Posts Tagged ‘Teach English in China’

Before you teach in China, research!

January 20, 2012

Before you start looking for a teaching job in China, it’s important to be aware of the different types of employment available to you. Where you teach, and the style of place you’re working for can have a very big impact on your overall experience. While there are many people who head to China looking for a career style teaching position (ie: armed with a proper teaching qualification – looking for a proper income earning job), most English teachers will be going more for the chance to live in another country and experience a different culture – kind of like a working holiday. The below information is geared towards these types of people.

First and foremost, you need to determine where you wish to teach. While I will write about this separately in another post (as there’s simply too many factors to consider), it is important to decide whether you wish to work in a city style environment, or something smaller, possibly even rural.

You then need to consider what kind of teaching style or environment you would feel most comfortable in.

  1. Private language schools: You will find these absolutely everywhere, offering students anything from small classes to one on one tutoring. You’ll likely be working with a number of other foreign teachers (which can be a huge benefit in China) and the small class sizes will also be appealing. Many of these are in great locations so might suit someone looking for a job in one of the big cities. It is important to remember that these places are in fact businesses, and some schools unfortunately are more interested in making money than providing quality education. There have been numerous complaints from teachers who have had issues with being paid on time, or employers not sticking to pre-agreed contracts arrangements. Of course on the flip side, there are many people who have nothing but good things to say about these places. The key thing is, if you’re going for a private language school, research it in advance.
  2. Kindergartens: These are another large employer of foreign teachers. The Chinese like to have their children studying English from as early an age as possible to give them an advantage later in life, and the kindergartens/pre-schools are the best place for this to start. You will be dealing with young children (obviously), and possibly large class sizes. This is more suited to someone who enjoys working with children, but can be an incredibly rewarding experience, as Chinese kiddies are crazy cute!
  3. Middle Schools:  The Chinese equivalent of a western high school and where I spent my year. The biggest benefit is that you will be working for a government run, legitimate education provider. Classes can be anything up to 55 students in size, teaching anything from 11 to 18 year olds. While the class sizes might scare some people off, you have to remember that in China, teachers are treated with absolute respect, which can lead to an incredibly rewarding experience. I still enjoy corresponding with my students, some two years later. The downside is you’ll likely live on campus, which can mean impromptu requests from the school (hello English Corner on a Saturday evening!)

Regardless of where you end up, it is important that you research it as much as possible in advance. The absolute best way to do this other than trawling through forums such as at Dave’s ESL café, is actually asking the place for the contact information of a former or current foreign teacher.

Other things to consider:

  • Salary – For around 15-17 hours teaching per week I was making 5000rmb. In Australian dollars, this only equated to a very poor monthly wage (around $850ish), though considering everything in China is very cheap, it was enough to comfortably get by. The more the merrier of course, but you have to have realistic expectations. Your employer will potentially provide you with fully furnished, rent-free accommodation too, so your salary is largely food and play money.
  • Teaching hours – Very important! Clarify exactly how many hours you will be teaching, and whether there are any non-contact hours. They may want you to teach for 15 hours per week, but also want you in the teaching office for a further 20 hours – you do NOT want this if possible. We were contracted to teach for approximately 17 hours (in reality it was around 15), and we were free to leave the school grounds when not teaching. Chinese teachers will often start around 7am, and stay in the office until 9pm. While much of their day involves simply browsing the internet and chatting on QQ, you do NOT want to be bound to something like this. Clarify!
  • Class sizes – Exactly how many different classes will you be teaching and how many students per class? What age group? Male and female or is it a single sex school? Find all of this out as it can help you plan classes in advance.
  • Class materials – Are they provided? Will you be working from a book or are you to come up with your own classes? What exactly will you be teaching? Find out if its just English conversation or whether you’ll be teaching reading/writing too. Will you be required to conduct exams? Regardless of what you are told, take some of your own materials – such as a book containing lesson plans, and things like photographs/magazines/newspapers from home – they can be invaluable if you’re pressed for ideas. Can also be a great idea to take some small gifts, like little teddy kangaroo’s or something reflecting your home country – the students will LOVE this, and it can be an awesome incentive to get them to work!
  • Accommodation – Is it provided? Rent free? Does it include free internet access? Will you be required to pay any money towards utilities such as power/water etc. Do you have your own apartment, own bathroom etc? Ensure it has proper heating/cooling installed as depending on where you live in the country, you’ll likely need both in a big way. We had to pay several hundred yuan per month for utilities, with the School agreeing to pay half.
  • Perks – What else do you get as part of this whole arrangement? Will they be reimbursing your airfares at the completion of the contract? If so ensure you find out exactly how much as it will likely be a set dollar amount and not actually what you paid. Do you get any free meals such as lunches? Does your accommodation come with free internet access? Will they provide free Chinese lessons? There are many things that will come as part of the deal, make sure you check out everything and get it in writing in case they decide you don’t actually get them once you arrive!

