Teaching English in China – Real Teachers’ Experiences
Teaching English in China is a really popular way for people to start out in TEFL. There is a great demand for English teachers in China, and it’s a fascinating and diverse place. There is such a wide range of jobs out there, and so many cities, so we pulled together different experiences from some real teachers who are there. Read on to find out more about teaching English in China.
Jade and Kev teach a public primary school in Beijing.
“We have been teaching in Beijing for almost two years now. We’re not in the city centre, but there is a subway station 5 minutes away from our house so we can get around easily.
The first thing that a lot of people think about when they hear ‘Beijing’ is the pollution! Unfortunately, the media aren’t just hyping it up – sometimes it gets so bad that school gets cancelled and you’re advised to stay indoors all day! That’s usually only in the winter though – the weather in summer is beautiful!
We love the subway system here – it’s so easy to navigate as every station is labelled in English as well as Chinese. It’s so cheap too – less than a pound for a journey across the whole city!
Our school is public and government funded. We both work at the same school but on different campuses. It’s a primary school, so the children here are aged 8 – 12.
Our hours are amazing – we both teach 26 lessons a week but at only 40 minutes each, that works out at about 18 hours! We’re paid well and always on time, plus we enjoy all of the public holidays throughout the year, including a 4 week paid winter holiday!
If I’m completely honest, there isn’t anything particularly bad about our job. The children can get frustrating sometimes, but that’s the same in any school! The thing that probably annoys us the most is the organisation of the school. Sometimes we’ll arrive in time for our class, only to be told it has been cancelled because there is an exam – usually, we would have still been in bed if we’d have known so at 8am that can get irritating!
Initially, we applied with a recruiter to teach in South Korea. He mentioned that it was more difficult to be placed together there so asked if China was an option. A day later we’d been interviewed on Skype and had signed the contract!”
Read Two Tall Travellers’ Complete Guide to teaching in China on their blog.
Doctor X (not his real name!) teaches in a private high school in Nanjing.
“I have been teaching in China for six years and I have been asked to tell you about the good, the bad, and the ugly. For the last four years I have worked in a High School in Nanjing. It’s a top 3 school and parents pay a lot of money to come here. The last year I have been teaching Year 11 oral English aimed at the IELTS example with a side plate of TOEFL (which I personally dislike) (Find out what these acronyms mean in this post. Over the years I have taught the junior classes GCSE and the other senior classes Year 10 and 12.
The good. The work level is not onerous I work 13 x 45-minute classes a week – that’s 9.75 hours a week. I am contracted to do 20hrs plus 2 hours a day in the office – the office hours are not policed. I get paid very well for my work – around 16K a month. To put that into perspective I was just offered a position in Kunming which offered me 18K for 25 hours a week plus I had to be in the school every day for 9 hours – No thanks.
The bad. It’s a usual complaint from expat teachers in China is that the foreign teachers are treated like mushrooms – we are kept in the dark and fed s**t. So I might be in bed because my first class is a 10 and the phone will ring. ‘Doctor X where are you – you have a class’ I frantically check my phone diary. ‘ My class is at 10am.’ ‘No the time changed your class is now – quickly the students are waiting – didn’t anyone tell you?’
The ugly. At my first college before this school, I was basically their white-faced teaching monkey employed to keep their know nothing students entertained. It was not teaching. Even though I failed all of the class at the final exam – as most of them hadn’t attended my class which has a 60% attendance rule – the school administration would pass them giving them access to the very good Canadian College I was working for and thus access to a Canadian Visa.
The other things to beware of are the teachers who really don’t give a s***. They turn up stinking of booze in ratty t-shirts and shorts prepared to spend their 45 minutes showing movies or YouTube clips – not teaching. A current colleague is more interested in a bar he and friends have opened than being in school – I doubt if he will have his contract renewed.
I enjoy living and working in China – I spent over 20 years working and teaching in a top 10 UK university before I grabbed voluntary redundancy – it’s a cliché but redundancy was the best thing that ever happened to me. I have been having a fantastic time in China,
You can read all about it in my book The Adventures of Doctor X in China.”
