Advice for ESL Teachers
Deciding to teach English in China is an increasingly popular choice due to the generous benefits packages and an opportunity to experience a very different culture. Because of stricter government regulations and growing numbers of training centers and private schools, the demand for ESL teachers is higher than ever. Whilst it is easy to become overwhelmed by all the options, it is generally not advised to jump at the first offer received without first considering personal objectives.
Things to consider when applying for ESL vacancies
Types of Employers
As surprising as that is, many job seekers are rarely aware of the vastly different types of employers they are eligible to work for. Apart from training centres and kindergartens, you can also work for private schools, public schools or even universities. The exact hiring criteria vary from employer to employer, but generally, the 120-hour TEFL certificate is a recognised teaching qualification in China, enabling you to choose the type of teaching you feel will be most suited for you.
The difference between a training centre and a private / public school
You will have a very different teaching experience depending on if you are teaching at a training centre or a school.
Working for a school means you will have set working days Monday to Friday and generous school holidays on top of the public holidays. You will be responsible for delivering the teaching curriculum, as well as assignments and assessment of your class. The class sizes will generally be quite big but this does depend on the individual school. If you work for an international department at a public school, the lessons you deliver will sometimes resemble lectures, whilst, for example, at a smaller private school using an IB curriculum, you will have a smaller group and the lesson format will be interactive with lots of group work and discussions.
Training centres, on the other hand, focus on the after-class teaching and this will affect your working hours. You will be expected to work in the afternoon/evening and the weekends with your two days off being during the week. On a plus side, the class size will be kept small and you will get a chance to really get to know your students and see them improve. Salary and benefits will be very competitive and allow for great savings.
Can I only teach English?
Whilst most jobs advertised are for English teachers, there are many opportunities to teach other classroom subjects. Schools in China value specialist knowledge and having a degree in Maths or Science, for example, would allow you to apply for and teach these subjects. It is also not uncommon for schools to hire someone as an English teacher and then give them options to teach another subject they have personal interest in. Many teachers find it very motivating to be able to share specialist knowledge with their students and it allows them to stick with their field of interest.
Whilst this one may seem obvious; however, it is often overlooked when applying. Not everyone is cut out to teach at a kindergarten, the same way as not everyone who speaks English knows how to explain the finer details of English grammar to a seventeen-year-old. It is important to consider what age group you would be most suited to. Younger students require a lot of play-based learning, ideally interest in singing/arts/crafts and a lot of energy to top it off. Working with middle school students may require someone who is confident in their classroom management abilities and high school students may be suited for someone with more specialist subject knowledge. Knowing what you feel most comfortable with is an important starting point to avoid bad experience.
Cities like Beijing and Shanghai tend to pay more and have better access to Western amenities, however, from our experience many teachers prefer going to a smaller city as the expat network there is a lot tighter and the local community includes them seamlessly from the start. Research different locations when applying and focus on an area/city that you feel will be most suited for you.