You’re bored with your daily routine. You’re not crazy about anyone that you have to answer to. You’re thinking to yourself, ”I don’t know how much more of this I can take.” You’re constantly online, you see all these pictures of cool people doing cooler things in the coolest places. And then it hits you like an iPhone to the face while you’re in bed texting with your arms out stretched above you, “I’M GOING TO TRAVEL!” But wait (there’s more!), you don’t have much money if any at all. So what do you do? Teach English in China, obviously! Here’s what you need to know about becoming a foreign teacher.
- Native English Speaker (NES)
- Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
Where To Start
If you’re a NES, there’s a job somewhere in China waiting for you. China has a population of roughly 1.4 billion people, a lot of money, and wants ever so badly to add the most commonly spoken language on the planet to its world super power resume. For that reason, China is recruiting foreign teachers at mind boggling rates. Unfortunately, if you’re Anglo-Asian, China shouldn’t be the first place you look. The Chinese are EXTREMELY conscious of appearance. They think foreign looking means higher status, that’s why they’ll pick any and everyone that does not look Asian for a teaching position first, it sucks, but it’s true. More specifically, the lighter the features, the better. Personally, I had no difficulty finding a teaching gig in China. I have a bachelors degree in Sociology and English Literature, I’m a NES, and according to a lot of Chinese people, I’m a “handsome boy.” Who would’ve thought, right? . But if I wasn’t the tall glass of chocolate milk that I am, I may have struggled.
NES, check. Willingness to relocate, of course. How about your resume? Having a solid resume will make your search for a job in China much easier. College/university degrees and/or certificates/diplomas will go a long way in terms of getting you a decent salary. A TESOL certification is a bonus, but you can still land a teaching job with as little as a high school diploma. As I mentioned in another post I got my TESOL certification through Oxford Seminars. At $1000 CAD, they’re definitely overpriced, but they’ve been around for a long time, they’re trusted, the course itself is only 100 hours (60 in class, 40 online), and they have a solid placement program because of their huge network of contacts. The only other thing you need is a clean criminal record and a Google search.
Not All Schools Are Created Equal
A wise man once told me, “there are levels to this …” Truer words have never been spoken. Teaching in China can be broken into 3 major components. Here are the Big Three; private teaching, proper teaching, and cram teaching.
Once in China, you’ll realize how valuable a resource you are. It’s just a matter of connecting with people. Private teaching can be in the privacy of a student’s home, a coffee shop or even your place if you’re open to it. This is the most lucrative teaching method because you can determine your own rates, and parents are more than willing to fork out a few big ones to have their kids learn, this too is linked to appearance. Chinese parents see the act of sending their child to study English with a Westerner as a symbol of being well-to-do. The only draw backs to private teaching is that it’s all done by you, visa, accommodations, you name it. And in a new country, as different as China, that can be a daunting task.
Okay, so “public” is a slightly misleading term. By public, I mean you’re teaching normal hours at public (or sometimes private) schools at the elementary, high school or university level. This is probably the most common teaching set up. Public teaching entails finding a school or connecting with a placement agency/recruiter. Public teachers are usually required to have some form of teaching experience or accreditation in education. It’s not uncommon for public teachers to have their airfare covered by the school and accommodations as well. They may be asked to create their own learning curriculum or just as likely follow one that has been created for them. These positions often go from September to June with China’s National Holiday off in October, Chinese New year (anywhere from 2-6 weeks) off in February and finally summers off, and that is pretty sweet. They will also come with typical job package benefits, health, dental etc. Draw backs to public teaching are that you could spend a lot of time doing teacherish (not a real word) things like; grading, correcting and parent teacher meetings.
Cram teaching, is so called because they take place at language schools, popularly known as “cram schools.” These are schools run by independent school directors, every day Joes like you and I. Students go to cram schools after normal school hours to learn more English since normal schools usually aren’t enough. Any two cram schools can be as different as night and day. They may provide you with a curriculum or tell you “just make the students love English (…Wait, what!?). They may give you a fixed schedule or a variable one. They may want you to actually teach, or simply be Western entertainment and play games, be funny and watch movies with your students. They may be legitimate establishments or scam crams. These schools are open all year long barring national holidays and generally pay less than public schools but when legitimate will cover airfare, accommodations and sometimes transportation.
