Teaching English in China won't get you rich, but it's guaranteed to provide you with an exceptional opportunity to experience the Chinese culture, to travel, make friends, learn some Mandarin, and also provide you with a means to live abroad for an extended length of time. Interested? If you're between the ages of 18 and 60, in relatively good health, flexible and adventurous, the prospects of landing a teaching job will be, in most cases, easier than you would think.
Presently, there are over 400 million Chinese learning English due to the government's push to make English its second language. Universities, colleges, grade schools through high schools all have their English departments, and they are always in search of native English speakers to add to their faculty. In addition, there are legions of privately owned English language institutions continuously on the lookout for hiring English teachers for either daytime or evening courses. And finally, China hosts nearly a hundred international schools that serve the expatriate communities, and English is the language of choice at most of these schools.
Before you pack your bags and catch the next freighter to Shanghai, it would be prudent to investigate your full options online. Pay and benefits widely differ, depending upon as many factors as toiletries you'll be tucking into your duffel bag. Salaries range from US $300. per month at small colleges and peak at $30,000-40,000 per year at international schools, depending upon your experience and teaching certifications. Almost all of the schools provide their foreign English teachers with tax free salaries, free accommodations, airfares, and basic health insurance. Teaching contracts range from 3 months to 2 years.
Why the huge range in salaries and benefits?
It largely depends upon the type of school in which you are seeking employment. It also depends upon your qualifications and skills.
The cream of teaching prospects in China would be the international schools. Most of them were established during the past ten years and were founded by western corporations desiring to offer their expatriate employees a school for their children to attend as they are living abroad. International schools allow families to continue living together when one or both parents are asked to come to China in order to further their employer's business interests. Conversely, the presence of international schools make that city an attractive prospect for investment by foreign companies seeking to locate and invest in China.
Typically, parents of children in international schools are technical, general or financial managers who remain overseas for 2-5 years. The international schools allow the children of these families to reintegrate without difficulty into their home country education system. Many of the schools offer an American, Australian or British education.
Most of these schools offer a great salary and benefit package, a comfortable apartment that is rent-free, and flight and shipping reimbursements. For the most part, salaries are competitive with what teachers would earn at home, yet due to the low cost of living in China and the exclusion of tax deductions, teachers can live very well! International schools seek professional educators with teaching certificates and experience; some prefer teaching couples, but that varies. Husband and wife teams can easily sock away one of the spouse's full earnings and even more, all the while experiencing travel and adventure.
If you're a licensed teacher looking for good pay and professional growth, I encourage you to investigate online the numerous international schools in China and query their headmasters as to what teaching positions will be open in the near future. But don't wait until spring to begin searching. Most international schools expect their teachers to notify them in January regarding contract signing for the following year. A director of an international school will most likely know what positions need to be filled for the next school year already in January of the current year.
If you're interested in teaching at an international school, there are several organizations that screen and recommend candidates to teach abroad. You should register with one or more of these organizations. They will process your application materials and present your credentials to schools with opportunities to teach in China. Generally a candidate wishing to teach abroad registers with the agency and completes a series of forms, which, together with confidential recommendations from former supervisors, make up the candidate's file. These files may be forwarded to schools that require candidates for specific positions teaching overseas.
Throughout the year, these organizations host recruitment fairs for teaching overseas in various parts of the world, which bring together the schools and the candidates for several days of interviewing. Once registered, the candidate who wants to teach abroad has the option to attend one or more of the recruitment fairs being held by the agency. These may be attended by as few as 20 international schools or as many as 120. The ratio of candidates to schools can be anywhere from 1:3 to 1:6, although in recent years the number of candidates has dwindled while the number of schools in attendance has increased - all good news for the international candidate interested in teaching in China or elsewhere.
These job fairs are usually intense, three-day events where the agency will match the needs of the schools to candidates' qualifications for teaching abroad. If a specific school is interested in your candidacy, you will be called for an interview. One clear advantage in attending a recruitment fair is that most candidates manage to be interviewed by representatives of at least three or four overseas schools. Moreover, many schools fill a significant portion of their international teaching jobs with candidates they have interviewed at a recruitment fair.
If you're not a licensed teacher, there are still many opportunities for landing a job teaching in China. As mentioned before, Chinese schools are always seeking native English speakers, and having few or no credentials usually isn't a set-back. Again, many schools will provide you with a comfortable apartment, health insurance, a tax-free salary, and a reimbursed plane ticket.
You may choose to make arrangements through a language and culture exchange program that acts as a recruiting agency and offers training, travel assistance and networking opportunities. Your teaching salary would fall between 3,000 to 6,000. RMB ($350.-$700. USD) per month, depending upon your education and experience, which would put your earnings far above the average Chinese teacher's salary of 1,000. RMB ($120. USD) per month. With your basics covered, such as accommodations and medical insurance, you can live fairly comfortably if you shy away from western restaurants and shopping at pricey department stores.
For the do-it-yourselfers out there, you may wish to already be in China while you're looking for a teaching position. Bring application materials with you. You can enter China with an "L" Tourist Visa. These 3 month visas can often be obtained via a travel agency or through a Chinese Embassy or Consulate and usually cost between $30. to $50. USD. Since you're buying a tourist visa, it is advised that you don't mention that you will be working in China. Once you have secured a teaching position, the school or university will exchange your tourist visa for a "Z" one year working visa and a Residence Permit and take care of the necessary paperwork.
Before you hit the pavement in search of a teaching gig in China, it's best you understand the fundamentals of the Chinese education system. There are major differences in education between government and private schools and they may or may not effect your decision as to where you wish to seek employment.
The first and most important distinction between government and private schools and education institutions is that the best institutions that attract the brightest Chinese students are nearly always government owned and operated. In China, there is often a great deal of prestige attached to attending the best government schools, colleges and universities. Private schools and institutions, on the other hand, cater to China's new rich. They are generally perceived in China as being for students who have the money but not necessarily the brains.
Government teaching jobs give you quite a lot of flexibility, and usually only require you to teach fifteen to twenty hours per week; private schools have less bureaucracy and may offer better benefits and performance incentives. The next most important distinction between government and private schools is that teaching contracts usually stipulate in one form or another that extra private teaching and tutoring is not allowed, but the fact remains that there is a chronic shortage of quality English teachers in China, and if a foreign teacher wants to engage in private teaching outside of his or her existing duties, there is not much a school can and will do about it.
I believe I've covered the basics; the bottom line is this: If you are a foreign teacher in China, even if your wage is only 3000 RMB per month, you are still making almost triple the monthly wage of the average Chinese teacher. Plus you have your accommodations, health coverage and flights paid for. Combined with the low cost of living, it is easy to make and save money and have a great experience teaching in China.
Timothy Green is the co-author of SPEAK E-Z CHINESE In Phonetic English. You can find fun and easy Mandarin lessons, as well as great travel and culture tips about China at The Cathay Cafe.