At the moment, China is arguably the most popular place in the world for English teachers owing to its immense population and economy. Teachers from all over the English speaking world have been moving to cities across China over the past few decades in order to find work, for which there is plenty, with over half a billion students learning English. There are, however, a number of things that many people don’t consider, or, which many people may not place enough importance on when making the decision to live in and teach English in China.
You will be moving to a place where the culture is very different to yours
China, and for that matter most all of East Asia, has a very different culture than in the English speaking world. For many people, this can indeed be the main attraction in moving to that part of the world. Many people have read books of other travelers and seen movies that glamorize living in another country and find it tempting to experience such excitement themselves.
What must be remembered is that unlike a movie, which lasts only a few hours and only shows the most exciting aspects of something, living and teaching in a foreign country is 24/7 for the duration of your contract. This means that good or bad, whether you are appreciative of the culture or not, you are there.
There are certain things which you can do to help alleviate any troubles you may be having with fitting in, however, this should be one of the first things that you consider before even deciding on moving to China.
You need to make sure to do your research thoroughly on what it will actually be like to live there. Look at all factors such as living in a major city vs. living in a countryside, what the food is like, how easy will it be for you to do the things you enjoy doing recreationally, etc. Most importantly, try and talk to other people who have lived and worked in the country who will be honest with you about the realities of living in China. You can easily find people in Facebook groups for ESL teachers who will be more than happy to talk with you about their experiences.
Don’t forget to look outside of Shanghai for work
Major cities come with major expenses. Shanghai, for example, is one of the most expensive cities in East Asia behind only Tokyo and Seoul. This means that your money isn’t going to go nearly as far and you will be getting less and paying more for it.
Compare this to a smaller city in China such as Chengdu or Xiamen where you will certainly earn less, however, will have the opportunity to put away significantly more depending on your lifestyle as the cost of living is dramatically less. You can also receive all of the same benefits when working in a smaller city that you would receive in Shanghai or Beijing making the cost of living that much cheaper.
More importantly, by living in a smaller city you can enjoy all of the benefits of city life while avoiding many of the downsides. Shanghai, with a population of over 26 million people, is one of the largest cities in the world. This means that traffic, pollution, and all of the other negative aspects of living in a city of equivalent size are going to be ever present and something you are constantly dealing with.
Research potential employers thoroughly
The majority of employers in the ESL industry are trustworthy and are not going to do wrong by you. However, the sheer magnitude of the ESL industry in China means that if even a few percent of employers are negligent or predatory in their hiring and work practices, then you are potentially talking about hundreds and maybe thousands of private schools or language centers (as public schools are managed by the government there is an extremely slim chance that you will have issues the same as in the private sector).
The greatest tool you have in making sure you avoid bad employers is information and the best place to find that information is on the internet from other people who have worked in China. Make sure to do your due diligence before signing a contract with any employer.
Also, make sure you understand what is and is not legal in China. You cannot work without the proper visa and in order to get the proper visa, you must have a degree, a clean criminal record, and a clean bill of health. Any employer that is telling you to come in on any visa other than a Z visa (employment visa), or, who is saying that you do not need a degree to work in China, is misleading you. The internet is abound with people who have been hired by the unscrupulous employees and, at the end of the day, it is the teachers who are going to be in trouble.
Understand the different types of jobs such as language centers, public schools, etc.
There are quite a number of different jobs that you can take teaching English in China. Probably the most popular of these is going to be language centers for new teachers with little to no experience. It is best to understand the difference between each type of job so that, not only do you understand what the requirements will be, but you also can figure out whether or not it will be the right type of work environment for you
These are private educational businesses that offer extra tutoring to students. As they are typically working with children, the majority of the hours that you will be working as a teacher will be in the evenings and on weekends. The upside of this is that you will have the mornings and early afternoons off to get things done and enjoy yourself. However, you will typically be working longer hours than in public and private schools and will have fewer days off.
Typically, you will be working with a local teacher as an assistant in the classroom. Students can range from young learners all the way to adults looking to improve their English for business or as a hobby.
Public schools in China are popular due to their security and because all of the hiring is handled through the government, meaning, you won’t have to worry about unscrupulous employers causing problems.
Pay for public schools will typically be better than in language centers and the benefits, including time off, will be better as well. Teachers will typically be working with a local teacher in the classroom to help them better manage and communicate with students.
The main drawback of public schools is the incredibly large classroom size of most schools. As there are hundreds of millions of students in the Chinese public school system, class sizes can be much larger than in Western countries where teachers may be used to working in.
These are typically international schools that cater to the children of expats and wealthier locals. These schools will usually have British or United States based curriculum and most classes will be taught entirely in English. This also means that there will be opportunities for teachers not just in teaching English, but also other subjects such as math, science, etc.
Jobs at private international schools typically pay much better than public schools and language centers and usually have better benefits. However, the barrier to entry for these positions is going to be much higher. Teachers looking to work in an international school will need to the proper experience and, in many cases, will need to hold a valid teaching certification.
You will need a TEFL certification
Open up almost any job listing for teaching jobs in China and one of the first things you will notice are the requirements for both a university degree and a 120-hour TEFL certification. The best thing you can do for yourself before applying to teaching jobs in China is to get a proper TEFL certification.
This will not only open up the door for much higher paying teaching jobs in the country but, if you do not have prior experience teaching, will allow you to better understand what to expect and how to manage the classroom.
For teachers going to China, we recommend Premier TEFL as they have a quality program which helps to prepare teachers for the realities of working in the classroom.