Expat Q&A: Trials and Tribulations of Being an English Teacher in China

Expat Q&A: Trials and Tribulations of Being an English Teacher in China
Oct 13, 2012 By eChinacities.com

With China's seemingly insatiable demand to learn English, it's no small wonder that so many expats come here looking for work as ESL teachers. While many of us are able to find teaching positions that bring in a decent wage, allowing us to live a comfortable lifestyle and learn a bit about the local culture, being an English teacher in China is far from easy. Administrative red tape, visa complications, increasing competition from other teachers, not to mention the ever-present issue of "how exactly do I get these kids to pay attention" are never far from the expat English teacher's thoughts. Here are eight questions posted by fellow expats on eChinacities Answers related to teaching in China.

Expat Q&A: Trials and Tribulations of Being an English Teacher in China
Photo: studycli.org

Question 1: Is it possible to find a teaching job in China without qualifications
MissA's answer: Yes, you can get a job. Maybe even an okay one…if you look 'right'. Although it won't be a very good one and the risk of being screwed over by your employer is very high. That's the short answer. The long answer is much more complicated. The thing you need more than anything is a degree. You'll almost always need a degree to have the paperwork done properly, and having all the paperwork correct gives you much more room to act if something goes wrong with your employer. So, that's the real 'need'. But then you'll also need to seriously consider how long you're planning to teach for: (1) a short-term thing that you're planning to leave and go back to your real life, (2) a couple of years while you save money for something major and experience a culture in depth, or (3) your brand new career

Question 2: Do you have to have a release letter from a previous school to work at a new school?
Xpat.John's answer: By law, the company has to give you a release letter when you leave the company. It doesn't matter how you leave the company (quit, fired, midnight run).  Once you have paid all fines, returned all equipment etc., then they must give you the letter by law. The release letter is tied to your visa. If you get new employment someplace else without the letter, than you are technically working illegally. That is the legal side of it. If your new employer has pull with local officials, they can either pressure your former employer to give you the letter, or just have a new visa issued for you under their company name.

Question 3: Can I work above the age of 65?
HappyExpat's Answer: The restriction for work once you are 65 years of age comes from the health insurance companies that will consider you a high risk factor and refuse to accept you with their coverage. No health insurance, no work. There is no law that prohibits you to work after 65 years of age; it is the health insurance coverage from Chinese companies. What some acquaintances of mine have done is to buy their own private coverage, and, showing that they are insured they can continue to work. But is it worth the expense?  Private coverage is not cheap at all. And if you are from USA, Medicare and Medicaid coverage will not work, because they already know it will not cover you while in China.

Question 4: Does it pay more to teach English at a Kindergarten than private school?
mArTiAn's Answer: Kindergarten does pay better because it's far more demanding, particularly if you're a newbie teacher. Personally I enjoy it, but I'd never teach kids younger than eight unless there was a classroom consultant present—they haven't had enough experience of being in classrooms and don't yet know that your supposed to sit in your chairs and not climb around under them. Also helps to have some Chinese under your belt too.

AdamE's answer: One piece of advice about making more money that I see a lot of foreigners not realizing: contact schools directly. If you see job ad online for a school, it's pretty likely that someone is getting a percentage of what the "real" salary is. If you have some Chinese friends that don't mind helping out, have them call some schools and talk to them directly. You'll usually get paid quite a bit more.

Question 5: Any tips for motivating students to speak more English?
Ken55's answer: The biggest problem is that society has taught us that mistakes and failure are things to be feared and avoided, so people won't end up trying things out of fear of being wrong. It's like the kid in class who knows the answer but won't raise his hand because he or she is afraid that it might be wrong…The simplest cure? Encouragement. I always remember Thomas Edison's quote: "Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward...." Once you make them feel that mistakes are a good thing—an opportunity to step forward rather than a thing to be punished by mockery, embarrassment and judgement from you (or if in a classroom, others)—they'll talk your ears off. So, I tend to do a couple things