Show Me The Money
In a perfect world, all things would be free and people would work out of the goodness of their hearts and souls … Alright now back to reality, traveling requires cashflow. When done correctly, you don’t need much, but you need money nonetheless. With private teaching it’s simple, you decide how much you make. On a contract, 6-8 thousand RMB/monthly is the least amount of money you should accept. At the higher end of the contract salary spectrum you can expect to pocket anywhere from 10-15 thousand RMB per month. If you have recognized teaching credentials ie: university degrees of education, or teaching certifications, that’s when you can really line your pockets making north of 25-30 thousand RMB a month. If your salary is on the lower end of the spectrum, make sure your housing, utilities and airfare are taken care of. This is as crucial to your contract as Beyonce was to Destiny’s Child (remember them? yea, me neither.) One major upside to living in China is that the cost of living is way below any western society so the opportunity to save is always there. I’ve routinely saved half or all of my monthly salary.
Actual, Factual, Contractual
Your contract is your bible. It’s the only real tool you have to make sure things go according to plan in your Chinese teaching ventures. Know your contract, love your contract, become one with your contract. Make sure your employer sends you a draft of the contract before accepting/signing it. Take as much time as you need to review your contract THOROUGHLY. If you have any lawyer friends or just plain ol’ smart ones, have them read it over for you. If there is anything you don’t agree with or understand about your contract address it and make sure it is properly explained and agreed upon by both parties. Make sure you keep written proof of the explanations and corrections made to the contract. Upon arrival, review the contract that was shown to you and compare it line by line with the one the employer will ask you to sign. If ever you find your employer in violation of your contract, quote that bad boy verbatim to remind them exactly what was agreed upon. Side note, get video or photos of the apartment you’ll be staying in. There’s nothing worse than showing up in a new country and finding out you live in a farm town, unless you’re into that kind of thing.
Visa; Accepted Everywhere
Okay, I lied. I’m actually referring to the Z class visa. It’s a working permit visa and the only one worth having if you plan on staying in China to teach for 6 or more months. If you’re doing the entrepreneur private teaching thing, you’ll have to arrange to get your own legal documentation. If you’re going to China on contract, your employer should deal with the Chinese end of the visa process for you. Again, do not accept any visa that is not a Z class visa, I mean, unless you’re into deportation and hefty fines for working illegally in the Big C. If your potential employer doesn’t give you that Z class visa, they’re illegitimate, no way around that one. You will of course be expected to deal with the visa process in whichever country you’re from, any costs you stack up should also be reimbursed by your employer. The correct paperwork should be sent to you in your home country, if it isn’t dodge that employer like Neo in the Matrix.
Here’s a summary of what to focus on when negotiating a Chinese teaching contract.
- Who pays for what? This goes for utilities, repairs and maintenance.
- How many hours are you expected to teach? How long is each class?
- How many office hours are you expected to log every week? Are overtime hours paid or unpaid?
- If paid, how much? If you miss class, will you have to do make up hours? Do office hours count towards your salary?
- How much are you getting paid? When are you getting paid?
- What is the method of payment? Raises? Bonuses? Taxes?
- Will you be working in one school or several? How far apart is each school?
- How far is each school from your residence?
5- Class Rules:
- How are the students disciplined? Who is responsible for disciplining them?
- Will there be classroom assistants? What are they responsible for?
- Is there a curriculum? Ask for a copy.
- If no curriculum, what is expected of the student and teacher? What’s the grading scheme?
- You’ll want to build up a library of resources to rely on if no curriculum is provided.
- Aside from teaching, what is expected of you? Promotional work? Charity work?
- Is job training provided? By who? For how long? What does it consist of?
- How is vacation time allotted? Set amount of time or accumulated?
- Paid or unpaid? Ask for a schedule.
- Are allowances for rent, food, travel and other (phone bill) given?
- If so, how much and how often?
11- Benefits: Health insurance? Dental insurance? Liability insurance? Property insurance?
12- Perks: Business opportunities? Travel opportunities?
13- Past experiences: Names of other teachers? Contact information? Testimonials?
Make sure everything is on the up and up, detailed and with simple wording. Leave no room for debate. Follow this guide and you’ll have no problem getting an awesome foreign teacher position in China!
Got a foreign teacher experience to share? Is teaching abroad something you’ve ever considered doing? Drop me a comment right here on the blog or on Twitter [at]DriftAway2015 or like and comment on my Facebook page Drift Away Travel Blog! Let’s talk!