While many people are looking to China for employment opportunities during difficult economic times, there are numerous jobs for teachers of English as a foreign language (EFL) across the country. There are agencies and Web sites dedicated to helping job seekers find the school that fits his or her credentials.
Before embarking on a serious job search for EFL positions in China, there are some things aspiring teachers should consider. These can be just as important as what city or town to live in or whether or not the employer is reputable.
Chinese schools run on their own schedule. Most hiring occurs during the first few months of summer as the school year winds down in July. This is when schools know how many foreign teachers will stay on for the following year. This doesn’t mean one can’t apply for jobs at other times of the year when job ads are posted, but don’t expect a response until the school is ready. There are occasionally openings between the fall and spring semesters, which is before Spring Festival in January/February. The exceptions to this are training centers-they don’t have semesters and thus have openings to fill throughout the year.
There are vast differences between public and private schools. Due to the hukou residency system in China, most children of migrant families must attend private schools. Only local students may attend the public schools (though some local governments have altered laws). The public schools, especially in cities, provide the best education for the students. Private schools are licensed through the government, but are generally more concerned with money and reputation than education. The campus of a private school is more likely to appear more appealing because the administration invests a lot of money in appearances. In most private schools, EFL teachers are little more than entertainers for students. It is not uncommon for foreign teachers to have their students’ grades altered to ensure that the parents are satisfied with the results. Pay is also different in public and private schools-public schools will usually have lower salaries but better teacher support.
Training centers operate in a similar manner as private schools. These centers may specialize in teaching children, adults or companies. The number of teaching hours per week is usually similar to private schools, but with less paperwork. However, their classes are later in the day, sometimes lasting until 10 pm. The pay is almost always better in a training center-the low end of training center salaries is about 8000 RMB per month, but can reach 15,000 RMB or more depending on the company and location.
Kindergartens are run as educational daycare centers in cities across China. Most will hire at least one foreign teacher. The teaching hours are much lighter in kindergartens as classes are very short. Most foreign teachers at a kindergarten will only work a few hours a day with little to no paperwork. And the salaries are on par with training centers.
Not all university teaching jobs are created equal. Just like the public and private schools, universities have their own ways of working. Most universities in major cities insist on employing foreign teachers with a minimum of a master’s degree. Because there are very few established universities in China, new campuses have been constructed in the outskirts of cities, making it difficult for students and faculty to enjoy the perks of city life in China. Many universities in smaller cities will pay EFL teachers less than private schools in the area. The top-tier universities will offer much better salaries for qualified teachers, especially if those teachers can teach more than just English.
Foreign licensed teachers have the best options. Teachers who are licensed in their home countries can apply for job at international schools that are accredited by foreign education departments. These schools don’t hire many EFL teachers; they focus their attention on hiring teachers for other subjects, like math, science and history. Most students at these schools are children of expatriates from various countries. The salaries of international schools generally start at $40,000 per year. There are also Chinese private schools that add “international” to their name in the hopes of attracting more students, but they may not be internationally accredited.