Teaching Venues in China: A Highly Opinionated Overview

  • 6 replies

Raoul F. Duke

  • Lovable Rogue
  • *****
  • 9569
  • "Be specific if you order the mushrooms!"
Teaching Venues in China: A Highly Opinionated Overview
« on: April 23, 2007, 10:45:57 AM »
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!
« Last Edit: September 24, 2012, 05:16:01 PM by Raoul F. Duke »
"Vicodin and dumplings...it's a great combination!" (Anthony Bourdain, in Harbin)

"Here in China we aren't just teaching...
we're building the corrupt, incompetent, baijiu-swilling buttheads of tomorrow!" (Raoul F. Duke)

Re: Teaching Venues in China: A Highly Opinionated Overview
« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2007, 03:35:55 PM »
I would add that, if people can get the work (often you may need either loads and loads of experience teaching adults, or some kind of post-grad diploma in linguistics), EAP teaching appears to be the best-paid form of ESL work in china, with salaries comparable to international schools.

Anyway, my two cents... I've worked in two schools so far, a public primary school and my present place, which is a private school, but run along the lines of the public schools in terms of hols, etc.

Positives and negatives of both...

Public Primary School


- Always paid salary on time, the accommodation was good, they paid all the bills, etc

- Good textbook (they imported it from the UK)

- Assistant for every class.  I don't care what some snotty-nosed posters might claim over at the other place, when you've got 40 Chinese kids whose ability ranges from "Duh", "Ug" and "Shen me yi si", through to very very good, you need an assistant.  Don't let anyone tell you you're a poor teacher because you need an assistant.  It's B.S.  Sometimes they are a necessity, especially when it comes to reading articles etc which have difficult vocab.  You can be the best actor/ESL teacher in the world, but some things still need to be explained by a Chinese teacher/assistant, in my view.

- Good social life.  We lived in a nice flat in the teachers' house, and there were 12 other teachers, all living right near us on campus, so there were always people to talk to.  This proved surprisingly good after having CD Jr, when it became more difficult to go out to bars etc, as there were still always people to see him, get him used to being around people, etc.  at times it was almost like being back at Uni.  And barring one or two exceptions they didn't have too bad a loon rate.  I made a few really good friends at that place, some of whom I still keep in regular touch with even though we have moved on/some are back in the UK etc.  Indeed one is coming to stay in Dalian a bit later this year.

- Good holidays, all but one month of which were paid (it was done on an 11 month contract basis, but there were about 3 months of holidays)


- Terrible organisation.  The phrase involving 'pissups' and 'breweries' was frequently banded about by us lot.

- The random, constant calling of inane, pointless meetings, whose content could easily have been distributed by email.  Furthermore, they were usually, cunningly, organised to take place on the one afternoon we had off.

- The usual not-great pay (4500 to 5500 a month).  Not only that, but they started everyone on 4500 regardless of qualifications.  There was one girl from Canada who was a fully qualified teacher with 10 years experience.  They put her on the same pay as a guy just out of high school without even a first degree.  And then to add insult to injury, they started another guy on 500 more per month because he had some mickey mouse post-grad qualification totally unrelated to teaching.

- Resources.  We had to bring our own paper for the printer, and if we wanted something copying, we had to go via the United Nations Security Council to do it, we weren't allowed to just go and copy stuff ourselves.

- Miserable, unfriendly Chinese teachers, for the most part, who frequently bitched about our 'really high' pay.  Generally they really didn't make us feel welcome.

My current place:


- Nice flat off campus, free

- Public sector holidays/schedule, private sector salary.  Really not complaining here :)

- Much friendlier Chinese office staff, who actually greet you in the morning, sy hello, how are you etc.  This makes a huge difference

- No random pointless meetings.  Indeed since September there has been just one meeting, and that was at the end of last term to ask us what we wanted improving about the school.  We asked for a new printer and better photocopier, whcih were duly provided.

- Health insurance not just for me but for my wife and kid too.


- School textbook could do with a lot of improving.  But we get much more freedom to teach what we want to teach, so this isn't too much of a problem.  I just use the themes from the textbook and teach them my way.

- Social life among the FTs not as good as the other place.  Fewer people around, etc.

- Not having enough to generally bitch about. 
It is too early to say.

Re: Teaching Venues in China: A Highly Opinionated Overview
« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2011, 04:45:39 AM »
Im going to add an opinion here that might be slightly controversial, but I will try and justify it in full.

If you are new to China, and more importantly, new to teaching, hell even if you arent new to teaching...You may want to AVOID the University route. I would find it quite hard to recommend this route to many people if truth be told. I think 90% of the time I would STRONGLY URGE people to try and find the right job in a training centre! I would find it very hard to justify working in a typical Uni setting, and here are my reasons.

