by Damon L. Hansen, MA
For years I dreamed about admiring the Great Wall of China and seeing the Terracotta Army and visiting the city of Lhasa to gaze up the Dalai Lamas’ golden coffins adorned with jewels and emeralds and rubies. However, there were numerous considerations, I had to resolve before taking the plunge moving to the other side of the planet. Now that I’ve lived in China four years and have experienced many schools and three cities (Shanghai, Xi’an, and Hangzhou), I figured it was time I passed on my advice to those considering coming to teach English in China. Here’s my advice on how to choose where to teach, how to not get deported, and how to save money.
With regards to choosing where to teach, the first step is to evaluate your resume/CV and know which teaching jobs you are and aren’t eligible for. Most teachers without a teaching licensed that allows them to teach in their home country either work for a Chinese public school or an English trainng company/school. Three of the biggest Engish training companies that employ foreign teachers are EF Education First, Wall Street English and Web International. They require a baccalaureate degree but it can be in any major. I taught one and a half years at EF and four months at Wall Street. My experience as a whole was favorable.
However, do be advised that these are for-profit language training centers that require teachers to ‘sell’ their courses and utilize their in-house language training curriculum. For the most part, deviation and creativity are discouraged. Indeed, you won’t write your lessons when you work at these companies. Rather, you will pull a file or PPT and teach as the lesson prescribes. Teachers with advanced degrees or an independent streak may find the repetitiveness and lack of intellectual rigor stifling. On the other hand, having curricula already created for you may be great for beginning teachers and facilitate an easier transition into your new life in the Middle Kingdom.
A teacher with a teaching license/certificate (this is different from a TEFL/TESOL certificate) from their home country, will find the international school job market open to them and usually much more appealing. In Shanghai, the highest rated international schools are Shanghai American School of Pudong, Shanghai Community International school (SCIS) and Yew Chung (YCIS). Yew Chung also has schools in Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Qingdao, and Chongqing. As with any employer, consider it’s reputation (with foreign teachers), employee retention rate, remuneration package and location. Nowadays, more and more Shanghai’s international schools are moving outside the downtown metro area and into the Songjiang and Qupu districts 90+ minutes from city center.
The upper salary limit for international school teachers is around 50,000 RMB ($7400 USD) per month plus a housing allowance and the lowest salary is around 12,000 RMB ($1,800 USD) per month. To get a top salary, you’ll also need an advanced degree and several years of experience at your grade level. One way to check the school’s reputation is to search for and befriend their current and former foreign teachers on LinkedIn and ask them about their experiences. For instance, did the school honor the terms of the contract? Were the administrators competent or did they act irrationally and carry out wrongful terminations, withhold bonuses, etc.? Carefully consider these things before committing 1-2 years of your life to a school.
Another option available to foreign teachers is Chinese Universities — the pay is generally vastly lower than international high schools, but you are likely to find the student maturity level and the sophistication of the discussion you will be able to have will compensate. Be aware that ‘polytechnical’ or trade schools will generally admit individuals on the lower academic end. Inquire about the rigor of the admission criteria if you don’t want to deal with low aptitude students with possible truancy issues.
As for not getting deported, even in 2017, the ‘troublesome Ts’ of “Tiananmen Square, Tibet and Taiwan” are topics that are absolutely off limits except in private discussion circles. China’s territorial expansion are a matter of much pride for most Chinese people — they will get terribly patriotic if one begins to suggest that the people of these regions (and Xinjiang as well) have right to their own religious practice and democratic ideas. Avoid the discussion or face deportation and imprisonment. Also if you are of a religious persuasion and have the notion that you will spread ‘the good word’ and pass out Gideon’s bibles, proselytizing is another offense that will cost you your job and visa.
Regarding saving money, taxes can be confusing. Should you have regular credit accounts you need to manage, opening two PayPal accounts is generally the easiest way to avoid the limits, long lines and paperwork associated with an international bank transfer from China to the States. Open an account linked to your UnionPay in China and PayPal.CN and another linked to an American debit card at Paypal.COM.
Teaching is a hugely rewarding endeavor an regardless of where in China you end up. I think you’ll find the culture of reverence for teachers is wonderful. I’ve made bonds with students here that I’ll carry with me for a lifetime.