Question 6: What is the easiest age group to teach?
Jnusb416's answer: I have taught college age, 3-5 graders, and 3-6 year olds. I would say that teaching the college students is the best, because even though a lot of them don't seem to be paying attention, the ones that do are really great. They are curious, and they know enough English that they can get their point across and learn new words. As for the most fun, that would have to be the 3-6 year olds, but then again, I only "taught" them for an hour at a time, and all we did was play games and learn a few words. As for the 3-5 graders, they're a bunch of brats. Some of them are very cute and sweet, but there are a bunch of them that are just a ton of trouble, and make it too stressful to be enjoyable. It's also more awkward, because they are learning simple English but still can't really use it to communicate with you. Sometimes I think that book is so useless in the beginning, they don't seem to get much out of it.

Question 6: How do your students address you?
Ken55's answer: "Teacher" is pretty much the standard; on the rare occasion they use it. They don't use it often since it's a small class, so I can see much of everything that goes on. Doesn't take more than a raised hand or a puzzled look in my direction to get my attention most times. Although I have introduced myself a handful of times (without mentioning how to address me just to see what route they take), they seem more comfortable with just saying "Teacher" than names.

Stan118's answer: Most of them say teacher, but some adults address me by my first name. If you are teaching high school kids and they call you by your first name, I don't think it's a big problem. They seem to behave differently when learning English—they are more relaxed and having fun, so I wouldn't force them to call me teacher. I always tell them my name on the first day.

Disagree with these expats? Was your question not answered here? Head over to eChinacities Answers to browse the hundreds of other teaching-related questions now, or ask your own!

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Keywords: Questions about teaching English in China motivate Chinese students to speak English China teacher pay China ESL teachers


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Hey fellow teachers! I was wondering if either of you have a blog or a website that I could see to check out some of your teaching activities or ideas? or maybe some more articles? From one expat to another, I always like to share and learn about new activities. If you´d like you can use my site as well: teachenglishconversation.wordpress.com but mine is for Spanish speakers ESL, which is a lot easier than your language barrier! Thanks for your help - Margarita

Nov 11, 2014 05:13 Report Abuse



I'm sure some English teachers are very contentious. Seen in so many comments sections whenever the subject is covered. Yikes.

But so many good people as well. I am currently studying up on the TESL here in Canada and investigating the possibilities of teaching English there.
My biggest concern? A reputable school. I hear too many stories of dodgy deals or pay lower than it needs to be.
Not in Xiamen as much as the PRC in general.

Anyone able to recommend a good company/recruiter/school?

Oct 15, 2012 11:13 Report Abuse



I was an average guy with a decent job and (to some points of view) a very intriguing inter-cultural past, back in the States; but I got bored and tired, so I packed up with a college group who came to China - That was several years ago. My friends and family like to think of me as an AMBASSADOR in China, as I meet and teach many different people over here - My mission 'is to help people communicate (using English and other language skills I have taught)'!

I have had the realm of students from college, businesses and kids, alike, too. I do not like the stigma of the term "lao wai". In the streets, I try to adapt to the local culture (to a certain degree), including acquiring local dialects along with standard putonghua (Mandarin Chinese). But in class I am a "teacher". The exception is that oftentimes I have my older students to simply refer to me by my first name - this is an ice-breaker, and allows the students the mindset to communicate with me as a person better! Young school students on the other hand often refer to me as Teacher so-and-so (adding my first name with the title to both show respect and share in friendship at the same time). Besides teaching by choice, I like the fact that I am a "foreign friend" (wai-guo pengyou) to most! - Not some freak'n "lao wai" ("OUTSIDER" - which makes me feel that there is no feeling towards me as a person; that I don't belong, I don't fit in or not welcomed!). I try to make friendships and leave people smiling if I can; and every time I encounter people, whether in class or in the street it's a basic lesson in life - either for myself, in order to deal with different situations, and for the people I meet, to help further a sense of understanding, if not appreciation.

Oct 14, 2012 18:48 Report Abuse