This teaching English in China article is authored by Chris.
It was my first day as an actual teacher, teaching English in Hangzhou, China. I was very nervous. In just a few hours I was going to be stood up in front of over 40 students, with all their eyes fixed on me, waiting for me to explain what is going on. The pressure was all on me.
I asked the head of the department what it was exactly that they were expecting me to teach so that I could prepare.
“Don’t worry. There is no plan. Just have a conversation with them, maybe they can ask you some questions and you can answer them.”
What a relief! I relaxed slightly, maybe it was going to be alright. I could just let them ask me the questions and I didn’t need to feel so nervous after all.
It turns out that the 6-and-7-year-old Chinese children that I was supposed to be teaching barely had an English vocabulary beyond “hello.” As you can imagine the ‘question and answers session’ fell flat pretty quickly.
It was a disaster, I had no backup plan as I had essentially been told not to plan anything. Oh, and the whole English department had turned up to watch the teaching methods of the strange new foreigner… It was going to be a loooong 40 minutes.
At that time I just wanted either the ground to swallow me up or someone to step in and rescue me…
Skip forward 3 years and I’m still here! Don’t worry it gets better (well it couldn’t have gotten worse).
Here is my guide to finding ESL jobs in China and how to actually be prepared once you get one!
Teaching English in China – My Experience
As you can probably tell from my tragic first day I wasn’t a teacher back home in the UK. In fact, my motive for coming to China had nothing to do with teaching initially—it was just a means to an end.
I was studying economics at university and, naturally, China came up quite a lot. I even wrote my dissertation about China’s economic growth. This involved doing a lot of research on the country and I became curious.
I eventually finished my dissertation and then my degree. However, my curiosity about China couldn’t be sated so easily. I thought I could just travel for a short holiday there, I just needed to save up enough money for the flights.
I had no idea that there were viable jobs in China for me.
Coincidentally, at around the same time as I was planning my post-university ‘gap year’ travel, my university had invited a recruiter to come and talk about… you guessed it – teaching English in China!
He said it was an ideal job for new graduates, it is not necessary to having teaching experience. He also said you can find a decent salary that will go pretty far due to the cheap cost of living in most cities here in China.
Due to the massive demand for learning English, there are plenty of jobs in China for English speakers, particularly native English speakers.
“Yeah, yeah whatever we didn’t come on this website to hear your life story, we came to hear about ESL Jobs in China!”
I hear you! But the reason I gave you my story was that I wanted to show that you don’t need to be a teacher or have the experience to find a job like this.
I have been working in a variety of different schools and training centres since my arrival in China and my salary has almost tripled since landing my first job. This just goes to show the massive opportunity there is here in China and that once you get used to your surroundings you can make a killing.
So What Are the Benefits of Teaching English in China?
There are loads of good reasons to teach English in China and there’s a good list here. However, I want to give some additional information and reasons:
- Cheap cost of living—you may be comparing your graduate scheme salary and the typical salary teaching English and thinking that you are losing out. Yes, the salary may not be as high as the salaries in your home country, however, the cost of living is likely to be much, much cheaper. Remember it’s not about how much you get paid but how much you get to keep!
- You are not just a tourist—being a tourist gives you a certain perspective of a country and that’s fine. However, if you want a much deeper perspective of how a country really is, then there is nothing better than teaching. Your colleagues and students are all Chinese and will give you an insight into their culture that you simply wouldn’t get as a tourist. I have been to students’ houses for dinner, been drinking with colleagues and even on holiday with some of the parents!
- Learn a new language—Immersive language learning is well-known for being the most effective. Therefore, if you want to learn Chinese effectively then you should come to China. If you can get paid at the same time… well isn’t that a great bonus? (HINT: The answer is yes.)
- Low workload—if you get a job in a public school or university you will probably be faced with a working schedule of 20 or fewer teaching hours a week. Oh, and you a get a month off for Chinese New year and 2 months off for summer. If you ask me, it seems a bit better than the 60 or so hours I hear my university classmates are working back home!
Not to mention, out of all the jobs in China for foreigners, this is the best and easiest.
How Do I Get an ESL Job in China?
Now you are familiar with all the perks of ESL jobs in China, perhaps you are wondering how to get started teaching in China.
Well luckily for you I have made a simple checklist:
1. Graduate University
First on the list is for you graduate from university. In order to legally teach English in China, or rather to legally get a work visa you will need a bachelor’s degree.
It doesn’t matter what discipline (but teaching or English related will be an advantage). If you are a non-native speaker, then in order to get a work visa in most countries you will be required to have a degree from a native-speaking country.