For a very comprehensive guide, see this guide to teaching English in China from Goglobalu.
Jack has just started his first teaching job at a language centre for children in Shanghai.
“I have been teaching in Shanghai, China for a little over 2 months now and I’m really enjoying it! I work for Kid Castle in one of their language schools, teaching children from Kindergarten (3-4yrs) Junior (5-8) and Senior level (8-13) – I have loved the variety that it offers as every class is interesting.
As much as there are tonnes of great things about TEFL teaching like the energy the kids bring, the reward of seeing them learn and creating bonds with each student…teaching is hard. Sometimes you get kids who don’t listen, don’t want to be there or just don’t take to your lesson plans. Like any job, there are good and bad moments. I’m learning to be spontaneous, flexible and adaptable.
On the whole, I am having a positive experience so far and living in Shanghai is awesome. I get to travel, be immersed in a different culture and try a new profession – which is what I was looking for! I found my job through Gold Star Recruitment, a recruiter for TEFL teachers.”
You can read Jack’s very useful guide to getting a teaching job in China on his blog, as well useful advice on life in Shanghai.
Marie-Carmen and Robb teach in public middle school in a small city in Sichuan
“We’ve been teaching English (and French) for the past 3 years in Sichuan, China. It’s been quite the ride and we’ve tried our hand at kindergarten, primary school, middle school and high school during that time. We’ve certainly found teaching the older age groups to be easier, the youngsters just require too much energy.
With around 20 classes a week (30 to 40 minutes per class), the workload is pretty good, especially as it’s common to teach the whole grade, meaning you see each class just once a week and therefore need only prepare one lesson per week and teach it 20 times over. You might get more hours teaching in Kindergarten but the pay is also a lot higher. In public schools the class sizes are pretty large compared to Europe, expect between 50 – 60 students to a class which can make teaching a bit of a challenge.
As with every job I guess it really depends on where you end up. ‘Key’ schools (these are state-funded schools but for students with above-average grades) have some of the most well-behaved kids I’ve ever seen, in the standard public schools things can be a little more rowdy and you might find you have to dedicate more teaching time to games and videos rather than formal classroom lessons just to hold their attention.
So how did we get there? We got into teaching when we were travelling around Asia a few years back. After a year of travelling in South-East Asia we reached Yunnan, China. This was really intended to be just a quick layover for us, before getting ourselves to Mongolia… We never made it though. We liked China so much that we decided to find ourselves jobs and stay for a little while… This was 3 years ago and we’re still here!
I think if you are looking into teaching in China the province you choose matters a lot. It’s a big country and different regions within it may as well be different countries. The food, the climate, the language, the degree of modernisation and/or western influences, and the attitudes of the people towards foreigners all differ wildly from place to place, and that’s something you need to consider before deciding whether a suburb of Beijing or a rural town in the inner provinces would suit you better.
So that’s what we did: we studied our options and decided that Sichuan was where we wanted to be: the good weather, the mountains nearby, the fiery food and the laid-back culture, was the perfect match. We also didn’t want to live in Chengdu, the province’s capital so we moved to a small nearby city (small by Chinese standards of course). If you’re wondering if you should teach in China I’d say yes: do it! You might love it or hate it, you’ll have good and bad China days but you will never know until you try!”
Marie-Carmen and Robb’s blog – The Orient Express – has awesome posts and photos of their explorations of China, as well as advice for teachers, such as this Guide to Teaching English in a kindergarten in China.
You can follow them and/or contact them on their various social media accounts below:
As you can see from these stories, there’s a massive range of jobs and locations in China, from big cities to mountainous regions, kindergarten to university. There are also some not-so-great jobs mixed in there, as Lauren experienced in this post. You can check out our post on where to find ESL jobs to find useful websites to look for a job in China.
If you are not sold on China, look at our post of real teacher experiences teaching English in South Korea.
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