I hope we will start to get some people reading this stuff while still at home and considering coming here, so let me lay down my rant about the places available to teach in. You've probably heard that the business here is awash with unscrupulous and deceptive practice, but rest assured...the reality can be a lot worse than you've heard. Please take anything a school tells you with an enormous grain of salt until it is proven, and until you've had some experience with the school's management.NEVER use a recruiter to find a teaching job in China. 99.9999% of them ain't nothin' but a bunch of mangy dogs. Unscrupulous, and for most people unnecessary. It's embarrassingly easy for most people to find a job here. Especially a bad job...which is what most recruiters are hustling. If you can't deal with or talk to someone directly at the school, walk away. For further discussion of this, try http://raoulschinasaloon.com/index.php?topic=6827.0
Big-picture general rule: stay the hell away from the chain English mills in China, especially Kids Castle, AES and EF. This applies to nearly all chain schools here. The local reality can run the gamut from outstanding to excruciating. Who your local school's owners and managers are will make all the difference in the world.
While they certainly aren't foolproof either, your best chance of a happy experience in this country seems to lie in teaching for universities. Unis in China generally rank near the bottom of the pay scale, oddly enough, but highest in terms of employee satisfaction with the experience. While the pay is low, the hours are also typically low too, so you can more easily supplement your income with part-time work and private lessons. Many schools will give you some overtime work that can also help bolster the salary. If the students are good and the administration is reasonably honest, teaching in a uni can be a delight. However, a number of unis have pretty poor students, brought about at least in part by a corrupt administration that will change grades and grant degrees in exchange for a bribe, removing much incentive to take classes seriously. This is a pretty frustrating and farcical situation to be caught in.
Next in the food chain are public schools. They are indeed a monkey house of surly teens and grubby adolescents...Personally, I strongly suspect that the design concept of Hell is based around a Chinese middle school. However, they are relatively regulated and therefore a bit less likely to screw you over. Students in these schools are pretty heavily regimented, and foreigners working alongside Chinese teachers will probably encounter relatively few behavior problems. However, foreign teachers working solo in this environment can quickly find their hands more than full. IMHO the sector to target here is kindergarten- the kids are still young enough to be sweet and fun, and the curriculum is too simple even for Chinese administrators to screw up too much. Like unis, public schools tend to offer lower salaries and hours, allowing for a certain amount of outside work. This is probably the largest employment segment for teachers in China, and the easiest place to find work. Many people can thrive happily in this environment; I am not one of them myself. Note that because demand for teachers in this sector tends to far outstrip supply, a lot of public schools turn to recruiting agencies to help them cover their load. Many, many horror stories have come from these arrangements, and it is strongly recommended that you avoid them. Make sure you are dealing directly with the school, and working directly for the school.
In either of the above venues you should be aware of and prepared for the ways and standards of Chinese mainstream education. In general, it sucks ass probably beyond your ability to imagine. Public schools, for the kids, are a 12-year, 7-days-a-week, 18-hours-a-day Twilight-Zonish Hell Dimension of relentless, unquestioning rote memorization. After that experience, the college students are thoroughly burned out and will tend to spend their class times reading newspapers, playing on mobile phones, and having loud, casual conversations among themselves. Grades and degrees are typically commodities to be bought and sold like a pound of rice...especially at the university level and in non-public programs.
The muck at the bottom of the barrel is composed of private English schools. Long, hard days, mostly spent teaching rich, spoiled, undisciplined, unmotivated kids. Dodgy curricula of questionable value even by Chinese standards. Corrupt, unscrupulous, incompetent management who will offer you less respect and consideration than they would give a dog....and do not be lulled into believing Western owners/managers here are necessarily any different. They can quite often be even WORSE
. This sector tends to offer much better pay than the mainstream institutions, but it also presents far and away your best chance of being screwed over. The larger cities have private schools that cater only to adults- if the administration is at least decent these can provide a considerably more pleasant place for you to work. The pay tends to be higher, the hours shorter, and the toll on your nervous system much less.
Be sure and be extra wary of "foundation programs" and other alternatives/gateways to university education abroad or at home. The students tend to be too stupid and/or unmotivated to pass the rigorous Chinese university admission exams, AND rich enough to buy their way into a program such as this. It's an ugly, ugly combination. In addition, although they may offer university-type classes or even a full university degree, and although they may have some involvement from a real foreign or Chinese university, these are ultimately private institutions with the same potential for corruption and abusive treatment as any other private school. Quite often these are foreign-sourced programs taught through local institutions. Some of the PROGRAMS here seem to be pretty much legit- but the SCHOOLS you'll work in every day are still in the hands of the local owners- and a lot of them are real scumbags.
I know I'm painting a pretty dark picture here, but IMHO the overall picture here really IS pretty dark. Are there exceptions to the things I've described here? Of course there are. But they are still few and far between in this country. To be fair, some of the problems of teaching in this country have been brought on by the foreign teachers themselves. Normal people from Western countries don't come here to live and work, at least not as teachers...we're all at least a little weird. It can be good weird, or it can be bad weird....but we're all weird one way or another. (For one thing, we're a lot braver than average...) Some real nutcases have come here to teach English, and a lot of schools have been burned. It's forgiveable for the schools to try and protect themselves. However, an awful lot of horrors have been inflicted by school owners/managers here, and most of them can't be covered by any excuse I can think of.
One alternative option is teaching Business or Industry-Specific English on-site in various offices, factories, and businesses. These gigs can sometimes be found on both a freelance basis, and through some schools. The students tend to be highly-motivated adults who already have decent basic English skills. The pay can be quite good, and as a rarer commodity you are slightly less prone to be ripped off. But there aren't as many of these jobs, and getting them often requires more specialized education and business/industry experience....plus some experience teaching, most likely in the slime pits described above. Worst of all, if you're doing this work freelance, it's EXTREMELY unstable. Contracts can come, and vaporize, in the blink of an eye. It's very, very difficult indeed to make a full-time living of this in anything but the largest cities...and even there you'll have to hustle hard to keep enough business in your pipeline. Also note that if you're working these jobs on your own, make sure you can get paid directly, in cash. Many businesses want to pay to a Tax Invoice, which means a huge ordeal and a nasty tax bite for you.
I still firmly believe that teaching in China can be an incredibly rewarding and wonderful experience. There ARE good schools here and there ARE good students. Just be careful. Walk into this place with your eyes wide open...
Barflies, please amplify!