For the last two years, I’ve been a fellow for Teach for China (美丽中国) in Guangdong, China where I taught 1st – 5th graders English and Music.
China is too big to be summarized by the word “China”. This is true about all countries and every place ever. From where you are right now, if you move ten minutes in any direction, you are in a whole new world. This is similar to how your neighbour’s home will look and feel very different from your own. It’s true about appearances, cultures, behaviours and lifestyles. I write this so that you keep in mind how subjective the opinion presented in this article is, and use it as intended – as some guidance on how to think about Teaching in China. Moving here is a big decision that should be based on multiple factors, and immigrating to a new country is not for the feint-hearted. China offers great opportunities for those interested in teaching English in China. The English language market has been growing fast in China, and many new positions are becoming available.
Teaching English in China, is a different experience depending on where you teach. Typically teaching in China will take place at language training schools, public schools, International schools. Teachers entering into these Chinese teaching jobs can expect a competitive salary, which includes a variety of benefits, depending on the type of school and located cites.English teachers, especially native speakers with a TESOL or TEFL certificate, work only a few hours per week and earn quite well in China: about 12,000 RMB/month (about 2000 USD) in second-tier towns and even 16,000 RMB/month in Shanghai or Beijing(with benefits such as living arrangements, VISA and health insurance paid for, and even a flight home every year if you play your cards well). Keep in mind that TESOL or TEFL online certificates are not considered as good as the ones obtained in a classroom. In urban big-city China, your goal is mainly to help the urban elites progress towards applying to the best colleges in the world, and ensuring that they are ready and prepared for the inevitable integration between the West and East.
Teaching English, for me, in my small village in Chaonan was more about providing kids with an environment to practice their English outside the classroom. This was because nothing in their environment gave them this extra exposure apart from the fact that a foreigner had somehow stumbled into their world. You definitely cannot get paid for teaching in a small unknown part of China nearly as much as the bigger cities but if its adventure and experience you seek, then that is the way to go. Just don’t expect any savings, and a variety of friends. Village life is slower, kinder, and gentler but perhaps better suited for retirement than people in their twenties who have grown up in large cities.
As far as the teaching goes, NGO teaching will contain much less guidance while teaching in the big city will contain far too much structure. In Teach For China, I was left with a little bit of training but mostly to my own devices to figure out how to teach. From my discussions with people in training centers in bigger cities, it seems that there is a lot more guidance and training here which isn’t ideal if you prefer a more creative approach to teaching but is ideal if you prefer goal and target oriented work. What I’m presenting here is not the absolute division that creative teaching jobs cannot be found in the city and goal oriented jobs cannot be found in the smaller parts of China. Instead, it is just a general guideline on where to look based on the kind of teaching job you seek.
Even though demand for foreigners is extremely high right now, I recommend being competent in Mandarin to the HSK level 2 and near HSK level 3 standard. This is because otherwise, you might be distracted from your teaching job with some of your focus going into dealing with a different culture, and learning the language. Early exposure to the language will mean a smoother transition to Chinese culture, and hence make you a better and more effective teacher.
Overall, the best part about Teaching English in China is getting to be on the brink of this culture clash, which is so unique to our generation. Everyone today, and especially young people on the Chinese, and Western sides both seem to be excited about engaging. And for me, being Indian makes it even more interesting. I see the immense partnership between the USA and China blossoming and cannot help but wonder, how India fits into this puzzle.