While the above all sounds complicated, in reality, it’s not that bad. The key thing to take away from  reading this is before you head to China, research!  If you have any specific questions or wish to add to the above, feel welcome to leave a comment.

Tian Yi Middle School, Wuxi

So you were thinking of teaching overseas…how do I start?!

December 29, 2011

So you’ve decided you want to try your hand at teaching English in another country, and well if you’re reading this, you’ve likely chosen China. The question is where the HELL do you start??! Read on, I’ll show you how to turn fantasy into reality!

Lake Tai, Wuxi

The first thing you will need is a TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate. If you do not possess a degree, having a TESOL cert is enough to secure yourself a good position – just not in a university (but then again, in China, pretty much anything is possible so I wouldn’t count that out either).  The good news is they’re easily obtainable, are quick to complete (taking approximately three evenings and two full week-end days – though this will depend on where you study it), and will arm you with all of the skills necessary to undertake conversational English teaching with no prior experience. The bad news is it will set you back approximately $1900.00. But do not despair! This fee can also be an excellent way of committing yourself to the task. Some people (aka me) need a solid commitment to ensure they actually follow through with their plans, and once you’ve dropped that money, you’re not likely to then back out.

The other unexpectedly good side of having a TESOL certificate is that, while they carry no real weight back home, they do look superb on your resume. There are many skills you will pick whilst teaching which can be applied to a whole myriad of roles back home. Having this certification and teaching experience is an excellent talking point in job interviews, and will show your potential employers that you have some amazingly broad qualities.

I obtained my TESOL through the Australasian Training Academy  who I do recommend, if you are in Australia. While their training for the cert was really good, their follow-up service and support (one of the prime features they advertise) was almost non-existent – so don’t count on that. They say they will assist with looking over contracts and answering questions and the like but for my wife and I, we had no response to our questions – though this may have been just us.

Once you have obtained your TESOL, you then need to find a job. China is fairly unique in that you do not actually have to hunt down a job, but simply put up an advertisement and wait for one to come to you. There is such massive demand to learn English that you can literally pick and choose; with so many offers coming in that you’ll need to fend them off with a stick! This will likely change in the future, so I wouldn’t wait too long to take advantage of this.

A website I would recommend is Dave’s ESL Café. Dave’s is a fantastic resource for all things ESL teaching, from lesson planning and ideas, to discussion issues with fellow teachers. There are also very active forums full of other ESL teachers, where you can begin researching the many Chinese employers and locations. It’s also one of the best places to actually find a job, with many Chinese employers using the site to look for tutors.

Before you begin, create yourself a new email address just for ESL job hunting. When you put your advertisement online, you’ll likely receive a lot of spam back to the address – usually all job offers but you’ll find yourself unwittingly put onto various newsletters and the like. I still get them some three years after I put my application up.

