ESL Teaching Guide - China

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Karen - June 2004

I am currently in Dalian, China. For me, China was not a good choice--I love the history of China but the Cultural Revolution destroyed so much of that, and also, I picked a place recommended to me by my students--it is on the coast next to Korea, but there isn't any thing to do here. I think better would have been in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu or several of the more better cities. Dalian is the cleanest and least polluted city in China and has about 6 million people but there isn't any music, art, culture, etc, The Chinese only work and study. Period. Also, China is dirty--everything smells of sewage in the summer (I just read that less than 10% of waste is treated), and it is unbelievably polluted. Also you cannot often trust the schools to do what they say.

I work for a relatively good school but it has really "ripped off" most of its former teachers. I will better know how they will treat me when my bonus is due! One of the good points is they provide housing, and some of your visa costs. The foreign teacher pays for most of the visa costs (your foreign expert card and your residence visas are two distinct things), and your utilities. The schools rarely have Internet usage for teachers (which European schools all offer), and no medical insurance or care (which all European schools offer and also they have workman's comp, social insurance, etc--In Prague I had 4 major surgeries and took my regular medications and it was FREE)...not so in China. There is available "Western" medicine and also TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) and you can get what would be prescription drugs without prescriptions at the pharmacies. However, the medicine is adequate at best. I assume it would be better in Beijing and Shanghai, Guangzhou etc where there are many European foreigners, but in other areas, you might not find much.

The standard of living is adequate and the cost of living is low. The pay in most schools is okay--in mine it would be okay, but they hold out 1/5th as "caution fee"--meaning they hold part of your pay to keep you from quitting after you find out how grueling the work is!! Also they offer a completion bonus and yet some contracts say, "up to" 10,000RMB....and then sometimes you can't get it at all., China is not a reliable place to work. Many I am sure don't have any problems, but many, many people do. You should expect the worst, and then be happy if it doesn't happen.

The hardest part about most Chinese schools is the work schedule. Weekends and year around. If the public schools are not in session, the kids are in English school. We work weekends, nights and some parts of holidays...depending on what the school thinking the kids will do. AND mostly you teach 5-14 year olds. Also your schedule can change overnight since the management changes what is being offered by what the public schools and the government does. This is rather disconcerting especially when you are from North America or Europe.

Also VERY few classes are of adults and very few Chinese can speak much English. Even the teachers who graduate from the Foreign Language University have a poor command of the language in use. Most have never spoken with anyone who actually SPEAKS English--their professors and teachers in public school usually learned from books and can say most rote things, but really cannot truly communicate. At my school, I teach the Chinese teachers class! We are one of the few schools that actually offers such to their teachers and I think it is great. It is the best class I teach--and the most rewarding. Not rote recitation from a book to children; so I do appreciate my school since they know the teachers need to have some real practical practice and advanced conversation.

When my contract is up here, I will leave China happily. I have enjoyed my stay and I love my little flock of Chinese teachers I work with and have had two great Canadians to be my source of English but the lack of any activities besides work is a killer. The Chinese, as I said, only work or study. They personally do not do any travel, any sport, any going to music or movies or plays or....well, they work or study and that is all.

Female Teacher (anon.) - May 2004

I am teaching at a private school called South Ocean School.

The positive aspects of my current teaching job: there are about 5 S.O.S. in China. It does not have the best reputation, but it works for me. The school is 13 km. from Kunming, which means clean air, places to hike and quiet. Last year I was outside of Chengdu = polluted, crowded and noisy.

Salary 4300 + 300. per week extra for Myanmar classes. Course load 21 - 40 min. classes per wk. In this area, that is a very good salary. The Chinese teachers make around 1200. per month. I receive airfare return, + 1200. per term travel advance, plus the required severance pay ( can't remember what it is) I pay 4% income tax on all monies over 4000. Accommodation: very good.

The negative aspects: Last term I taught kinder - gd. 3. I finally got the administrator to stream the classes and assure me an English/Chinese teacher in every class, which resulted in a very positive term - I was happy and the students went forward. Class size 32 max. Course load - 25 classes per week.

This term I am teaching Gd. 9-12 + 2 advanced Myanmar classes. This is not a positive experience: the classes are multilevel, and many of the Ss don't care - their parents are very wealthy and the Ss are not going on to university. The weak Ss pull the level of each class down. The Myanmar Ss are keeping me sane. They are very good Ss. Class size 36 max.

Overall - I get along well with all the Chinese/Eng. Teachers, although, this term they often have to be reminded to come into my classes, although I don't really need them in the higher grade classes, so it doesn't matter, but they are supposed to attend.

Evaluation: All the foreign teachers are evaluated once per term. As the best teacher here, according to the evaluation, I then had to do a demo class for the other foreign teachers.

Curriculum: I use the books the Chinese/Eng. teachers teach from, and adapt it to my own lesson plans. I do a lot of group activities and try to motivate the Ss with interesting material because, as I said before, they are not interested in learning English, or anything else, for that matter.

I have lived overseas for many years, so I do not have problems adjusting. I have taught 12 years in other countries.

Suggested Reading

Lonely Planet China (China, 8th Ed)
Lonely Planet South East Asia on a Shoestring
Lonely Planet Beijing (LONELY PLANET BEIJING)
National Geographic Traveler China
Chinese in 10 Minutes a Day

Olyvia Wangsa - May 2004

I am from Indonesia and am currently teaching at Wanli International School, Ningbo, China.

The positive aspect of my current teaching job is that my colleagues are friendly and helpful. The negative aspects....The size of the classroom is too big to teach a language and there is no teaching materials available at the school.

The wages is RMB 3,500 in addition to return airfare, and free accommodation. Basically the salary is enough for the living cost and you might be able to save some for travelling. I hope this information helps.

Chris Hourigan - May, 2003

I have spent a year in Hangzhou studying and teaching part-time. There is plenty of work here for native teachers and a way to make good money is to work for several schools on an hourly rate, last summer in august I earned $2000 as I was so busy with summer courses, any visa will do and a school will supply a work visa if you go full time. Salary can be up to 10000 rmb per month on a years contract but you will need to rent an apartment at approx. 1500 rmb per month. Any questions, my e-mail is Hangzhou is said to be the best for living in China, it has a good size city and plenty of country walks and places of interest nearby including the famous west lake

Narelle Milligan - March, 2003

When applying for China teaching, make sure the school you are going to is registered with the Province Education Commission. Most difficulty at present is in the private sector where salaries are not being paid at times, accommodation is not as promised & conditions are poor.

Some of the recruiters for China are "sharks" - beware before you commit to a year's teaching. Higher than usual salaries are often at the expense of class sizes and working conditions. Check the websites carefully including teach-in-china and

China Page Two - First Stop for Your Second Language Needs
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