Some people will say it’s possible to get a job without a degree, however, officially it is illegal. It is always best to stay on the right side of the law when you move to a new country.
2. Get a TEFL Certificate
If you have a degree in teaching, you are going to be teaching a specific subject or have a masters in TESOL or Education then getting a TEFL certificate will be redundant. For everyone else, a TEFL certification is essentially a minimum requirement.
Don’t worry it is super easy to pass and you can do the whole course online. I know that Nina recommends MYTEFL (discount code: nina50).
3. Find a Job Offer
Now that you have your certification sorted, it’s time to look for a job. You should bear in mind that if you come to China on a tourist visa you will have to leave China in order to get the work visa anyway, so it’s best to apply for jobs before you come.
One place to start looking is Dave’s ESL café, seek teachers or echinacities but it is important to watch out for scams. If you want to avoid getting tricked or scammed for your first job, then I recommend the recruiters I originally went with—Opportunity China. They are very professional and will guide you through the whole process.
You can make in the ballpark range of $2000+ USD and sometimes housing and flights are paid for as well. It all depends on the job you land. If you have experience, you can expect more money. You can also choose to pick up side tutoring jobs to make even more.
4. Sort out Your Visa
Once you have accepted a job offer its time for the hardest part (yep, much harder than actually finding a job) your first insight into the madness that is Chinese bureaucracy. Your employer should be able to guide you through the process as, hopefully, they have done it plenty of times before.
Side note—If it seems they don’t know what they are doing then this is a bad sign, it’s not too late to find another employer.
To get started you will need to gather the following documents:
- Copy of Passport information page
- Digital Headshot- Passport style
- Degrees ( In some cases also transcripts)
- Physical examination (doctor checkup)
- Recommendation letter
- TEFL certificate
- Non-criminal record
5. Get on a Flight
You have to get to China somehow, and flying is probably going to be the best mode of transport (but hey, you can try boating or kayaking over too). I always use Skyscanner to find cheap flights.
Congratulations! You made it, you have now arrived in China and a whole new adventure awaits, best of luck with your new teaching life!
Tips and Tricks
Here are a few miscellaneous tips and tricks that you should bear in mind before coming to teach in China.
- Culture shock—you are probably going to find that living in China is very different to living in your home country. So much so that you may experience some culture shock. Do some research before you come, I have met way too many people who don’t last past the first 3 months because they were underprepared for living abroad.
- Chinese food—Chinese food is great, but it is not the same as the Chinese food you find in restaurants in the west. Be adventurous!
- The Mattress—I have still not gotten to the bottom of the reason why, but most Chinese mattresses are hard. I believe it is something to do with Traditional Chinese medicine and the older culture of China. Check what kind of mattress you will get in the apartment the school will offer you if you can’t bear the thought of sleeping on something that isn’t soft.
- China isn’t the police state you have been led to believe—. Despite what the Western media says, life in China isn’t out of page from 1984. As a foreigner in China, you can even get away with a lot little of things that local people would get in trouble for (speeding, wrong licenses, even taking water onto the metro) – police often simply can’t be bothered to make a fuss as they know it’s not worth the paperwork. Your every move isn’t being scrutinized by the government and you probably aren’t going to be arrested for something silly. Just don’t be obnoxious.
- Well-behaved students—The students here in China are well disciplined, however, they are still children. They don’t always want to do their work and would much rather play. So don’t think of them as the polite little robots the stereotype suggests! You will still need to have your classroom management on point!
Life Teaching English in China
Are you wondering how that story in the beginning ended? Well, luckily one of the Chinese teachers came to my rescue and gave some ideas on what to do next.
Teaching kids is incredibly rewarding and travelling to China was one of my best decisions.
I learnt a lot from my colleagues during first year teaching in China and we became fairly good friends. That being said it is not easy to make friends with Chinese people, cultural differences are huge and it will take time to get used to how they act and live.
Mainland Chinese people often view friendship differently to the Western concept of friends. They see it more as an exchange of benefits – what can you do for me? They might add you on social media just to show off the fact that they know a foreigner.
Don’t let that put you off though! When you find a true Chinese friend it will be that much more rewarding.
Don’t forget, if you need a TEFL certification, use nina50 to get a discount!
Are you thinking of teaching English in China? Where? Let us know your plans or if you have any more question in the comments!
With a Backpack is a website and blog geared towards aspiring TEFL teachers, particularly those wishing to teach in China. The author Chris, has been teaching in China for the last 3 years and is happy to give help and advice to anyone who needs it! You can find anything from helpful guides, teacher interviews to embarrassing stories over on With A Backpack.
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