Class sizes - I was asked to take an extra student in my class today...and I refused as I said I already have too many students. And I stood by my decision 100%. I had 15 students in my class, and I was not prepared to add student number 16. Its just too many students for effective language teaching (IMO). Now consider many Uni settings, some teachers are lucky to have only 20 students in their class, but many have 30, 40, 50 and I have even heard of bigger classes in some places. Large classes are often impractical for many teaching scenarios, and the admin of getting so many photocopies can be a nightmare! Large classes are typical of Uni and public school settings. In a training centre, the likelihood of small, manageable classes is much higher.

Class contact time. More contact time does equal more prep work, but it also equals a much better chance to closely evaluate student problems, identify and work on weaker areas. Seeing more of your students gives the teacher a better to chance to evaluate his or her own performance too. Do the things you teach work? Are you students making progress? In a class of 10 students you see each day such things can be monitored...in big classes...forget it, its going to be next to impossible to remember their names, let alone notice many issues they have or see their progression.

Training / Monitoring / Support / Feedback. If these things are important to you, and I would assert that they should be important to any teacher regardless of how experienced they are....the fact is you probably wont get any of the above at many public schools or Universities. Many forum members post about how good their job is, because they are just left alone and nobody bothers them. Im not sure this is a good thing, and feedback, observation and support can be a key part of a teachers development. Most teachers dont like being told they talk too much in class, they dont drill enough, etc etc....but this isnt negative feedback, its actually going to help you in the future.

Streamed classes. Again, not so common in a Uni or public school setting. Its quite possible to have a group of students at the front who can communicate most ideas clearly and fluently, and a few students at the back who cant count to 10. Outside the private sector, schools are rarely streamed by ability, and so no matter how good you are....you are likely to only ever be teaching part of the class, rather than all of it. There are ways to combat this of course, but it would be far easy to be in the environment of a training school where students are generally streamed by ability.

Considering further training. Let me assure you....working in a Uni environment isnt going to be great preparation for a CELTA training course. A lot of what you learn in a Chinese Uni will need to be unlearnt to make light work of a CELTA. And if you have a CELTA already....what you learn in a Uni isnt likely to make you a great DELTA candidate! Why? For all the reasons I mention above....Internationally recognised training courses are set up for people who work in the kind of environments that training schools offer, small classes, frequent contact time, streamed by ability.

And a lot of people outside China know this. Tell an employer within EFL, but outside China, that you have been using the Cutting Edge series of books in a language school teaching classes of 6 students 5 times a week....does pique a little interest. Tell them you have been working in your average Chinese Uni with self generated materials doesnt.

If you wanted to learn a language yourself, and you were offered a place in a class with 35 other students and told you werent going to be streamed by ability, and you'd only see your teacher for 90 minutes a week....Id guess that most language learners wouldnt bother. So I kinda think if I wouldnt want to learn a language in that kind of environment, why the hell would I want to teach in it?

All of this is IMO of course, and is based on my own limited experience. I havent worked in a Uni (read enough about them tho!), but I have worked in Middle Schools, Vocational Colleges (which was an alternative to Uni for said students) and training schools. I completed a Trinity Cert TESOL after 18 months in a Chinese vocational college...and had to unlearn what I had learned.

I wont work in classes of more than 20 students ever.
I wont accept seeing students for 90 minutes a week.
I wont accept classes unless they are streamed by ability.
And I am not really happy without any monitoring or observations.

There are good and bad in both...but I feel the teaching is the most important thing, that just has to be right for me to leave my home, my family and my life. Im more likely to find that in a training centre than I am a University or public school setting. 




  • *
  • 494
Re: Teaching Venues in China: A Highly Opinionated Overview
« Reply #3 on: July 06, 2011, 06:17:55 AM »
While I agree with the theory of your post I can't really agree with the reality of teaching in China specifically.
Every teaching venue is a mixed bag, some are good some are truly terrible. I agree with what you are saying from the perspective of a professional teacher, but really the vast majority of people come to China for the experience and don't intend to become a life long EFL teacher.
For the most part if you are looking for that China experience then I would recommend a University each and every time, no weekend work, light schedule, huge vacation schedule and bonding with college students and sharing their lives is very easy and desirable.
However if you are looking for the professional route then it's a little more complicated of an affair.
I agree that the conditions in a private school that you describe are ideal, but that's probably what they are: idealistic.
The hard learned truth learned by most veterans after a few years in is that 95% of private schools are simply and only out for the students money and to squeeze as much work out of a FT as possible.
If you can find that diamond in the rough, that has all those qualities that you listed then that's the school for you (as a professional teacher) and you should stick to it like glue.
My class sizes are large and average about 25-30 students a class, I find it challenging sometimes to reach all of them and often fall short of the mark. But really there is a good shot at reaching most of them and if a student improves their English throughout the semester then I'm happy with that.
I see my students once a week for 90mins at a time and I do wish that I had some more time with some selected classes, but I also know that my students see me once a week and another FT once a week as well. Also don't count out the Chinese teachers, some are terrible but there are some really excellent ones at the Universities, as a lot of the younger generation are BA and MA holders that have returned to China from abroad. Most Chinese teachers at private schools I've met have an English major degree from a run of the mill Chinese Uni and are generally of a poor quality when it comes to teaching.