You will then want to put together a resume detailing all of your relevant work experience and contact details (Only name, email address etc – don’t include phone number, address– it’s unnecessary at this point). Do NOT be as detailed as a normal resume as you have to remember, the people reading it will likely have very poor English. Include a summary about why you want to teach English overseas (ie your passion for exploring another culture etc), some details about your own style of English – clear, concise talker, patient personality etc etc. List what you currently do for a job, hobbies etc, but keep it simple.  Note down things such as whether you have run any training sessions in your current job too. The other thing I would recommend you do is attach a photograph. As I have posted previously, the fact you look foreign really does make you more appealing.

And then it’s time to actually create a free account on Dave’s and submit your application. Within a few days you should start to see a steady stream of job offers coming in – which means it’s time to start researching them!  Once you’ve thoroughly researched and selected a job, you’re one step closer to your overseas teaching adventure.

Before you actually select a job and enter discussions with the employer there are a range of things you need to consider – far too many for me to cover in this post. Next up I will detail the things you need to look out for, such as contract specifics, locational factors and perks. You really do NOT want to accept a role without knowing as many of these things as possible, so check back soon 🙂

So you were thinking about teaching overseas…

December 7, 2011

If you have ever considered teaching overseas, there’s one piece of advice I would give to you, and as clichéd as it sounds, don’t just think about it, DO it! I cannot emphasize enough how rewarding this experience can be for you – as it was for me. It may feel like an unachievable mountain of a task at first, but the reality is, it really isn’t. With a little commitment and a desire to try something new, you’re on your way to what can be a life changing experience.

You don’t need to be fully qualified to teach overseas, at least, not in China. As long as you are fluent in English and can speak clearly, you’re employable. To the Chinese, the quality of teacher actually plays second fiddle to their appearance. It can bring prestige (face) to a school to play host to foreign teachers, so if you look non-Asian (or more accurately, non-Chinese), you’ve got a big advantage before you even begin. While the above sounds racist; and on some levels it probably is, it’s also the reality.  We are talking about China, and in China, you will learn to expect the unexpected.

Living and working in another country will allow you to explore a culture in a way that is impossible as a holidaying tourist. A country like China will be in many ways, incredibly different to what you are used to back home. Yes you could go work in bars in England, living in a first-world country, speaking English with little to no difficulty, or you could really turn your life upside down in a good way, and live in a place that is absolutely different from your own. The sheer randomness of day to day life, from not knowing what’s around the next corner, to deciphering unknown food packets in a supermarket; it all has addictive qualities!

I was unhappy in my job of six years, and craving change. I didn’t simply want to change jobs, I needed more than that; I felt like I was stuck in a rut. I needed to not only to get out of my comfort zone and be challenged, but a sizable bump to get me out of that rut I had somehow fallen into. My would-be wife was in precisely the same predicament, working in a job she hated; unchallenged and unmotivated. The decision to mix it all up, to go and teach English in China was actually made in the pool of humid Port Douglas, North Queensland. As we floated around in absolute bliss, the suggestion came out of the blue; a suggestion that excited us. We made a commitment that day, and the amazing part for us, was that we actually followed through. We remained focused on the goal, setting mini-milestones, and one year later, we moved to China.

Several years later, I still look back on my time in China as one of the best experiences of my life. Without doubt, it opened my eyes to a different culture, and unknowingly at the time, formed an invisible bond between myself and China. Both of us feel this way, and since returning, our interest in China has been a constant theme in our relationship. This theme has been so dominant that it led us to move to the town of Box Hill; whose population is predominantly Chinese. We have enjoyed being surrounded by what is now a familiar culture, seeking out many of the food discoveries we made while in China.

The other positive to come from our time-out, was definitive career change. Both Courtney and I are now in roles which are not only completely different from what we did before, but much closer to where we want to be. The entire experience was about change, and to that end, we achieved our goal.

Over the coming weeks, I hope to write a whole series of posts regarding teaching in China; from finding a job and day to day living, to what’s just required to get over there.  It is a question I am asked on a semi-regular basis, and it is a topic I always feel passionate about. Ultimately, if by reading these posts I motivate just one person to take the plunge, then that’s good enough for me. And while a return trip is not on my immediate agenda, I absolutely cannot wait to go back.


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