Teaching In China


I am a middle-aged, Black, American man with 14 years of English teaching experience and a brand new Master’s degree in English. Things are really bad for teachers in America now, and a Chinese-American friend suggested I try teaching in China — possibly at the University level — since I am interested in learning Mandarin. (I went to a Chinese restaurant with a Black friend once and she blew the server’s mind when she broke out in Putonghua.) Now, that’s what I want to be able to do! My question is, how easy will it be for this old dog to learn a new howl? I am told that Chinese is a very challenging language to master. Also, which city/university do you suggest I seriously consider? I’ve never been outside of America and I want to focus more on doing my job and learning the language than dealing with rank prejudice (which, sadly, is on the rise here in America since Obama became President.)

Thanks for any advice you might share!

Jim – Washington, D.C.

Jim.. Congrats on your shiny new MBA… I heard that the teaching field in the states was taking a hit.  Your friend’s suggestion is actually a very, good one.  China is always looking for American teachers and when you are at the university level things are a little less stressful than a language school like where I am.

Most university teaching jobs have set lesson plans and fewer teaching hours 15 to 25 a week, plus you get your summers free to travel around China.  Some school even pay you for that time.  So life is a little more relaxed.  You usually live in some sort of dormitory or teachers quarters.

As for learning Chinese… let me tell you I have been here for three years now.. and I do not attend any formal classes, although my coworkers often teach me words  I need to know. I do pretty well.

Although, I live with Michael, he tends to speak to me in English most of the time.   I do think this is because one day I got a wild hair and said Saturdays are Chinese speaking only days… and then I couldn’t understand anything he said to me and he got frustrated and said he was using English from now on.  (he isn’t a very good teacher.. anyway in my opinion…lol )

I have learned most of my Chinese from the street, shop owners and taxi drivers.  After you hear things often enough… you begin to understand and remember things.   I am 42 years old and I am able to get by pretty well for only being here 3 years.  So, I think with your enthusiasm and determination you will be fine.  I would suggest getting a book or CD to learn some basics .. to get the tones down that will help make learning easier.   Also, remember many people speak in local dialects .. so that can get a little confusing.

As for where you should consider going ;I suggest the larger college towns and cities.   They usually have the universities.  I live in Zhejiang Province and there are several cities around me that have many universities looking for teachers;  Hangzhou, Ningbo, Shanghai, Nanjing, etc.  There are also many good universities in the North; Beijing, Guilin, Xian, Chengdu etc.   All these places have quite a few foreigners and opportunities.

Please be aware that they start hiring teachers about a couple of months before the school year begins.  They usually put you thru a training process before school starts so you can get the hang of everything.

I suggest you contact schools directly; they are  more trustworthy than agencies.  Although, there are so really good agencies out there, I always think it is best to go straight to the source. Please make sure that your visa is taken care of , housing , insurance and flight reimbursements are included.  Most universities pay from 5000rmb and up depending on the city.   Language schools usually pay more but you have many more classes and working hours and no summers free.

Please be aware that they will ask for your resume and a photo when you are applying for a position.  This is Chinese way for even the locals to get a job.  It is all visual.  They will want a full body shot to see if you are decent looking enough to teach their students.  (I know it is crazy)

I would also suggest you get your visa in the states before you come to China.  The regulations here change often and sometimes it is difficult for a foreigner to change visa status while they are in mainland. To do this you will have to get a letter of acceptance from the university so you can have a Z visa (one year), you will need your passport, and a physical.

I also suggest you bring any of your creature comforts that you cannot live without.  Any hair products, skin products or other toiletries.  They are hard to find here.  Also, any contact lens, medications or over the counter meds and vitamins you might want to bring with you.  They have some but not all of them work.

Bring copies of your degrees, certificates and any thing else that shows your qualifications. (these can be electronic)  Oh.. and getting a TESOL certification can help you out and make you a bit more marketable.  This can be obtained online.