Monitoring can be a blessing or a curse, depending on who is doing the monitoring, I've had little feedback from my University and this makes me feel adrift at times. As a personal bonus it allows me to practice in a real life setting the theory I learn from my masters in Linguistics.
All the training school part time jobs I've had the full time staff are monitored by Chinese employees in management positions that they only acquired because they are friends or relatives with the person that hired them and use the monitoring to criticize teachers on practices they know little or nothing about other than "the students don't seem to be having fun, you are a bad teacher" etc

Streamed classes would be a blessing I have to admit, this is where I think the University system fails the hardest. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to have 6 bored advanced students sit in with a bunch of beginners while you have to cater to the majority and provide work that suits the class as a whole.
The students are streamed but not in a way that benefits your class, it's based upon their other classes and judged by a grade level not just by major or class.
However in private schools money rules and progress drools  ahahahahah the idea of streamed classes is a great benefit in theory but in practice in most places if the student wants to be in on that class then they will be as they are the ones keeping the lights on so often they will tell the school what level they are and insist. Reality be damned  llllllllll

Finding the right private school that is actually licensed and accredited can be a real pain in the arse.
Private schools can also change at the drop of a hat, the wrong incompetent butthole comes along and ruins a good school, sometimes a good one comes along that really want to take it seriously and the balance shifts. It's luck of the draw sometimes.
Finding that one in one hundred that takes its job seriously and is not just another private training mill is a journey that burns out a lot of people. The same can be said for finding a good University that you can call home.
It's been said a few times before here and other places that you will rarely find a job that is all good and no bad, the thing is what you can live with and still be comfortable.

As for learning a language, I remember back at University in my home country when I learnt Japanese our class was about 20-25. We had lectures and tutorials that were learner based and the responsibility was on us to learn and not hang off the teacher.
They also threw us into mixed classes with the Japanese students for exchange and I can still speak decent Japanese to this day. A lot of the Universities here teach Chinese in a similar fashion and it seems to work well with the international students here at my Uni. I just wish we had a pool of native English speakers to do the same for my students.

Having said all that I am moving across to a private school once the summer has ended to teach some IELTS and exam prep so we will see how the dice roll on that particular scenario in time.
"I don't understand what I did wrong except live a life that everyone is jealous of." Charlie Sheen.

Re: Teaching Venues in China: A Highly Opinionated Overview
« Reply #4 on: July 06, 2011, 07:56:54 AM »
And again, I have to agree with most of what you have written too. University work offers many benefits too, but I believe these mostly lie outside the class in the way of lower class hours and longer holidays. Ultimately there are plenty of bad Uni jobs just as well as bad training centre jobs.

It is going to be specific to the individual of course, but for me a good training centre will beat a good Uni hands down in the classroom stakes, and thats the key consideration for me.

I do have quite a good training school employer in the UK (which is where I am now) and they give me small (not more than 15 students) who are streamed by ability...I have a good Chinese employer who I will return to in a few months and I get smaller classes there (typically 6 adult students) again streamed by ability.

I think my advice is something new teacher should read. Being thrown into a classroom and told 'just speak English and keep the students happy', as I was in a public school is a baptism of fire for some...and made things a lot harder for me when I did training much later, and worked in more demanding environments later.



  • *
  • 7
  • Never knew pigs are so adorable, #nobeasto.
Re: Teaching Venues in China: A Highly Opinionated Overview
« Reply #5 on: November 13, 2014, 11:44:48 PM »
Read this advice with a broken heart. For a teacher starting out, a Uni sounds wonderful but well, almost impossible to get with no experience especially if your age is not above 25. I might slave through a language mill the experience.
Feels like I have to ship myself to a language mill. :(

Re: Teaching Venues in China: A Highly Opinionated Overview
« Reply #6 on: November 14, 2014, 01:48:50 AM »
Keep in mind, this post was written by our departed Raoul in 2007. A lot of things have changed here. Are uni jobs still the holy grails that they once were? I admit to being totally out of touch with the uni scene but I'm not sure that is really true any longer. Also, new players have emerged some models have changed (international schools/programs like the one I work for are a far cry from the foundation programs of old. Do those even exist anymore?). Test prep is huge. Kiddy English seems to be less so.

It would be interested if someone did an updated version for 2014 but I don't really have the time or motivation myself.