THANK YOU BECAUSE I'VE EARNT IT! 7 DAYS A WEEK AND 3 EVENINGS A WEEK EARN ME MORE THAN THE AVERAGE TEACHER.Then again i'm not an average teacher....You however are lacking and a touch stupid.

Mar 31, 2016 16:07 Report Abuse




Mar 29, 2016 23:35 Report Abuse



Teaching English is a great way to get into a country, experience it and set yourself up in said country. It isn't a career path and definitely not worth the investment of a masters degree. For you to get a masters in applied linguistics at Nottingham Ningbo you will have to pay 90kRMB+ and spend a year or two not earning. Or earning very little. During your time studying you could easily spend 200kRMB on tuition, accommodation, food, entertainment etc. So, before you have even considered doing this you need to have that money saved. Let's say your first job in China pays 10k/month or 120k/year and you're able to save half of your wage. 60k. Let's say you then find a better paid job. 14k/m or 168k/a again you can save half 84k. So far you have 144k saved. You could possibly start your studies on this but it would be tough and there is always a possibility of an emergency. So you spend one more year saving. You get a job for 16k/m and again save half your wage. You now have all of the money you need.Then you spend the next two years studying your masters meaning that you won't be earning. With 3 years teaching experience you could probably earn 18k/m+. So you're missing out on about 430k add the 240k you have saved that means your masters will be costing you 670k. You now have your masters and you can get a job for 30k/month Meaning you are earning about 120k/year more than you would have been without your masters. But your masters cost you 670k so for you to get a return on that money you need to work for 5 and half years before you are even earning more than you would have been without the masters degree. In other words it has taken you 10 years for the master degree to pay off. Of which 5 of those years were pretty shitty years as you had to spend most of that time living on a small wage and essentially having a poor life. Obviously this is all a group of assumptions. Maybe you could save quicker, maybe you could study in less than two years, maybe you could earn more than 30k/month after graduating or maybe you could get a loan. But also maybe you can't. Maybe it would take you even longer to have the money saved for the masters. Maybe you won't be able to find a job that pays 30k/m after graduation. With the possibility of living in hardship, spending over a decade for a return and costing large sums of money. In my opinion doing a masters to be an ESL teacher is simply not worth it. Learning Chinese however is probably worth it and probably the only thing that I agree with in this article. You can teach yourself so it can potentially cost nothing. You can learn it at your own pace so potentially be fluent in a matter of years depending on how much effort you put into studying. Honestly English teachers can peak extremely fast in China once you hit a certain wage you will struggle to get more. You should as a teacher make your life as easy as possible. Do as little as possible without degrading your teaching or causing more work for others and enjoy your life as much as possible. Also remember how in demand you are. There are so many English teaching jobs available. If you have a bad employer then change your job. Don't let anyone ask you to do anything that you don't want to because you simply don't have to do it.

Mar 24, 2016 17:06 Report Abuse




Mar 24, 2016 12:48 Report Abuse




Mar 24, 2016 12:39 Report Abuse



ambivalentmace hits close to the mark..I worked for one of those degree mills...and I couldn't really see the justification for the degrees...Equivalency degrees (i.e the same as a native speakers) where the chinese management seemed to have the overriding vote in the joint ventures.. I would say the program was professional and structured but the chinese management diluted the degrees by giving students ample leverage to attain the degrees thus devaluing the accreditation...In the bigger picture, an employer would be disadvantaging themselves by risking a venture on such an accreditation.

Mar 23, 2016 08:17 Report Abuse



Good article. You're right. "Real" teaching jobs will come to China in the future. If you're interested in professional development, there's loads one can do in her free time. The Chinese are obsessed with success. Better they get there with your help rather than someone else's.

Mar 22, 2016 19:38 Report Abuse



Am I to believe that a dissertation is needed at the end of a 120 hour TEFL course? hahaha, yeah whatever. The author of this article is all over the place, and I guess he thinks Ph.D's abound in China teaching ESL. Tofadriver then concludes with the comment "There are plenty of reasons why taking one of the worlds least respected jobs can pay off big time in the long haul." Really ?! How so, expert on the ESL industry. Am I to believe that being an ESL teacher is at the bottom of the list of respected jobs? So, is it safe to say it falls within cleaning out sewers, or toilets like the untouchable castes of Indian culture, or being a lazy security guard at a parking lot? I find it hard to swallow it being the least respected in a certain job, but yet the job entails some professionalism, and trust since these very people are usually teaching children. "can pay off big time in the long haul". How so? To do illegal "in house" group tutoring? Wow, how ethical of you.

Mar 22, 2016 13:26 Report Abuse



I think he was trying to be sarcastic when he mentioned a dissertation for a TEFL.

Mar 24, 2016 16:03 Report Abuse



guangxi is only for exploiting people and being a corrupt nong

Mar 22, 2016 10:31 Report Abuse



How to win at China-ing as an ESL teacher? 1) Get your Z-visa through an agent, ensuring that it is not tied to any employer and that you are free from any abuse and threat of "cancelling your visa" if you don't do whatever they want, 2) Learn the language, it is the key to success, 3) Do not work for anyone but yourself, build connections, build a reputation, find your own students, 4) Follow a professional curriculum, e.g. Pearson's Longman Express if you teach primary, be fun and entertaining but do not be a dancing monkey, 5) Do group tuition, more $$$, avoid private tuition, charge 100-150 per student per hour, 10 students per lesson, enjoy the cashflow. Then you can keep taking students away from training centers and schools nearby, they will hate you to death for that but there is nothing they can do about it. Give a big middle finger to all the shitty training centers that exploit ESL teachers and pay them misery salaries.

Mar 22, 2016 10:29 Report Abuse



@Random guy...I've been teaching here (china) for 7yrs and your comment made a lot of sense...however i've started bringing teachers over as well..!

Mar 31, 2016 16:01 Report Abuse



Can you recommend any agents to me? I think you've got the right idea :)

Apr 24, 2016 06:12 Report Abuse



"middle kingdom dream living"?

Mar 22, 2016 02:16 Report Abuse