The last thing I want to suggest is that after you arrive you register with the US Embassy.  That way they know where you are and have your emergency information just in case Hilary Clinton needs to come get you for some reason.

Otherwise, enjoy the experience and you will find out more about yourself than you know.

Please send me your questions about China, living abroad,  Blasian relationships or anything else you can think of ….I am happy to share the knowledge.

until next time…

6 thoughts on “Teaching In China

  1. Pingback: Out With the Old… In with the New… again « Life Behind The Wall

  2. bamcclur

    I’ve been interested in teaching Computer Science in China. Do you know if there would be any positions teaching in English, or would I have to improve my Chinese to be able to teach at a university? Also, is a foreigner teaching a subject that isn’t English even feasible?

  3. jackie

    Jim–Coming to China will be a very life-changing experience for you. Some things you will love, some things you will hate. If you want a (sometimes shockingly) realistic picture of living and teaching in China, I suggest you check out this website: http://www.middlekingdomlife.com
    This website sugarcoats nothing about life in China, but I have found what is written to be completely accurate.
    I have been teaching in Hubei Province for 4 years now, and have worked at 2 different Universities. I have a Bachelor’s degree in Chinese but no TESOL certificate. I have had no trouble finding work, and with your qualifications you shouldn’t have any trouble either. You might even consider working in an International School, which pays better. If you want to spend the time and money getting a TESOL, that is up to you, but in my opinion you don’t absolutely need it. Also, I have never received any training whatsoever. You get the job, they throw you into the classroom. So a lot of what I have learned I have learned solely from experience, trial and error. It can be a bit frustrating at times, but I’m in a place now where I feel quite comfortable in the classroom, I know what works and what doesn’t. Also, I have never received a set lesson plan. The schools I have worked at gave me a textbook but whether I want to use it is optional. Basically you do whatever you want to do. It can be a good thing and a bad thing at the same time.
    As far as learning Chinese, I agree with Jo that you will learn a lot just from being immersed in it. But if you can, I would advise you take a short course and learn a little Chinese before coming here. You’ll be glad you did. You could either take a university course (in the States) or hire a tutor. Once you get to China, you have the same options. I’ve had quite a few friends have more success with hiring a tutor, as sometimes the Chinese way of teaching foreign language in the University is not as effective as what we get in the States. Chinese tutors are cheap.
    In my experience, despite all the annoyance of living in China, I have found it immensely rewarding.
    Hopefully this is helpful.
    All the best to you.

  4. Two top TEFL courses in the world are CELTA and TRININTY from my understanding. They don’t have so much difference between them, one is awarded by Cambridge and the other by Oxford University. They are slightly different in content, but both a very highly esteem when applying for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. Although you can do a tefl online, often these are not as weighty as the Celta or Trinity courses, which are only 3-4 weeks to do full time or 3 months part time but cost around $1000. My research has led me to believe that this is a ‘must’ (for me anyways) investment because of how valuable and fast it is, plus after you do it, you can get good jobs in anywhere in the world AND you make up the investment pretty quick.

    Trinity is a little cheaper than the Celta over here in London, but various providers charge different prices for the same course and I would certainly make that investment in one of these over any other flaky course you might find on the internet, because it looks so much better on your CV and gives you the practical experience whereas the online courses do not (not that in your case you need it because you are already a teacher, but if you are a worrywort like me, I always like to do as much practical as possible so that I feel confident).

    Anyway, the best of luck on your dream. If I’m honest, majority of the people who I speak with come back from China having thoroughly enjoyed their experience, and commenting on how their lives have changed for the better. I really hope that it’s the same for you.. then you can join the rest of us hardcore China fans!~

    1. Thanks for your advice Vyara…. However, in China.. you dont need so much… a TESOL class and certification is only about $200… some language school only require you to have a high school diploma. It just depends on what you want to teach and what Province you live in. Of course.. if you wish to teach in other countries besides China… you should consider the courses that Vyara mentioned.

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