After graduating from Manchester in the summer of 2012, like many I was a little lost in what I wanted to do and what lay ahead. I had no intention of continuing with a career related to my Neuroscience degree and saw moving abroad as an attractive option. China seemed like a great choice as I wanted to see first-hand its continuing development and changing role in the world. I had a burning desire to find out what the real China is like and saw moving here as the only way to find my answers.
I found my first job teaching in China from my bedroom in London. Through the use of Google it is very easy to put your profile out there for schools in China to find. I had several Skype interviews for jobs in Nanjing and Wuxi before finally accepting a job at a training center in Shanghai. I attended a weekend TEFL course in Wimbledon in order to fit the necessary criteria to enter China as a foreign teacher. A TEFL certificate is a must now for those who wish to teach in China. Courses range from 20 to over 100 hours of classes in order to obtain a certificate. As you would imagine, the longer courses hold more authority in your visa and work permit application process.
The changing visa and work permit regulations now require those teaching in China to have at least 2 years of experience in order to legally work in China’s tier 1 cities. At the time of my arrival, many teachers stayed in China on the then 6 month business visas. This however is detrimental to your future prospects of finding a job as the presence of these business visas counts against you for any future applications. These visas have since been removed from service however similar business visas are still obtainable, however I would only recommend this as a short term solution to your troubles. You should be looking to get off them as soon as possible.
If you want to start teaching in China without any experience then don’t fear, there are still many schools who will be happy to take you on. Native English speaking teachers are a precious commodity here and are the life blood to training centers. Many can use their government connections to get your visa application through. Aspiring teachers should however be careful when they are considering this process. I would highly recommend that you familiarize yourself with the different options available to you, as it might be the difference between your continued Chinese adventure and an early flight home.
Teaching in China is not without its perks. Since my arrival I found the life to merely be a continuation of my social university lifestyle. Only working evenings and weekends affords you a lot of free time to enjoy the city and make new friends in the international community. Living expenses and the additional costs from your night time adventures can be very cheap and we all sought to exploit this to the full. However I quickly found that partying the night into the next mornings A,B,C’s is not necessarily a smart move. Be warned, teaching without a full night’s sober sleep is worse than anything you can imagine.
I would say that teaching in China provided me with an excellent platform to help me learn Chinese. Whilst you should try and use as little Chinese in the classroom as possible in order to aid the children’s learning, there are inevitable many times when you must flip between languages in order to get the meaning across. Children are also an excellent source of conversation for beginner to intermediate level Mandarin learners as they will speak in a more simplified manner. Listening to your Teachers Assistants communicate with the children is also an excellent way to improve your skills. Here is a list of phrases that will help you navigate when teaching in China.
上课- shàngkè – to start class
下课- xiàkè – to finish class
安静- ānjìng – be quiet
听好- tīnghǎo – listen
打开书- dǎkāishū – open your books
合上书- héshàngshū – close your books
举手 – jǔshǒu – hand’s up
站起来- zhànqǐlai – stand up
坐下来- zuòxiàlai – sit down
There are many different options to you when it comes to selecting a job as an English teacher in China. Many of us start at training centers. These are private schools that provide classes for after school and office hours on evenings and weekends. Your working hours can range from anything between 80-100 hours per month. I have found that typically salaries can start at around 10,000 RMB per month for novice teachers and rise to about 16,000 RMB for those with more experience. For those with more experience, the International Schools and Universities become a career option to you later down the line. Here you can venture to new horizons and teach literature, maths and the sciences depending on your educational background. Naturally employment at such institutions commands greater salaries and stricter hiring processes. The third option for those established in China is freelance. You can work minimal hours for a training center who will provide you with a visa, then organize your own time accordingly with private tutorials for anywhere between 200-400 RMB an hour. Whilst freelance is an attractive option, it comes with all the associated risks.
My final advice is on the exit strategy. Successfully leaving the teaching world and establishing yourself at a company in China is easier said than done. Companies are encouraged to hire local graduates over foreigners and must prove to the immigration department what assets you offer over local hires. I had to undertake a 6 month internship at a recruitment company with the prospect of employment in order to prove myself and earn a job. This meant a 7 day working week as I was still a full time teacher at the time. Needless to say this was extremely grueling and not something I would recommend unless there is no other option available to you. Another route you can take is that of the expat employee, where foreign companies hire you to be one of their representatives in China. This obviously is hard to come by as companies will only go through the significant cost of your accommodation, travel and tax exemption benefits if you are really worth it.
So this is the sum of my 2 years and counting of experience teaching in China. Now by day I run a small team in the same recruitment company where I did the internship. By night I am the Co-founder of The Chairman’s Bao. I can confidently say that moving to China was one of the best decisions I ever made.